By R.M. Grossblatt
Walk down the hall of Atlanta Jewish Academy’s Upper School campus in Doraville and you’ll see poster-size photos of students and teachers at work and at play. Beneath each photo is a one-word caption, such as “Academics,” “Friendship” or “Laughter.”
One caption reads “Torah,” and the photo shows Rabbi Daniel Estreicher sharing a teaching moment with a student.
On Sunday, Feb. 28, Congregation Beth Jacob is honoring Rabbi Estreicher and his wife, Bluma, at the Orthodox synagogue’s annual dinner in Heritage Hall. The theme of the evening is “Igniting Souls,” an appropriate title to honor a couple who have made their life’s mission one of spreading Torah.
Rabbi E, as he’s affectionately called by his students, has taught Torah to high school boys and girls at Yeshiva Atlanta, now AJA, for over 40 years. His wife, known as Morah Bluma at Beth Jacob’s preschool, has taught for 22 years.
In 1974, after a year of study in Israel, the Estreichers moved to Atlanta with their infant son, Naphtali. As soon as they arrived, Rabbi E started teaching Gemorah (Talmud), Chumash (Bible), Jewish law and parshah (the weekly Torah reading) at what was then called Yeshiva High School of Atlanta. He introduced his students to concepts and encouraged learning after school and sleeping in the sukkah, often inviting them to his own sukkah and other holiday and Shabbat meals.
For many years, sleeping bags and blankets covered the Estreichers’ living room floor each Shabbat morning. Even today, every Thursday night a former student of Rabbi E’s drives in from Athens and sleeps over until Sunday.
And for his AJA 10th-graders, Rabbi E presides over a Shabbat table with joy, song and words of Torah.
The Estreicher home is open to all during the week as well as on Shabbat. As a student, Rabbi Mordechai Pollock, the director of the Jewish Marriage Initiative and COO of CBS Watch Material in Norcross, was often a guest.
He remembers that once during the week Rabbi E opened his home for a school committee dinner meeting. After the food was served, a student asked Morah Bluma if she knew about the dinner ahead of time. “No,” she said, “but that’s what we’re here for. That’s what we do.”
Rabbi Pollock said she deserves half the credit for everything her husband accomplishes.
Pam Glinsky, a registered dietitian, wife, mother and graduate of Yeshiva Atlanta, is co-chair of the dinner table host committee for the Feb. 28 event. She said it’s an honor to do it for Rabbi E. “He is warm and caring, nonjudgmental — a wonderful role model.”
In 1985 the Estreichers moved with their growing family to Baltimore, where Rabbi E became assistant principal of Bais Yaakov. They returned after two years to Atlanta, where the rabbi felt as if he was accomplishing more. “My husband sees potential in every student,” Bluma said. “He has a very patient and listening ear.”
Patience is also one of her character traits. After the Estreichers moved back in 1987, she led a play group for 3-year-olds in her home. That
effort lasted four years until AJT columnist Chana Shapiro, then Beth Jacob’s program director, seeing how much the children loved her, asked Bluma to consider working at the synagogue’s preschool.
“She was beloved by the children and still is,” says Lydia Schloss, co-owner of the Spicy Peach and former director of the preschool. Morah Bluma taught Devora Schloss, Lydia’s daughter, and recently her grandson Eitan Teller and granddaughter Atara Schloss.
For 22 years Morah Bluma has guided 2- and 3-year-olds, sometimes from 9 to 5. “They’re like little sponges, soaking up everything,” she said. “I love helping these little neshamas (souls) get started on their way.”
Some of Morah Bluma’s preschoolers grow up to become her husband’s students. They come from Toco Hills, Dunwoody, Sandy Springs — all over. After they graduate, they usually stay connected, often later bringing spouses to meet their beloved high school rebbe.
Before they graduate, Rabbi E, a guidance counselor at AJA, encourages his students to spend a year in Israel. “Going to Israel changes their whole lives,” he said.
Actually, Rabbi E and his wife have changed the lives of many of his students.
“Rabbi Estreicher always believed in us,” said Daniel Feldman, a former student who lives in Israel with his wife and children. “He never judged us for our actions or mistakes. … Through Rabbi E, we connected to Torah, davening and doing mitzvahs.”
In December, Rabbi E visited his 2015 high school graduates who were learning in a yeshiva or seminary in Israel. As soon as they knew that their rebbe was in Jerusalem, former students young and older gathered to greet him. Feldman, who was one of them, said, “He’s a constant source of chizuk (strength) and bracha (blessing).”
Janet Afrah, who was a student of Rabbi E’s in the 1980s and whose children were also taught by him and Morah Bluma, said the Estreichers are “very public figures but also very private.” Afrah, who owns Judaica Corner, explained, “You can be open with them as much as you want and have peace of mind that they will never share your information with anyone.”
What they do share is their passion for teaching Torah. “Their single purpose,” Rabbi Pollock said, “is sharing Torah and loving other Jews.”
Who: Rabbi Daniel and Bluma Estreicher
What: Congregation Beth Jacob annual dinner
Where: Beth Jacob, 1855 LaVista Road, Toco Hills
When: 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 28
Tickets: $100; www.bethjacobatlanta.org/annual-dinner-2016 or 404-633-0551 by Feb. 15