August 15, 2007 — The new principal of the city’s controversial Arabic-themed school is an ardent Zionist who considered moving to Israel, according to her former Jerusalem roommate.
The latest revelation puts a strange twist on the saga of the Khalil Gibran International Academy, the new city school that’s been in the cross hairs of critics since its inception.
Interim Principal Danielle Salzberg, 35, hosted an orientation seminar at the Brooklyn school yesterday for parents and students.
It was her first full day on the job since the school’s original principal, Debbie Almontaser, a Muslim and Arabic-speaker, quit last week. She had been caught up in a furor over her comments to The Post downplaying the “Intifada NYC” T-shirts her organization was linked to.
Salzberg’s former roommate Aliza Hemed described the new principal’s two passions in life as Israel and educating youngsters. And, in the end, Salzberg chose teaching New York City’s youth over life in the Holy Land.
“If anything, she was a Zionist. She had every intention to make aliyah [Hebrew for immigration to Israel] and move there, but she came back and fell in love with her [students] and the job,” said Hemed.
“Most American Orthodox [Jews] have a love of Israel – I’m sure it’s still in her.”
Salzberg first met Hemed as an undergrad at New York University. They were both observant Orthodox Jews and Salzberg held leadership positions with the school’s Hillel, a Jewish group.
Upon graduation in 1993, the two spent a year studying Hebrew and Middle East politics at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Salzberg stayed away from political rallies and other activities, Hemed said.
Then in 1994, they moved back to Manhattan where they shared an apartment on the East Side for several years. Salzberg began work as a teaching assistant in city schools while pursuing her master’s degree in education from Columbia University’s Teachers College.
“Her kids were her life. Every little progress they made she was so proud of them,” Hemed said.
Salzberg, who had helped Almontaser develop the school’s curriculum, did not return requests for comment.
The school’s first sixth-grade class of 44 students is scheduled to begin Sept. 4. Eventually, the school will expand to the 12th grade.
While Salzberg is still technically an interim principal, a Department of Education spokeswoman said the agency wants to install her permanently.
“I’m sorry the last woman didn’t work out, but I think we’re better off going on and attacking the problem again and we’ve got the right person this time,” Mayor Bloomberg said.
Still, Arab community activists said Monday evening during a meeting at the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge that they will start a letter-writing campaign to try and get Almontaser reinstated.
Additional reporting by Michael Pope