Ariel Sabar ’85 remembers being sent to the principal’s office. Sometimes, his audiences with the headmaster were for disciplinary purposes, though his visits occasionally took a more journalistic turn.
It was his reporter’s instinct, nurtured early in his Akiba days, that propelled him to prominence; today, he cuts a distinguished figure navigating the worlds of book writing, magazine journalism and parenting.
A Brown University graduate and former staff writer for The Baltimore Sun, The Providence Journal and national correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, Sabar is currently an independent journalist and contributing editor at both Smithsonian Magazine and Washingtonian Magazine. His work has appeared in prestigious publications including the New York Times, the Washington Post and The Atlantic, among others. Sabar’s National Book Critics Circle Award-winning autobiography, My Father’s Paradise: A Son’s Search for his Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq, tracks the author’s quest for identity as he explores his father’s roots.
Sabar’s years at Akiba were filled with both triumph and struggle. He chafed under the supervision of an immigrant father whose traditional, Old World values felt restrictive to an adolescent growing up in West L.A. He preferred that his mom, a native-born American, pick him up from Akiba during the nine years he attended.
In Sabar’s book, the school appears as a battleground where his alienation from his father meant tension with the Hebrew faculty at the school. Sabar remembers bewildered teachers watching, aghast, at the jokes he would tell – bits of humor, he says, that had his classmates “in stitches and our teachers at wit’s end.”
Yet, Akiba was also the place where Sabar’s first sojourn into journalism began. In Middle School, he and his best friend, Seth Shabo, organized the school’s first student-published, satirical newspaper. Complete with interviews, a student advice column, video game and software reviews and a humor section, The Akiba Enquirer came out in January 1985. Shabo and Sabar wrote, edited, copied, stapled and distributed the publication to students who subscribed.
The process taught Sabar an invaluable lesson about the power of the written word and its ability to move people. The ability to engage administrators such as [former headmaster] Rabbi Laurence Scheindlin in off-color interviews and speak to them as equals gave Sabar the confidence to write. “The experience was thrilling, and certainly inspired the idea that, as a journalist, you could really speak truth to power and have a little fun along the way.”
The Washington, DC-based Sabar is now a husband and father of two wonderful kids of his own. His son celebrated his bar mitzvah in 2015, and his daughter will celebrate her bat mitzvah in 2020. No longer the anguished teen of Akiba Academy, the adult Sabar sees himself as a link in the chain of Jewish tradition – and Akiba as a place where that chain grew strong.
“The experience was thrilling, and certainly inspired the idea that, as a journalist, you could really speak truth to power and have a little fun along the way.”