Daniel R. Weiss

Why Jewish day schools matter now more than ever

Members of Torah Mitzion visiting a Memphis Jewish Day School. (courtesy)

Waking up on October 7, 2023, and hearing about the terror in Israel is a lot to handle. Terror anywhere is hard to understand. Even more so when it happens to your friends, your family, and in a place you have visited so many times.

For me, I have always coped with times like these by being part of a community. I have found comfort and a sense of belonging at my synagogue and in the Jewish institutions where I have lived. I have found connection and calm with the land and people of Israel. And I have always felt at home in Jewish day schools, first as a student and eventually as a teacher and administrator.

Reading the news today, I am struck not only by the senseless violence in Israel but by the rampant antisemitism that is occurring around the world. Specifically, our children are confronted by an outbreak of anti-Israel (and anti-Jewish) “protests” in our high schools and on our college campuses. And they face deafening silence from the very institutions entrusted with their education. In times like these, I am thankful that I went to a Jewish day school as a child and that I work at one now.

First and foremost, Jewish day schools provide Jewish students with a safe place, physically and emotionally. These are schools that are committed to meeting the social and emotional needs of students, and to teaching and modeling Jewish values and ethics. They are schools where students can feel free to be Jewish and to express who they are without fear. In short, students at Jewish day schools are part of strong, supportive Jewish communities that stand together in times of crisis. They are places where students, staff, and families can come together to learn, grow, and even grieve. And they are communities where students form friendships that often last a lifetime, providing a strong support network during difficult times.

At Jewish day schools, we teach our students that they will encounter others who don’t believe the same as they do. We teach them that they may encounter acts of hostility and antisemitism in the world. But we do not teach them to have a victim mentality. Instead, students in Jewish day schools develop strong Jewish identities. They learn facts that prepare them to answer falsehoods. The preparation that we give our students provides them the tools that they need when they enter high school and college to combat the vitriol and antisemitic hatred that they will inevitably encounter. Jewish day schools are well-equipped to address crises and provide guidance to students and families during times of uncertainty. 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.

Students at Jewish day schools learn to be upstanders and have the courage to be proud Jews. At the same time, students acquire empathy, which is an essential component of learning tolerance and promoting a better understanding of differing perspectives. At Jewish day school, and especially at Bornblum, the acquisition of empathy is integrated into every subject, every grade, and every program.

More than ever, the education and training we provide our students through eighth grade is essential. Not only does it prepare students for a life of meaning and purpose, but it also cultivates future Jewish leaders. Jewish day schools instill in their students a sense of global citizenship, encouraging them to be informed, compassionate, and actively engaged in global issues, including those affecting Israel. I know all of this to be true, because still today, the things I learned in Jewish day school serve me well as I confront the world in which we live.

Now, many years later, as a Head of School in a Jewish day school, I have the opportunity to support not only our students but our families, faculty, and staff as well. I wake up each day and know that Bornblum is a school with five Israeli staff. Three other staff members, myself included, have children, parents, and siblings living in Israel. We have several families who have moved to Memphis from Israel or have family living in Israel. Thankfully, we are a community that cares deeply for one another and for the community in which we live.

I also know that as the Head of School of a Jewish day school, I can and must be a resource and a source of support for Jewish students who do not attend Jewish day schools. Over the last two weeks, I have sent emails to the heads of school at Memphis’ independent schools and public schools where there are Jewish students. I offered some perspective on the conflict in Israel, but more importantly, encouraged each of them to look out for the Jewish students and families in their schools. I asked them to check in on those families and to make sure that their school provides a safe environment for their Jewish students. And I offered the resources of our staff to help in any way we can to help them help their Jewish students and families.

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!

About the Author
Dr. Daniel R. Weiss has been the Head of School at Bornblum Jewish Community School in Memphis, TN, since 2018. Daniel earned his bachelors in Jewish Studies from The Ohio State University, a masters in Jewish Education from Siegal College, and a doctorate from Northeastern University. He has 25 years of experience working in Jewish Day Schools. He is a proud husband and father of three.
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