The longtime principal of one of Los Angeles' largest Jewish high schools is leaving to start a new school. Rabbi Sholom Tendler resigned last week as Hebrew principal of Yeshiva of Los Angeles (YULA) and as rabbi of Young Israel of North Beverly Hills. He said he plans to open a new yeshiva boys' high school elsewhere in Los Angeles.
Tendler's resignation comes shortly after his nephew, Rabbi Aron Tendler, resigned under pressure as rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation in Valley Village. Meanwhile, Tendler's other nephew, Rabbi Mordechai Tendler was suspended this year by the board of his New York City-area synagogue as a result of longstanding allegations about alleged sexual misconduct.
Sholom Tendler, 61, says his departure is a matter only of his desire to start a new high school.
Sholom Tendler has been YULA's rosh yeshiva, Hebrew for principal, for the last 26 years, including in 1987, when the school hired attorneys secretly to investigate allegations of inappropriate behavior against Aron Tendler. The internal probe yielded inconclusive results, but Aron Tendler was moved from the girls school to the separate boys school.
"I was aware of that investigation," Sholom Tendler told The Journal, adding that he recused himself from the situation because his relative was involved.
After news of the investigation came to light in recent months, YULA alums and parents expressed outrage that the school dealt with the matter privately. Some clamored for "accountability." Sholom Tendler's resignation, so soon after the disclosures, has inevitably invited speculation that his departure is, in effect, the school's response to community pressure.
Not so, Sholom Tendler said.
"There is absolutely no connection whatsoever between [what happened with his nephews] and my decision to build this new school," he said. "It's unfortunate how unfounded rumors can blacken even the most beautiful of endeavors."
Sholom Tendler also expressed sympathy for his nephews' ordeals: "It's very painful, and I'm supportive of them and their families in this terrible time of agony that they're going through."
Aron Tendler has declined interview requests; Mordechai Tendler has been more vocal, denying any wrongdoing.
YULA officials also emphasized that Sholom Tendler's exit is voluntary.
"He helped create YULA," said Rabbi Meyer May, the executive director of YULA's boys division. "He could have stayed at YULA for his entire career."
So why is Sholom Tendler leaving?
He replied that there is a shortage of yeshiva high schools in Los Angeles.
"Anybody will tell you there are not enough high school desks in Los Angeles. It's a healthy sign, but a serious problem," Sholom Tendler said.
His added that his new school will fill a niche for the more "ultra" side of the Orthodox community, while also stressing a serious academic curriculum.
Sholom Tendler is calling his new high school Mesivta Birkas Yitzchok -- named for his father, Rabbi Yitzchok Tendler, a rebbe who inspired "a joy of learning," as Tendler put it. He plans to open in September for about 10 to 15 ninth-graders. He said he is currently scouting for a location in the Pico-Robertson or La Brea area.
The school will provide both serious Torah study and strong secular academics.
"People who are observing the demographics in the Jewish community see that there are a growing number of people who are very serious about religious observance and at the same time want to live in the professional or business world, rather than the rabbinate. We want parents to have the opportunity to prepare their sons for either way of life," he said.
Because of the labor involved in starting a school, Sholom Tendler also is stepping down from heading Young Israel of North Beverly Hills, where he has served as rabbi almost since its inception 13 years ago. He will stay on until the search committee finds a new rabbi. He said he expects to remain involved in the community, possibly as rabbi emeritus.