The Jewish Community Council of the Rockaway Peninsula will honor a Long Beach native and 30-year Far Rockaway resident, who is a principal for the school he attended in his youth and graduated from a former Five Towns high school for his achievements in education.
Richard Altabe, 57, the lower school principal at the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach, will receive the Audrey Pheffer Lifetime Achievement Award from the JCCRP, an organization that aims to “improve the cultural, educational, social, communal and religious welfare,” within the communities it serves, according to its mission statement. Pheffer is the mother of State Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato (D-Rockaway Beach). For more than 25 years, Audrey held the seat her daughter has now.
For 30 years, Altabe has served as a principal for yeshivas, including Yeshivat Share Torah, Magen David Yeshivah High School and nearly two decades at Yeshiva Darchei Torah in Far Rockaway before joining HALB, which moved from its original Long Beach building to the former Number Six School in Woodmere last year.
“I spent eighteen years as general studies principal at Yeshiva Darchei Torah, and I view Rabbi Yakov Bender as my mentor in education,” Altabe said. “He taught me that education is much more than academics, rather it is the ability to foster the growth of the whole child.”
Altabe’s career in education nearly didn’t get started. After graduating Hillel High School in Lawrence (now the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway), he was accepted into New York University’s six-year dental program. His experience as a counselor at the old Hartman Young Men’s Hebrew Association in Far Rockaway helped him realize his true passion. “I had the privilege to work with newly arrived Russian-Jewish children, and I helped them learn how to read Hebrew and to daven (pray). That success inspired me to pursue education.”
He helped to found the TOVA (Torah Viable Alternatives) Mentoring program in Cedarhurst. Based on the Big Brother/Big Sister concept, it’s an Orthodox Jewish program that matches up students with young adults to help them overcome the challenges they face. Altabe is also vice president of CAHAL (Community Acting to Heighten Awareness and Learning) a yeshiva-based program of self-contained classes for children with learning differences from kindergarten through high school, also in Cedarhurst.
“Richard Altabe brings the warmth, the knowledge, the ability and the know how to better deal with children,” said HALB Executive Director Richard Hagler, who has known him for more than 25 years. “He knows the latest techniques in education, and is a warm, caring and devoted principal and person.”
Altabe said he grew up in “a non-Orthodox family,” and said he appreciated the efforts by others such as the late Perry Fish, then the regional director of the National Congregation Synagogue Youth, who guided Altabe through his teenage years. “I created TOVA Mentoring program to provide that type of guidance to children knowing that without a positive role model children can become at-risk,” Altabe said. NCSY uses social and recreational programs to develop a positive identity in Jewish teenagers.
Altabe will receive his award with other honorees Amato and City Councilman Chaim Deutsch on Sunday at the White Shul in Far Rockaway. “He is a very, very special person who doesn’t see twenty-five children in a class, he sees twenty-five individuals,” said Bender, the dean at Yeshiva Darchei Torah.
A married father of four adult children and a grandfather of eight, two of whom attend HALB, Altabe has said to his son-in-law Zoli Honig: “Some good people may make money, however good educators make people. If that quote resonates with you and you want to be part of a lifetime of meaningful work then come join us!”