[by Phyllis Shaikun]
After 18 years of service to the Louisville Hebrew School (now the Louisville Beit Sefer Yachad), Sam Gordon has told the school’s board he will be retiring as principal in December. The board decided to announce his retirement now so they could begin searching for his replacement, who would then have several months to train with Gordon before he leaves his position to pursue the next great adventure in his life.
Gordon grew up in Louisville and is a graduate of the old Talmud Torah that was located at First and Walnut Streets. He traveled there from 18th and Maple, where his parents owned a small grocery store. The family, which also included Sammy’s three brothers, lived upstairs.
By 1955, his bar mitzvah year, the Hebrew school had relocated to the newly opened Jewish Community Center, which provided Gordon and his friends with the chance to be together and gain both the academic and social skills they would need later in life.
He went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from Western Kentucky University and taught school in Bowling Green for three years before moving back to Louisville and the robust Jewish community he and his wife, Marlene, had sorely missed. He taught in the old Louisville city school system and coached football and baseball at Shawnee High School.
In 1970, he became principal of the Louisville Jewish Day School for a year, but returned to the public school system, where he spent the next 35 years teaching in various capacities. All the while, he dabbled in businesses on the side, including a brief stint in the catering business. He also started one of the first bagel shops in the city.
By 1996, Gordon became principal of the Louisville Hebrew School, which at the time was badly in need of direction. He began building what he calls a comprehensive community school system that would provide both Hebrew and Judaic studies for youngsters from the elementary grades through high school. Over the years, LHS’ student body has primarily comprised students from Adath Jeshurun, Keneseth Israel and Temple Shalom, each of which ran its own Sunday school. Gordon asked the three to consider creating a joint Sunday school program that each entity could support.
Ten years ago, the LHS began the Kehila program, led by Gordon and Principal Dafna Schurr, for students in grades six through eight from the participating synagogues. Then, a few years later, Keneseth Israel and Temple Shalom joined the LHS to form KITS, a combined Hebrew/Judaic Studies program that met on Sundays and one day during the week. When Adath Jeshurun joined the effort a few years later, the program was renamed KATS.
The Sunday schools currently meet in three locations: students in kindergarten through grade two at Adath Jeshurun; grades three through five at Kenesth Israel and grades six through eight at Temple Shalom.
This year the Hebrew school changed its name to Louisville Beit Sefer Yachad to show that the school and the synagogues are moving forward together to educate students in kindergarten through grade eight. They hired a curriculum director, Riva Schanker, and two upper school administrators: Lisa Rothstein Goldberg and Elana Levitz.
“Look where we started,” says Gordon, “and look how many educational programs we run now. We have a wonderful staff and clergy educating our kids from kindergarten through high school and we can be proud of what we have accomplished. Our schools are preparing Jewish children for the future.”
Gordon is looking forward to having more time to be with his wife and to visit his children and grandchildren in Chicago and Israel.
Meanwhile, a search committee has been put in place to look for Gordon’s replacement. This is a fulltime position that requires a bachelor’s degree in education or a comparable field. They hope to hire someone by May or June so Gordon will have six months to train that individual before he leaves in December. Those interested in pursuing the principal’s position should contact Search Committee Chair Eric Bass, firstname.lastname@example.org.