By Michael Jacobsmjacobs@atljewishtimes.com

ED-Epstein_David Abusch-MagderThe journey that brought David Abusch-Magder to the Epstein School began outside a day care center in northern New Jersey more than 13 years ago.

He had just dropped off his son, Oren, and daughter, Aliza, and was on his way to work at Bell Labs. He couldn’t get any FM stations on the radio, so he switched to AM and heard the news: The World Trade Center towers were on fire.

It was Sept. 11, 2001. One of his baby daughter’s classmates died that day at Ground Zero. His own mother died of cancer four days.

“There are times in life when life kind of grabs you by the lapels and says now is the time to take a step back and look at the bigger picture, and for me that was such a moment,” said Abusch-Magder, who will take over as Epstein’s head of school July 1.

The Boston native with a doctorate from MIT said he loved his work as a physicist researching nanotechnology and wireless networks. He even earned a couple of patents. But when he asked himself whether he was making the world a better place, his answer was no.

“The work that I wanted to be doing, the change that I wanted to be creating, had to do with working with kids, making a difference in terms of their confidence, their capacities, their neshama, their values and then how they could help change the world,” Abusch-Magder said in a phone interview from San Francisco.

“The simple why is because I wanted to make a difference in the world in those areas that I’m most passionate about and that I believe will in fact make the world a better place,” he said.