Dr. Ray Levi: Longtime head of Heilicher Jewish Day School

The legacy of Dr. Ray Levi.
Dr. Ray Levi, head of the Amos and Heilicher Minneapolis Jewish Day School, was recently named Emeritus Head of School.

For Dr. Ray Levi, the fun part of his job is watching the little kids grow. “I talk about our students as being long-term investments; one of the great pleasures of having been here so long is to see kids who had challenges find direction,” says Levi, head of the Amos and Celia Heilicher Minneapolis Jewish Day School (HMJDS). The St. Louis Park school will celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2014. In July, Levi assumed the title of Emeritus Head of School and will formally conclude  his tenure with HMJDS at the end of this school year. The School The Amos and Celia Heilicher Minneapolis Jewish Day School serves grades K-8. The program offers Hebrew language, Judaic and rabbinic studies as well as subjects like English language arts, math, science, social studies, Spanish, art and music. HMJDS seeks to create a holistic “Jewish education and spiritual experience” through three cornerstones: Judaism, academics and community. In the last 15 years, Levi saw the school’s enrollment grow to more than 300 students, added seventh and eighth grade programs, and raised the student achievement testing median to the 83rd percentile.  “[Peers] look to HMJDS as a model, particularly in the areas of marketing, academic achievements of its graduates, student body retention and recruitment,” HMJDS board president Mark Appelbaum says.   Dr. Ray Levi, the ManAppelbaum describes Levi as “a very organized and process-oriented thinker and leader.” Levi says that working with a large leadership team is the best way to describe his preferred professional style. “I’m comfortable at center stage, but I really like guiding from the side,” he says. Laura Oliven Silverfarb, an HMJDS parent and St. Louis Park resident, says her girls love attending the school and that she values the many contributions Levi has made to the school during his tenure. “Having been in the unique situation of being in the school at the start of Ray’s time at HMJDS, I can clearly see and appreciate that he is a great leader and communicator,” she says. The ImpactLevi’s leadership will have a lasting impact on the school. Focusing on inclusion and diversity, Levi developed programs to support diverse learning styles and social-emotional development. “There are many ways for kids to communicate what they understand and know; we’ve embraced writing, [speaking] in front of an audience, a strong arts program, music, visual arts and technology arts such as video, photography and graphic design,” he says. Levi also expanded the religious diversity of the student body and increased multicultural programming in order to “embrace and celebrate diversity of Jewish practice under one roof with the hope that all our experience is enriched by exposure to many approaches.” The Legacy While Appelbaum says that Levi’s legacy will be one of “growth and excellence,” Levi insists that a legacy only emerges over time. What he does express is a sense of pride in his alumni. “After 14 years, I can really see the impact of a day school education as our alumni go out into the world,” Levi says. “They are guided by the Jewish values they’ve learned as they make choices that help transform the world. That is always a goal for me.” Jason Graf, a high school senior originally from Minnetonka, credits Levi with helping him fully realize his Jewish identity. His years at HMJDS made such an impact on Graf that he left St. Louis Park High School and now attends a Jewish high school in Memphis, Tenn. “Every time I come back to Minneapolis, I see Dr. Levi at synagogue. He always comes over to ask how I’m doing. He takes an interest in me, even though I’ve graduated,” Graf says. As he begins his college search, Graf says he’s looking for a school with a strong Jewish community, “an affinity that started at day school under Dr. Levi.” The Future Beginning in September, Levi will go on sabbatical through the end of the calendar year and return to serve out the rest of the academic year in the emeritus role. Helen Siegel and Yoni Binus, current lower and upper school division directors, will act as the interim leadership team for the 2013-14 school year. Upon leaving HMJDS, Levi says he plans to continue to work with schools and student mentorship in some capacity. “Today’s kids have experienced two wars, 9/11— [things] that you think would make them skeptical. We create an environment where they feel willing to take on leadership roles, whether it is working actively for health care or against gun violence.” “I may talk about the diversity of our practice, but we are also united in core values about how we ought to treat one another and what our responsibilities are,” he says.