By Michael Jacobs / mjacobs@atljewishtimes.com

Temima for Atlanta Jewish Times

Temima: The Richard & Jean Katz High School faces LaVista Road. (Photo by Fred S. Gerlich Studio)

When Rabbi Menachem Deutsch is honored at the graduation ceremony for Temima High School, he won’t have to think too far back to remember when he felt the future of the Jewish school for girls was secure.

“About 15 years in. I’m telling the truth,” Rabbi Deutsch said with a chuckle. “We were living on fumes for 12 or 15 years.”

But when the 10 members of the Class of 2015 receive their diplomas from the 19-year-old Richard & Jean Katz High School for Girls at 7:30 Thursday night, June 11, at Congregation Beth Jacob, they’ll be leaving a school that sits on a solid foundation.

The Class of 2015 spent its senior year in Temima’s first permanent home, a two-story structure on Beth Jacob’s property along LaVista Road in Toco Hills. The building has a capacity for 100 students, about 50 percent above its current size.

“It was miserable, and they loved it,” Head of School Miriam Feldman said about Temima’s previous home in trailers behind Torah Day School.

Learning in the trailers for three years was fun, senior Adina Horvath said, but “it’s much more official in the building.”

Rabbi Deutsch said the building makes educating the girls easier and is an important symbol of how far the school has come, but “what goes on inside the building is more important.”

“It’s in a different league from what I envisioned,” Rabbi Deutsch said. “That’s a tribute to Mrs. Feldman.”

The building has administration and a new women’s center on the first floor and the standard mix of labs and other 21st-century classrooms upstairs, including docking carts for the tablet computers the girls use. But the hallways offer clues to what makes Temima different.

During a recent tour of the school, a board covered in black paper contained a hidden inspirational message being revealed with the addition of colored push pins. Bordering the big message were examples of the positive thoughts Feldman tries to teach the girls:

  • “Happiness is dependent on your thoughts.”
  • “Secure or insecure … it’s your choice.”
  • “Sweep away your old maps.”
  • “Be tolerant of others. You don’t know what’s going on in their lives because you can’t see the whole picture.”

Those are signs of the emotional tools Feldman provides the girls.

“Mrs. Feldman makes us think differently,” said Adina, who plans to study psychology at Touro College after a gap year in Israel. “She makes us love each other.”

“The goal was to create a place where a Jewish girl could be immersed in her heritage and where she could have an entire inner life she would take with her when she left high school, an inner life that would keep her centered and focused and G-d-oriented and from that would spring her ability to manage in the broader world and be successful in the broader world and be a leader in the world and be of service to humankind,” Feldman said. “And I see it happening. … These are powerful, powerful women.”

Single-sex education helps the girls thrive academically, but the school also wants to get them ready for life.

“They’re deeply committed servants of G-d and humanity” who understand that they can’t live just for themselves, Feldman said about Temima’s students.

A big part of the Torah-focused education at Temima involves teaching the girls the difference between fear-think and love-think. Each girl gets a blue book Feldman created with guidance on how to resist the negativity and bad influences they find everywhere. The lessons, she said, help them become strong women who can raise families and run businesses and otherwise contribute to making the Jewish community and the world better.

“If all Jewish girls were trained this way, the entire world would change,” Feldman said.

“In my opinion and a lot of people’s opinions, it’s the best Jewish girls school in the country,” Rabbi Deutsch said. “I believe it to be true.”

He said he has heard heads of school elsewhere advise people who want to see how to run a Jewish girls school to travel to Atlanta to visit Temima.

The school draws interest from out-of-town parents who want to get their daughters the best Jewish education possible. Seven students this year were boarding with local families so they could attend Temima, and Feldman said that number might rise to 10 next year, even though the school doesn’t recruit boarding students.

Feldman said Temima is highly selective with out-of-town applications, and Rabbi Deutsch said Temima actually tries to deter boarding students so it can focus on local girls without worrying about students’ living arrangements.

Temima’s small community feel helps make the graduation, set for 7:30 p.m. June 11, one of the annual highlights for Rabbi Deutsch, who is being honored for helping found the school. “To be recognized at that event is probably the nicest place and nicest time of the year to get that recognition,” he said. “I couldn’t think of a better forum than this.”

It will be an opportunity to reflect on how far the school has come.

The sense that Atlanta had grown big enough for its own girls school led to Temima’s founding, Rabbi Deutsch said. “We didn’t have money. We didn’t have students.”

The school needed at least four students for its first class, but only three of the five girls in the graduating class from Torah Day, the natural feeder for Temima, were interested.

“Two dropped out of the sky,” Rabbi Deutsch said — one graduate of Greenfield Hebrew Academy and one girl from public school who found religious inspiration over the summer before high school.

“It started on miracles,” he said, and the miracles have continued.

“This has been grunt work from beginning to end,” Feldman said about the financial side of running the school.

“This is where everybody in my opinion should be putting their dollars,” she said. “What else are you going to put dollars into? Who else is going to guarantee the Jewish future?”