Education for the Jewish Future

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The NY Jewish Week covers the “largest PEJE conference ever.” PEJE is the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education, and the fact that this conference is large and growing can only mean good things.

Non-Orthodox day schools are now popping up all over the country — and whatever we might have to say about the movements themselves, Day Schools are a positive force. They are much better than Hebrew schools, and usually not as doctrinal as the movements (one reason: many of the teachers are, as you might have figured, Orthodox).

A generation ago, many Modern Orthodox Jews sent their children to public school, but today a day school or yeshiva education is all but a given for this cohort.

What changed?

“It was a monomaniacal commitment to Jewish education,” Rabbi Gottlieb said. “It was a recognition that it was one of those things that was absolutely necessary to [transmit] cultural values.”

Rabbi Joshua Elkin, executive director of PEJE, said non-Orthodox Jews could learn a lot about accepting the day school idea from their more traditional counterparts.

“In the Orthodox community, families for the most part believe in this kind of education, and they arrange their lives to make that possible,” said Rabbi Elkin, who was ordained at the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary. “They make it work because they believe in its value — it’s not negotiable.”

What the article doesn’t say — and I wonder if even the non-Orthodox educators at the conference have yet realized — is that the above does not merely explain why the Orthodox are now all sending their children to day school. It explains why Orthodoxy is the only form of Judaism growing today.

The conference also focused upon the biggest problem in Jewish education, one that stretches across all ideological boundaries: finances. Normally I don’t have a lot of admiration for Yossi Abromowitz and his “Jewish Family & Life!” — they that spent a cool four million dollars building a “trans-denominational” imitation of Torah.org. But anyone with “a financial model that would enable day school parents to borrow up to $80,000 annually to cover tuition and school expenses” gets a round of applause from me and my bank account.

A program “expected to pump $26 million into 159 day schools in North America” is certainly a good start. I suppose it’s too much to expect them to support the schools per-capita rather than emphasizing their favorite ideological bent — meaning Orthodox parents will continue making real sacrifices to educate their children, as the philanthropists’ know they will — but that does mean that more children overall will choose Jewish schools. That’s a good thing, regardless of whose name is on the building.

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4 Responses

  1. Jewish Observer says:

    “A friend who teaches at a Schechter school has built amazing connections with the kids”

    I know someone who taught 8th grade at SS in LI for many years and influenced many kids to go to HANC (if you hold that’s good) many of whom went on to YU (if you hold that’s good) some of whom got smicha (if you hold that’s good)

  2. Esther says:

    I really appreciate Rabbi Menken’s acknowledgement that any serious Jewish education is better than none – and that the Orthodox teachers who choose to enter these schools are playing such an important role. A friend who teaches at a Schechter school has built amazing connections with the kids and they ask him serious questions about halacha and hashkafa. I know I woul not have been as inclined towards becoming more involved with the Torah lifestyle if I hadn’t already been able to read Hebrew and know about the holidays and prayers – which came from attending a “community” school. I get very frustrated when frum people criticize non-Orthodox parents for sending their kids to these schools, as if the other option was a more frum school. In fact, as you write, the other option is public school with afternoon “Hebrew school” – which is usually a joke and can get kids even more turned off because they feel it’s infringing on their free time.

  3. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Excellent post. I have two points to raise:

    1. At the risk of sounding cynical, if the purpose of a philantropist is to get more children into Jewish day schools, it makes perfect sense to avoid helping Orthodox parents. They will make the sacrifices and do it anyway. It is more effective to help the less committed Jews who would decide on public education instead.

    2. It is a common theme of this site that the heterodox movements are futile and transient. I wonder if day schools will be enough to save us.

  1. May 15, 2007

    […] The failure of Manhattan Schechter and near-failure of Metro Schechter are the results of these ill-advised policies, at least within the Conservative movement. I have written previously that I am in favor of Jewish children choosing Jewish schools “regardless of whose name is on the building.” Yudelson points out that “community liberal Jewish high schools are thriving in places including Boston, Atlanta, and, yes, Manhattan’s west side,” neglecting the successful and relatively new Cardin High School here in Baltimore, which has competed with the Orthodox run Beth Tfiloh Community High School for a similar demographic. Without exaggeration I would say that both high schools are winning. It is unfortunate, in my opinion, that the Conservative movement is getting a failing grade in Jewish education. Spread the Word | Permalink | Trackback | Comment Feed […]