We talk to Yoni Binus, about his take on the Jewish community in the Twin Cities and how he ended up leading the Heilicher Jewish day school.
Are you originally from the Twin Cities?
No. I’m from Boston…well, Newton, Massachusetts originally. However, I have a few connections to the region. My grandmother was born in Fargo in 1903 and my mother’s last name was Naftalin. We are distant cousins of Art Naftalin, the former mayor of Minneapolis.
How do the Twin Cities stack up against the other places you’ve lived? Why do you think this Jewish community, and area in the country, is unique?
It’s hard to compare cities because they are all so different and wonderful and nuanced and also each played a different role for me based on where I was in my life and career development. I’ve lived in Boston, San Francisco, and Claremont, California, outside LA. The Twin Cities have so much to offer, in terms of professional and social opportunities and it’s a great place to settle down and be a part of more permanent community. The Jewish community here a very cohesive and energized community. And everybody knows everybody…and everybody’s cousin and parents and grandparents and where they went to elementary school and who they dated in high school.
Tell me about your role at the Heilicher Minneapolis Jewish Day School.
I am the Head of School. For those unfamiliar with how independent schools operate, this means my job is sort of like a CEO of a non-profit. I am responsible for everything from the educational program to finance to development to marketing. Fortunately, I have some of the best-trained and most qualified staff in the Twin Cities to run these departments. For the most part, I manage the team of directors and represent the school in public and internal settings, as well as set vision with the Board leadership.
How did you get into the education field? Was that always your plan?
I think the fact that you assume there was a plan gives me more credit than I deserve. So, thank you! As a child, I really struggled in school. Not in the B’s and C’s kind of way, but in the D’s and F’s kind of way. I didn’t really get how school worked, but that somehow sparked my becoming intrigued by the systems of school and how those systems could better work to raise the bar of and even change how we educate.
Have you seen the community at the day school change since you’ve been there?
Yes and no. At its core, this is a school by the people and for the people of the community. It was founded by a handful of committed parents who believed that their children and their children’s children would benefit from an immersive education that blended Jewish and Hebrew education with a top notch general studies program. Bottom line: core mission has stayed strong and consistent; programming and technology use has grown in breadth and depth considerably.
In my time here, one thing that has also struck me is the expansion of diversity in the community; diversity of connection to Judaism, economic diversity, open LGBTQ presence, etc.
What do you hope to accomplish in the next few years?
I want the Heilicher Minneapolis Jewish Day School to be the coveted destination for teaching professionals as well as the school of choice for anyone in the Twin Cities looking for excellent Jewish and general studies education. This means building community and providing significant amount of professional development time and money and opportunity for staff.
Where’s your favorite place to go in the Twin Cities when you’re not at the school?
If I told you, people would be able to find me.
What’s your favorite Jewish holiday?
Shabbat, hands down.
What’s your favorite Jewish food?
Isn’t all food Jewish food? If I had to choose, I’d go with Bagels and Lox with red onions and capers.Click here to nominate your favorite TC Jew to be featured on our weekly Who the Folk?! series!