Send Your Child to a Jewish Day School

NOTE: The following blog post is indebted to the observations of Day School advocates Dennis Prager, Rabbi David Wolpe, Professor Sam Heilman, and Day School Board Chair Rebecca Berman [Golda Och Academy, West Orange, NJ], and Golda Och Director of Admissions, Micah Gottlieb.

As recently as the 1960s, Day Schools were primarily limited to the children of Orthodox Jews, Israelis, or Jewish professionals (rabbis, cantors, educators) working in non-Orthodox congregations. Today, this is no longer the case. For Conservative, Reform, and Unaffiliated Youngsters, Jewish Day School has become a mainstream option.

Notably, uniquely among non-Orthodox groups, in sizable numbers Conservative Jewish parents are enrolling their sons and daughters in Solomon Schechter Schools, Community Day Schools, and Modern Orthodox Yeshivot. The Pew Study published in 2013 revealed that more than 30% of children from Conservative Jewish homes at some point receive Day School education. A major upgrade!

  1. Day School vs Supplemental School?

Jewish Day School education has obvious advantages. Twenty hours a week of Judaic instruction compares very favorably to part-time Jewish learning. In Dennis Prager’s formulation: “In Judaism, a little is better than nothing. A lot is better than a little.” Jewish Day School also has the advantage of not being relegated to difficult hours at the end of the school day or on the weekend.

Only in Day School will the child intensively learn about:

Modern Hebrew

Bible

Rabbinic Literature

Jewish History

Holocaust

Jewish Philosophy and Values

Israel

And Contemporary Jewish Life

  1. What about the costs?

Professor Samuel Heilman has addressed this valid concern, “Day schools are expensive… Could I afford this choice? … The answer… is can I afford not to make this choice… In spite of the extra cost, this kind of intensive Jewish education is what would best preserve the Jewishness of my children into their adult years… a solid understanding of their Jewish heritage.”

Day school education does not guarantee that our children will remain committed to their Judaism and Jewish identity in adult years. But let’s give our Jewish parenting that extra measure of Jewish infusion, even if it places some fiscal burden upon us.

This is a precious Jewish parenting opportunity for childhood years that will never arise again. Don’t end up with regrets as did best-selling author Alina Adams when she wrote an op ed entitled, “I cheated my sons out of a [Day School] Jewish Education.

Just as college tuition is an investment in your child’s future career, so too is day school tuition an investment in your child’s Jewish future.

FYI: I would urge families considering Jewish Day to contact your local school as well as your Jewish Federation. You might be pleasantly surprised to learn the actual facts about affordability.

  1. But will my kids be able to relate to non-Jews later in life?

All of us want our sons and daughters to be able to relate to people of different backgrounds during their adult years. Some parents resistant to Day School education ponder, “How can my child relate to the non-Jewish world while having been raised in a totally Jewish school atmosphere?”

Yet this concern is unwarranted. Dennis Prager, a day school graduate, comments, “Graduates of day schools have not had adjustment problems to non-Jews in later life.”

After all, Day School children are not been totally restricted to Jews alone. Living as a minority outside of Israel, our children relate to non-Jewish children in their neighborhood, on television, the movies, the newspapers, social media, and in countless other ways. But what Day School does provide is the capacity of our sons and daughters to relate to their non-Jewish peers well-grounded in Jewish identity. It means coming to affirm that you are the latest link in a Sacred Chain of Jewish Tradition that stretches all the way back to Abraham and Sarah. As Micah Gottlieb elaborates, “having a strong sense of identity that is developed in Day school allows you to engage more authentically with others from different backgrounds.”

America’s most prominent pulpit Rabbi, David Wolpe, has commented that he “gets invited to speak at Christian universities and conferences all the time.” Why? “They invite me because I am so Jewishly grounded. Were that not so, I would have nothing to say to these Christian groups. My years in day school gave me the materials to speak about something larger than myself. A spiritual tradition of 4,000 years that has something important to say to the modern world.”

Day school has not held Rabbi Wolpe back. On the contrary, it has catapulted him forward.

  1. But will my kids become “too Jewish?”

Some parents worry that the child will come back home to a family whose self-perception is that they are not as `Jewish’ as the school community appears to be. They fear that some sort of tension will occur. Yet Dennis Prager insists that “You can never be too smart… or too good as a basketball player… But people incorrectly think that you can be TOO JEWISH.”

Now, could there be some tension? Sure! But we experience other healthy ‘tensions’ emanating from our child’s schooling. Are we fearful that our child will come home and be more tech-savvy than we are? Are we alarmed if our son or daughter comes home and is more of a social justice activist than we have been? What if our son or daughter decides to experiment with living on a vegan diet?

The goal of a Jewish Day School is not to force children into any one mold. Instead it is to expose the child to as much Judaism as possible. This exposure will enable an informed choice about Judaism later in life. Prager comments, “You can’t have an informed choice about Jewish options if you haven’t seen Judaism in practice.”

In terms of Judaism, in Day School you will not have any problem with “religious coercion.” Solomon Schechter and Community day Schools are pluralistic. They include many different levels of student and family Jewish commitment. You will find your comfort zone within that broad spectrum.

NOTE: Many Modern Orthodox schools also have become more diverse in terms of their parent bodies and level of religious affiliation/observance.

  1. Are Day Schools a better address in which to learn about Jewish values?

Golda Och Academy Director of Admissions, Micah Gottlieb, observes that “the warm and nurturing environment of a Day School is grounded in the Jewish values of Chesed (loving kindness), Kavod (respect), and Kehillah (community). With an understanding that students learn best in a safe environment, that social emotional learning enhances the academic learning, and that learning is a relational experience – the small class sizes and grounded community of a Day School help cultivate a child’s intellectual curiosity and menschlichkeit. Day Schools produce kind, engaged students who are prepared for the challenges ahead through a rigorous dual curriculum.

Intensive grounding in seeing the world through the lens of Jewish values is available in Jewish Day School.

Tzedakah – giving of money and of time

Tikkun Olam – making a better world

Mishpocha – The Centrality of family

Lo Taamode Al Dam Re’Echa – Don’t be Indifferent to Suffering of Any Human Being

Shomer Adamah – Being Environmentally Responsible

Tzaar Baalay Chaim – Exhibiting Kindness to Animals

Ahavat Yisrael – Commitment to assist Jewish communal and individual needs

And many more …

Dennis Prager: “How do we want to raise our children? I want my child to be a good human being [a mentsch] and I want my child to be a good Jew.”

To maximize the odds on my child’s goodness and Jewishness, there is no doubt that Day School is the best option. The Day School is the best bet to produce a Jewish Jew, a Mentsch Jew.

Research confirms that day school graduates are more likely to engage in voluntarism within Jewish and civic organizations, to contribute tzedakah to Jewish and civic causes, to seek out Jewish friends, to choose to live in a neighborhood with a critical mass of Jews, and to place strong importance on the creation of a Jewish home.

As noted by recent Day School [GOA] graduate Annie Cannon and current Hillel President at Muhlenberg, “Day School [Golda Och] is a pipeline for Jewish leadership,” she said. “We learned that it’s not enough to be a participant. We can’t just take from the Jewish community; we have to give back.”

  1. Engendering Commitment to Israel  

Rebecca Berman – “Day schools empower our students to develop a personal connection to Israel by studying its history, culture, and the Hebrew language. Students learn in the classroom the importance of Zionism.”

Berman adds that “our children begin their days singing `Hatikvah,’ setting the tone as they engage in activities that help them learn and appreciate Israel’s history and rich culture.”

“By traveling to Israel, they experience our connection to the Jewish state through a contemporary lens.”

In fact, trips to Israel are part and parcel of the Day School curriculum. So, too, is exposure to Israeli faculty and to Shlichim [educational emissaries] from the State of Israel, and to Olim [young adults who now live in Israel].

Identification with the Jewish State is greatly enhanced by the Day School community and overall experience.

  1. The Blessing of Hebrew as a Living Language

Do you have family, friends and/or relatives in Israel with whom you would want your child to converse both now and later in life? Day School is the ideal venue for developing conversational Hebrew fluency.

Furthermore, research reveals that learning Hebrew at an early age, reinforced by trips to the State of Israel, opens the student’s mental capacity to add further language facility in the years ahead.

Rebecca Berman comments that, “beyond facilitating engagement in prayer and text study, Hebrew also provides a connection with Jewish communities around the world (our “secret code,” as I like to call it). On a trip to Paris, my husband (who attended The Brandeis School on Long Island) used Hebrew to converse with shopkeepers to help us find a synagogue where we could celebrate Purim. It was a profound moment of connectedness among members of “the tribe,” using our shared language to find common ground and a sense of shared purpose.”

  1. Forging Jewish Identity  

Rebecca Berman: “Graduates of day schools are able to walk into virtually any synagogue in the world and participate in the service and, in this topsy-turvy world, always have a spiritual and communal place to call home.”

“Jewish Day Schools develop children who are joyfully Jewish, foster a strong sense of achdut (Jewish unity).”

Day School graduates are the sector of Jewish adults most likely to be proud to be Jewish.

Day School graduates are among those Jewish adults most likely to feel comfortable in their grounding in Jewish knowledge.

Day School graduates are often the Jewish adults most likely to feel a connection to Jewish People, Jews in Israel, and around the world.

Rebecca Berman, “As our students grow into young adults, they assume a deep sense of responsibility to maintain the Torah and its traditions from generation to generation. By imprinting memories of warm, Jewish communal experiences — including the celebration of Judaic lifecycle events and holidays — day schools inspire and equip the next generation of American Jews to find their rightful place among the Jewish people.”

  1. Life Long Jewish Friendships

In today’s atomized world, it is difficult to forge quality Jewish friendship during school years and beyond. Jewish Day School offers a small, intensive communal experience in which life-long friendships are formed, sustained in college, and in the work world for years to come.

Rebecca Berman – “My friend’s son, a GOA graduate, is living post-college in Manhattan. On Friday nights, he and a bunch of his high school friends take turns hosting Shabbat dinner in their respective apartments. They have each gone out into the world, attended college, and began their professional careers — yet they choose, out of instinct (or I submit, by design of the day school experience), to find their way back to one another.”

  1. Does Day School prepare you well enough for college?

Rebecca Berman observes how the Jewish Day School “combines intensive Judaic studies with excellence in general studies to give each student an exceptional educational experience (including a small student-to-teacher ratio of 5 to 1). “Today’s Jewish Day Schools make “a serious commitment to develop a top-notch science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) program.”

In many respects, day school graduates actually are better prepared to tackle the rigors of college academics. They have experienced a dual curriculum, a commitment to critical thinking at every stage, plus a full array of extra-curricular activities, e.g. sports, English and Hebrew language newspapers, special interest clubs, national honor society, student council, choirs, drama, and so forth.

Day schools have a proven record of college and post-college success. Day School students are admitted to prestigious universities. Day School alumni excel in a variety of professions. Day School grads serve as leaders in our Jewish and general communities.

One of my local rabbinic colleagues recounts the experience of his daughter during an interview for admission into an Ivy league University. The interviewer inquired: “How many foreign languages have you studied?” The day school student replied: “I have studied Modern Hebrew for 12 years, Spanish for 6 years, Biblical Hebrew for 10 years, and the Aramaic of the Talmudic period for 4 years.” The Admissions staff member was astounded, and replied: “Young lady, you’re in!”

Micah Gottlieb explains that, “It’s not just the act of getting into college, or how successful Day School students are once they arrive on campus where we see the benefits of a Jewish Day School education. Day schools, as Independent schools, provide the highest caliber of College guidance. These experts work closely with the small group of students applying and preparing to apply to College and provide insights into what each school is looking for, and a network of alumni that show a proven track record of success.”

Consider Jewish Day School for Your Child as a benefit to your entire household and to members of your extended family!

The Day School’s feeling of community, support structure and overall commitment to Judaism/Israel rubs off on parents & students alike. Many times, even grandparents renew their connections to Judaism through observing their grandkids attend Jewish Day School.

Send your child to Jewish Day. It will be a choice neither you nor your offspring will ever regret!

About the Author
Rabbi Alan Silverstein, PhD has been the religious leader of Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell, New Jersey since 1979. From … 1993 to 1995 he served as President of the International Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative Movement. From 2000 - 2005 he was President of the World Council of Conservative/Masorti Synagogues. He served as Chair of the Foundation for Masorti Judaism in Israel from 2010-2014. He currently serves as the president of Mercaz Olami. He is the author of It All Begins With A Date: Jewish Concerns About Interdating; Preserving Jewishness In Your Family: Once Intermarriage Has Occurred; as well as Alternative to Assimilation: A Social History of the Reform Movement in American Judaism, 1840-1930.
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