Parents Face Dilemmas When Jewish Schools Close

Tough Decisions Shaped by Belief, Jewish Identity and Class

iKids: Students work on the first day of school at the Saul Mirowitz Community School in St. Louis
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iKids: Students work on the first day of school at the Saul Mirowitz Community School in St. Louis

By Seth Berkman

Published January 22, 2013, issue of January 25, 2013.
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In January 2012, Irit Pinkus was shocked to learn that her daughter’s Jewish day school would close at the end of the semester, leaving her and the parents of the school’s other 150 students with a tough decision: where to place their children next year.

It’s a decision faced by an increasing number of families. According to a new survey released in January, the number of non-Haredi Jewish day schools in America has shrunk by 5.6% over the past three years.

How families respond can depend on their degree of commitment to Jewish education and their financial means. For Pinkus, there was never any consideration of sending her 7-year-old daughter to a secular public school, or even to a private secular school.

“It’s important to me that the children go to a Hebrew day school to develop a sense of Jewish community,” she said. But Pinkus had other concerns, too. The school that her daughter attended, Reuben Gittelman Hebrew Day School, which is in New City, a suburb north of New York City, was a Solomon Schechter School, part of the network of schools affiliated with the Conservative stream of Judaism. Pinkus appreciated its proximity to her home and the type of Judaism her daughter learned there.

To Pinkus’s great relief, at the meeting the administrators called to announce the Gittelman School’s closing, representatives were on hand to talk about the opening of a new school nearby — Rockland Jewish Academy, which would be run under the supervision of the Solomon Schechter School of Westchester. “It went from a funeral to a wedding,” Pinkus said.

Not every parent whose child attends a Jewish day school that closes is as fortunate as Pinkus. According to the survey of Jewish day school trends, conducted by Jewish educator Marvin Schick for the Avi Chai Foundation, 11 Jewish day schools have closed within just the past year. These closings can confront parents with an array of difficult choices, including sending their children to public school; to another Jewish school whose religious ideology they may or may not agree with; or, frequently, to a new school that comes from a merger of the school that is closing with another, already existing school whose future viability can be hard to predict.

According to the Avi Chai survey, some of the recent trends in school closures are surprising. While the long-term decrease in the number of Schechter schools has received some attention, over the last three years, Modern Orthodox schools have led the decline in percentage terms, shrinking in number by 7.2% during this period. The Schechter schools follow, falling in number by 6.8%.

But since 1998, the number of Schechter schools has dropped by more than 35%, down to 41 nationwide in 2012 from 63. (No comparable data going that far back were immediately available for the other religious streams.)


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