Seth Shabo knows a thing or two about teaching. A distinguished professor of philosophy at the University of Delaware, he understands the importance of nurturing academic excellence and fostering intellectual curiosity – two lessons he remembers distinctly from his time at Sinai Akiba.
“I started Sinai Akiba in 4th Grade, and from my first day, it was clear the school put an emphasis on bringing out creativity in students,” he recalls. It was the air of open inquiry that inspired Shabo and his friend, noted author and journalist Ariel Sabar, to launch The Enquirer, Sinai Akiba’s first student-led publication. “8th Grade was all about testing limits – what makes sense and what’s arbitrary, exploring satirical perspectives on the world,” he says. “We had fun with the idea that we could be a voice for students.”
Shabo continued to develop that voice after graduating from Sinai Akiba in 1985, going on to Winward, UCLA and Wesleyan. He received his PhD in philosophy from Syracuse University in 1994, with a specialization in ethics, free will and moral responsibility.
As a professor, he calls on his own experience at Sinai Akiba, encouraging his students to ask questions and access their full potential. “I love watching students realize what they can do,” he says. “Part of my job is to help them discover new cognitive abilities – critical thinking skills they’ve never been prompted to exercise. It’s like seeing someone who doesn’t know how to ride a bike realize he’s already riding it!”
Beyond planting the seeds for Shabo’s successful professional career, Sinai Akiba also grounded him in an understanding of – and appreciation for – his connection to the Jewish community. “Going to Sinai Akiba was an outgrowth of their desire for my brother and me to get more exposure to the Jewish world and to become a part of it,” he says.
Integrating into the school community was made simple, he says, by Sinai Akiba’s remarkable teaching staff. “I had a teacher my first year there, Miriam Safdie, who was extremely welcoming and bright. Bracha Zohar was another one – an extraordinary person who was very down to earth and personable. My very positive association with the School grew from that.”
Reflecting back on his time at Sinai Akiba, Shabo becomes…well, philosophical. “There was so much to engage with there,” he muses. “It’s so great when kids have the chance to engage in really deep thinking at such a formative age.”