Dr. Dalia Hochman on Ancient Rituals with Modern Relevance

“Today we honor one of Roxbury Latin’s most important customs by recognizing the Jewish High Holy Days,” began Headmaster Brennan in Hall on October 10. “Our taking note of various religious holidays is not simply because knowing about the world’s religions is an important part of being a well-educated person. As a school we are committed to gathering all kinds of boys and understanding and celebrating the differences they represent, including their differences of faith. In hearing from the witnesses to different faith traditions, our own journey toward meaning and fulfillment can be most hopefully informed, as we consider abiding questions such as Why am I here? What is the meaning of my life? and What kind of life shall I lead?

To share her own experience as a devoted member of the Jewish faith, Dr. Dalia Hochman—in her first year as head of Gann Academy, a coeducational Jewish high school in Waltham—spoke to students and faculty during Hall, in the midst of the Jewish High Holy Days. Joining her was Kobe Deener-Agus, a junior at Gann, who demonstrated how to blow the Shofar—the sacred Jewish instrument, fashioned from a ram’s horn and used in the Jewish holiday celebrations.

“Your school is, by U.S. standards, an ancient school with very modern commitments. Our school is a modern school with very ancient commitments,” began Dr. Hochman. She continued by sharing her family’s personal story, which began with her grandfather, living as an Orthodox Jew in Poland in the 1930s. “In the late 1930s, he enrolled in the University of Warsaw Law School. Then, in 1938, he was made to stand in the back of the room because he was Jewish. In 1939, he was expelled. On August 31, 1939, as Germany was invading Poland, my grandfather got on the last boat leaving Poland and secured a ticket to the United States, coming to Ellis Island in New York. My whole life, my grandparents have taught me about the Jewish customs, but they also have also encouraged me to live in the modern world.” 

Dr. Hochman discussed Jewish values—their history and how they have deep relevance today. She pointed to the Jewish cultural importance of “being awake” to the world around you; to doing your part in “repairing the world”—caring for your family and your broader community; and to the annual “accounting of the soul—asking yourself Have I been the friend I want to be? Have I been the parent I want to be? Have I been the educator, the professional I want to be? Have I been the citizen I want to be?” Dr. Hochman shared stories related to her own personal and professional journey, related to these values, and how that trajectory brought her to Gann Academy. She also talked about the diversity of individuals and practices within the Jewish faith tradition.

Dr. Hochman earned her bachelor’s degree from Yale and her PhD in education policy, politics, and leadership from Columbia. She began her career as a teacher and administrator in the New York City public school system, and she is well known for her leadership and strategic advisory work for Summit Public Schools, the high-profile Silicon Valley charter network funded by The Chan Zuckerberg Education Initiative. Dr. Hochman has deep connections to Judaism, Torah, and Israel. She graduated from Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston and has studied at The Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem during a Dorot Fellowship in Israel.