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Bonnie K. Goodman
Historian, Librarian, and Journalist

Rising Antisemitism leads to Jewish Day Schools Increased Enrollment

With the rise in antisemitism parents are increasingly registering their children in Jewish day schools. 
Source: Maryland GovPics
With the rise in antisemitism parents are increasingly registering their children in Jewish day schools. Source: Maryland GovPics

The rise of antisemitism in the post-October 7 world makes Jewish day schools even more important than before. Daniel R. Weiss, the Head of School at Bornblum Jewish Community School in Memphis, TN, wrote a blog post in October entitled “Why Jewish day schools matter now more than ever.” Weiss explained that Jewish day schools provide a secure and nurturing setting for Jewish students, emphasizing social and emotional well-being while instilling Jewish values and ethics. These educational institutions provide a platform for students to freely express themselves, nurturing close-knit Jewish communities that unite in times of hardship. They create an environment where students, staff, and families can learn, develop, and find comfort, all while building enduring relationships and offering a reliable support system in challenging moments. [1] With the three-fold rise in antisemitism in America, parents are increasingly transferring their children to day schools. However, Jewish educators hope their schools’ ability to instill a strong Jewish identity is the more significant attraction to enrolling in their schools.

 

The data proves that parents believe day schools are safer places for their children. In January, the Prizmah Center for Jewish Day Schools released a report that found a notable rise in transfer students from public and independent schools looking to enroll in North American Jewish day schools and yeshivas from October 7 to early December 2023. The poll finds 40% of schools received inquiries for enrollment from public school and independent students, with 39% reporting inquiries or enrollment from public school students interested in transferring mid-year. The study linked this rise to parents seeking a Jewish setting and worries regarding antisemitism. The study looked at 99 American and 11 Canadian day schools.[2]

 

 

Prizmah CEO Paul Bernstein pointed out that enrollment in Jewish day schools has increased since 2020 thanks to a robust COVID response. However, the significant surge in midyear transfers after October 7 was a clear indicator of the current antisemitic situation. According to the Prizmah report, 73% of enrollment inquiries come from parents of public school students looking for a Jewish environment, 68% are influenced by antisemitism in their school or community, and 32% are motivated by dissatisfaction with the response to the Israeli war in their current school. [3]

 

Bernstein explained the results, “More than a third of Jewish day schools and yeshivas in North America have seen a rise in inquiries from parents considering moving their children from public schools or non-Jewish private schools since the Oct. 7 terror attacks in Israel and a subsequent global rise in antisemitism. Parents of public and private school students are turning towards Jewish day schools out of a desire for their children to benefit from all that makes Jewish day schools great — an excellent education, a warm, nurturing Jewish environment, and protection from antisemitism they might experience elsewhere.” [4]

 

Prizmah also revealed that more than 1,000 Israeli students have recently joined Jewish day schools in the U.S. and Canada. 95% of the 110 schools surveyed have received inquiries or enrollments from Israeli families looking for a haven from the ongoing conflict. The most common reasons parents are making the change is because the schools instill a strong Jewish identity and are a haven from the rise of antisemitism. Danny Karpf, head of the Rodeph Sholom School on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, notes that day school’s teaching of Jewish identity is one of the main reasons parents are choosing a Jewish education. The families “sought us out due to rising antisemitism and an understanding that the positive Jewish identity students develop at Rodeph Sholom School is more important than ever.” [5]

 

Almost half of the schools that Israeli transfer students attend do not require them to pay tuition. Some schools charge prorated fees or provide discounts instead. More than half of these schools have been funded by local federations, donors, philanthropists, and foundations. Over two-thirds of these schools need extra staff to support students with English language learning. The report commends the schools for their ability to adapt to the changing needs of Israeli families with the help of Jewish community organizations. The schools included in the survey are classified as nondenominational day schools, Orthodox, Conservative, Pluralistic, and Reform. On average, Community, Conservative, Pluralistic, and Reform schools enroll 11 temporary Israeli students, while Orthodox schools have six. In the Western region of the U.S. and Canada, there were the highest numbers of temporary Israelis, with 187 and 167, respectively.[6]

 

Bernstein analyzed that he thinks the increase in transfers to day schools is more about Jewish identity than a response to antisemitism. Bernstein remarked, “It isn’t simply a flight from antisemitism: it’s the desire to be in the Jewish community. That is what I would hope, as we go through and, please God, beyond this crisis — that it really does awaken in people a desire to be more actively part of Jewish life and Jewish community. The best thing that we can possibly do to fight antisemitism is to empower, educate and embrace our community, and give our children the best Jewish education that we can.”

 

With the antisemitism Jewish students are experiencing in public schools in North America, day schools should remain all Jewish institutions; however, they should be welcoming to all Jewish students regardless of denomination or religious observance, and that is why an increase in pluralism is necessary for Jewish day schools rather than allowing non-Jews to attend the Jewish institutions. A new Jewish day school in New York is defying Prizmah statistics where “hundreds” of parents are signing up, creating a pluralistic environment under Conservative Jewish auspices.

 

Parents in New York City are seeking admission to Emet Classical Academy, a recently established Jewish private school catering to students in grades 6-12, in response to the recent Hamas attack on Israel on October 7. The new high school will open its doors in the fall of 2024. Established by the conservative non-profit religious organization The Tikvah Fund, the school plans to admit 36 to 40 students per grade during its inaugural year. Due to the recent attack, the school has been inundated with five times more applications than it can accept. The school’s name, “truth,” comes from the Hebrew word “truth.” The school is experiencing a higher demand compared to the available seats.[7]

 

Rabbi Abraham Unger, the head of the school for grades 6-12, commented to the New York Post, “Since the announcement a few weeks ago we have received hundreds of admissions inquiries from families with kids … at elite secular private schools, Jewish day schools, public schools, and G&T [gifted and talented] programs.” According to The Post, Emet’s yearly tuition is $36,000, offering merit scholarships and welcoming families of all Jewish religious affiliations to apply. Most families that spoke to the press expressed their concern about antisemitism in New York’s public school system, especially the anti-Israel activities of their teachers.

 

There is a growing population of less religious Jewish students joining the day school in reaction to the increased antisemitism. Anna Strahan and Rachael Shillitoe studied exposing non-religious students to religious education in their article “The Experiences of Non-Religious Children in Religious Education.” The researchers argue about the significance of exposing non-religious primary school children to various worldviews, both religious and non-religious, in religious education (RE). Their study, conducted in three regions of England, found that children are concerned about social justice but often experience hermeneutic injustice because they lack the necessary interpretive tools. Encouraging children to explore their developing perspectives may help address this disparity and give them a framework to contemplate their beliefs and principles.

 

Jewish day schools use this opportunity to instill less religious children with a solid Jewish identity. In her 2020 article, Yona Gilead looks at “School’s Place in Nurturing Students’ Jewish Identity Within a Broader Social and Cultural World: Stakeholders’ Experience.” Gilead’s article delves into the experiences of students and faculty members at a pluralistic Jewish day school, focusing on incorporating Jewish values, customs, and knowledge into formal and informal education. It lists five essential features that enhance students’ understanding of Jewish and global identity formation. Gilead indicates that a strong connection between stakeholders’ personal beliefs and their involvement in the educational mission is crucial for Jewish day school education satisfaction. Although the study is based in the Australian Jewish community, its lessons can be applied to other Diaspora Jewish communities. [8]

 

According to the study, adopting a pluralistic approach to Jewish teachings may enhance students’ connection to their evolving Jewish identity by resonating with their worldview and offering a more authentic perspective on Judaism and Israel. This method is especially advantageous for students from households with a limited observances and understanding of their Jewish background. The study emphasizes the significance of including students’ perspectives in classroom teaching, as their opinions may vary significantly from those of teachers. The study emphasizes the ever-changing identity development process shaped by family, community, ethnic, cultural, and faith-based environments. The study suggests that more research is needed to fully understand the influence of home and schooling on identity development. [9]

 

In November, the Canadian Jewish News spotlighted the antisemitism Jewish students in public high schools, especially in Toronto and York Region, are experiencing from students, teachers, and the administration’s lack of response. The CJN reported that they are facing an increase in anti-Israel attitudes from their classmates, causing them to feel frustrated and fearful. 9th-grade boys observed a Nazi salute at their school in downtown Toronto, while 11th-grade girls steered clear of certain areas in their east-end neighborhood due to threats made by a former classmate regarding the situation in Israel. There was graffiti of a swastika found in a boys’ bathroom at a high school in the north end of Toronto, part of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). [10]

 

Some students express concerns about their safety at school or online, while others fear for the well-being of younger Jewish children who may face bullying. Some students believe that their issues are being overlooked or disregarded by administrators and teachers, who steer clear of talking about current events in Israel. Schools are not leading a meaningful discussion, which is leading to the merging of anti-Israel views with antisemitism. Students have shared concerns about their safety, particularly on days when there are threats of violence from Hamas leaders worldwide. [11]

 

An 11th grade student recounted the administration’s response: “Initially I had some patience. I was expecting them to take their time to come out with a statement, with resources and a game plan that was actually going to benefit the students. [We] have not quite seen that done yet… although they have made some statements, it’s been very general and unhelpful. It’s not a safe place unless there are actions being taken, safety protocols being put in place and their response to us is pretty much ‘there’s not much we can do if you don’t feel comfortable coming to school. We’re sorry and we’ll miss your presence at school, but there’s nothing more we can do. And that was very upsetting to hear our vice-principal say that to us, especially because they have tried in the past and put efforts to make other students and other communities feel safe.” [12] According to Jewish parents, pro-Palestinian walkouts in high schools are causing their children to feel unsafe. A webinar hosted by the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto focused on ‘Being Jewish in Public Schools Today’ took place shortly after a mass walkout on October 26, with more significant protests happening the next day. [13]

 

In January, just before the Prizmah survey published their survey results, the Anti-Defamation League released updated antisemitism statistics. According to the ADL, there has been a threefold rise in antisemitic incidents in the US since October 7, 2023, in comparison to the corresponding period last year. According to the ADL’s initial findings, 3,283 incidents were reported between October 7, 2023, and January 7, 2024, almost equivalent to the total number of incidents in 2022. Instances of antisemitic behavior encompass physical attacks, property damage, verbal or written abuse, and demonstrations promoting antisemitic views or endorsing violence against Israel or anti-Zionism.[14]

 

Recent data indicates that there were 505 reported incidents on college campuses, 246 in K-12 schools, and 628 against Jewish institutions such as synagogues and community centers. Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt expressed, “It’s shocking that we’ve recorded more antisemitic acts in three months than we usually would in an entire year. The American Jewish community is facing a threat level that’s now unprecedented in modern history.” [15]

 

All the educators and Jewish heads of schools that spoke to the press after October 7 noted that between the two main reasons for making the change, avoiding antisemitism and instilling a Jewish identity, Jewish identity-building wins out. Daniel Weiss indicated that Jewish day schools educate students on recognizing hostility and antisemitism without promoting a victim mentality. Instead, students cultivate solid Jewish identities and acquire knowledge to counter misinformation. This readies students for high school and college challenges, empowering them to address vitriol and antisemitic hatred. Jewish day schools are well-prepared to handle emergencies and offer support during times of uncertainty. Weiss highlights, “By instilling a sense of resilience and hope, students at Jewish day schools learn that even in times of adversity, the Jewish community and the greater community can come together to overcome challenges.”

 

Weiss concluded his article by stating the positive day schools can instill in their students’ lives. Weiss wrote, “A day school education cannot stop rockets from falling from the sky (although we are proud to have several alumni in the IDF). But it can help each of its graduates to live their lives as proud Jews who are well-educated and secure even in the face of propaganda designed to undermine their very existence. It can create a foundation for a meaningful life of service. And it can connect us to our greater Jewish community so that we can say with confidence—Am Israel Chai—the People of Israel Lives!” [16]

[1] https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/why-jewish-day-schools-matter-now-more-than-ever/

[2] https://www.timesofisrael.com/north-american-jewish-schools-see-dramatic-enrollment-upturn-after-oct-7-study/

[3] https://www.timesofisrael.com/north-american-jewish-schools-see-dramatic-enrollment-upturn-after-oct-7-study/

[4] https://www.linkedin.com/posts/prizmah_study-finds-growing-interest-in-jewish-day-activity-7151613297610371073-colB/

[5] https://forward.com/fast-forward/576013/jewish-day-school-increase-enrollment-israelis-respite-prizmah/

[6] https://forward.com/fast-forward/576013/jewish-day-school-increase-enrollment-israelis-respite-prizmah/

[7] Settembre, Jeanette. “New Jewish School in Manhattan Deluged with Applications in Wake of October 7 Attacks on Israel.” New York Post, January 13, 2024. https://nypost.com/2024/01/12/news/new-jewish-school-in-manhattan-deluged-with-applications/.

[8] Yona Gilead (2020) School’s Place in Nurturing Students’ Jewish Identity Within a Broader Social and Cultural World: Stakeholders’ Experience, Journal of Jewish Education, 86:3, 321-357, DOI: 10.1080/15244113.2020.1727305

[9] Yona Gilead (2020) School’s Place in Nurturing Students’ Jewish Identity Within a Broader Social and Cultural World: Stakeholders’ Experience, Journal of Jewish Education, 86:3, 321-357, DOI: 10.1080/15244113.2020.1727305

[10] https://thecjn.ca/news/jewish-students-in-public-high-schools-say-they-are-afraid-in-the-classro

om-and-frustrated-by-the-indifference-of-administrators/

[11] https://thecjn.ca/news/jewish-students-in-public-high-schools-say-they-are-afraid-in-the-classro

om-and-frustrated-by-the-indifference-of-administrators/

[12] https://thecjn.ca/news/jewish-students-in-public-high-schools-say-they-are-afraid-in-the-classro

om-and-frustrated-by-the-indifference-of-administrators/

[13] https://thecjn.ca/news/jewish-students-in-public-high-schools-say-they-are-afraid-in-the-classro

om-and-frustrated-by-the-indifference-of-administrators/

[14] https://jewishinsider.com/2024/01/antisemitism-increase-oct-7-hamas-israel-jews-u-s-adl/

[15] https://jewishinsider.com/2024/01/antisemitism-increase-oct-7-hamas-israel-jews-u-s-adl/

[16] https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/why-jewish-day-schools-matter-now-more-than-ever/

Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS, is a historian, librarian, journalist, and artist, and author of the recently released “On This Day in History…: Significant Events in the American Year,” and “A Constant Battle: McGill University’s Complicated History of Antisemitism and Now anti-Zionism, which will be released as an ebook and paperback on May 14, 2014.” She has done graduate work in Jewish Education at the Melton Centre of Jewish Education of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She has a BA in History and Art History and a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University. She has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies. Her research area is North American Jewish history, and her thesis was entitled “Unconditional Loyalty to the Cause: Southern Whiteness, Jewish Women, and Antisemitism, 1860–1913.”

 

Ms. Goodman is also the author “Silver Boom! The Rise and Decline of Leadville, Colorado as the United States Silver Capital, 1860–1896,” and “The Mysterious Prince of the Confederacy: Judah P. Benjamin and the Jewish Goal of Whiteness in the South,” among others. She contributed the overviews and chronologies to the “History of American Presidential Elections, 1789–2008,” edited by Gil Troy, Arthur M. Schlesinger, and Fred L. Israel (2012). She is the former Features Editor at the History News Network and reporter at Examiner.com, where she covered politics, universities, religion, and news. Ms. Goodman has been researching and writing about antisemitism in North American Jewish History, and she has reported on the current antisemitic climate and anti-Zionism on campus for over fifteen years. She currently blogs at Medium, where she is a top writer in history and her scholarly articles can be found on Academia.edu.

About the Author
Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS, is a historian, librarian, journalist, and artist. She has done graduate work in Jewish Education at the Melton Centre of Jewish Education of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and in Jewish Studies at McGill University. She has a BA in History and Art History and a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill. She has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies. Her thesis was entitled “Unconditional Loyalty to the Cause: Southern Whiteness, Jewish Women, and Antisemitism, 1860–1913.” Ms. Goodman has been researching and writing about antisemitism in North American Jewish History, and she has reported on the current antisemitic climate and anti-Zionism on campus for over 15 years. She is the author of “A Constant Battle: McGill University’s Complicated History of Antisemitism and Now anti-Zionism.” She contributed the overviews and chronologies to the “History of American Presidential Elections, 1789–2008,” edited by Gil Troy, Arthur M. Schlesinger, and Fred L. Israel (2012). She is the former Features Editor at the History News Network and reporter at Examiner.com, where she covered politics, universities, religion, and news. She currently blogs at Medium, and her scholarly articles can be found on Academia.edu where she is a top writer.
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