Has the Jewish Day School Model Failed?

by Maskil on 18 May 2009

An excellent article by Gary Rosenblatt on the future of Jewish education in The [NY] Jewish Week. In particular, his support for the Hebrew Charter School model and for revisiting the Hebrew (Sunday) School model is welcome. I’m not going to attempt to paraphrase the article, or sprinkle my post with extracts. Rather read it in full here:

Jewish Day School Model May Now Be Thing Of Past

Just a couple of points to add to the discussion:

Isn’t it a bit premature to conclude that the Jewish Day School model has failed (at least financially)? I think that much of the problem is that almost the entire burden of running Jewish Day Schools has fallen on the parents of those attending them (apart from donors, of course), during the course of their attendance. If we believe that day schools are truly the answer for Jewish literacy and a (meaningful) Jewish survival, then surely the burden should be picked up by the entire Jewish community, not just those whose children attend a day school. We should see this as one of the most crucial needs when it comes to communal Jewish spending.

If we look at South Africa, it is claimed that around 80% of Jewish children attend a Jewish Day School, most of which operate under the aegis of the SA Board of Jewish Education (SABJE). This is a good example of what can be achieved when the Jewish Day School model enjoys almost universal support from the community.

(The SA example is not without its flaws, with the culture of the SABJE-supported schools having been hijacked by the increasingly Haredi-oriented Orthodox structures. While the attempt to impose a higher level of “Frumkeit” has probably been largely successful, it has eroded the universal support schools such as King David once enjoyed. The 80% figure referred to above is probably quite optimistic, given the quiet drift away from organised Jewish life that has taken place in conjunction with the increased level of observance in part of the community. Simply put, a pluralistic or non-denominational Jewish education is not available through the SABJE, although it is funded by and should be accessible to the entire community.)

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