Lander Grinspoon Academy in Northampton names 1st head of schools

By ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

Staff Writer

Published: 09-04-2023 8:07 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Lander Grinspoon Academy has appointed its first head of schools, a position the school hopes will help expand its mission of providing a progressive, Jewish-inspired education to its student body.

Jake Marmer, self-described as both an artist and educator, has been appointed to the position the school’s board of trustees. Originally born in Ukraine to a Jewish family, he arrived in the United States as a teenager and was living in the San Francisco Bay area in California before moving to Northampton to take the role as Head of Schools for the Academy. Marmer has had several books of poetry published in his career, focusing on themes ranging from jazz to Jewish mysticism.

In an interview with the Gazette, Marmer said he was drawn to the Northampton area because of its intellectual culture and focus on education, as well as the progressivism of many members of the community.

“For me, there’s always this dream in which the arts really nourish everything else that happens,” Marmer said. “I was engaged in teaching in Jewish spaces, and it was after some time of doing that, it really occurred to me that this is where I feel profoundly fulfilled.”

The head of schools position is separate from the academy’s principal and executive director. Sara Farber, the chair of the school’s board of trustees, said that in appointing Marmer, the school was looking to add someone who could focus on the school from its mission standpoint, rather than its day-to-day educational and financial operations.

“We really feel like we’re at this huge moment of opportunity and inflection,” Farber said. “We see Jake as part of our future and building a school that takes the post-COVID world and really gives a new breath of life to this institution.”

Marmer summarized his educational vision with a quote by the German-born Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt, that the force of change in the world comes through the intellectual, the artistic and the spiritual. One of his major initiatives will involve bringing together members of the school who may be, like Marmer, new to the Northampton community who have only moved here in recent years.

“A lot of people want to live here, because it’s a really special place,” he said. “And because so many new people are coming, there’s this sense of growth and opportunity, like this could be a rising star kind of place.”

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He also said he would focus on how to blend both the school’s Jewish roots with a modern, progressive style of education.

“Everything comes through the lens of texts, not just biblical texts, but a whole lore of texts that come after, of philosophy, ethics and poetry,” Marmer said. “The questions of which texts speak to us right now, to this moment, to this community, I think that is a great area of opportunity.”

The Lander Grinspoon Academy was founded in 1996 by Rabbi Yechial Lander, with money donated from the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, forming the academy’s two namesakes. The academy’s neighboring Congregation B’Nai Israel donated the land for the academy, although the school is not formally affiliated with the congregation. It serves children in ages K-6, with about 70 students total attending the academy.

Although the school is based on Jewish values and principles, Farber said the school is open to anyone of any denomination who wishes to join.

“My vision for this school, as the board chair, is I want this to be a school everyone wants to be at, regardless of whether they’re Jewish or not,” she said. “We want people here because they align with our values and what we offer kids and families.”

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at amacdougall@gazettenet.com.

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