When a Jewish Day School Closes Days Before Start of Classes

Chaos and Angst When N.J. Schechter School Abruptly Shut

Open and Shut: Seven-year-old Lucas Ludvig, left, and his friend Elan Ronen were forced to find new schools after the Solomon Schechter School of the Raritan Valley abruptly announced it would not reopen this fall.
courtesy of karen e.h. skinazi
Open and Shut: Seven-year-old Lucas Ludvig, left, and his friend Elan Ronen were forced to find new schools after the Solomon Schechter School of the Raritan Valley abruptly announced it would not reopen this fall.

By Karen E.H. Skinazi

Published August 23, 2013, issue of August 30, 2013.
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This sounded promising. “Can I come see the school?” I asked. We arranged a time. An hour later, an email pinged into my inbox. Emergency meeting at Schechter. This would be the third of its kind. But for what? Weren’t we closed? To wrap up loose ends? To berate the board for mismanagement? To sit shiva? Why go?

I went. There was a big crowd of parents, rabbis, community leaders, former board members and former parents. New plan: If we can pull together, we are not going to close. Come August 29 (or maybe September 9), if we’re all here, we are going to open our doors. If we all work together, we are going to find a way to be financially solvent, and we are going to get back the students who have been eyeing other schools appreciatively. Almost everyone is supportive. People pledge to raise money. People pledge to give money on the spot. Teachers agree to take wage cuts. By the end of the night, close to midnight, I have hope: The school might really be saved. The doors of the school might open, after all.

Hurray! We almost ended the night happily in “Kumbaya” or “Hatikva” or “God Bless America.” We felt proud that we had banded together and saved a day school, an establishment that not only educates Jewish children in secular America in the almost-forgotten culture and rituals of our people, but also acts as the glue for the community.

Admittedly, the next day, I went to see the other school — just in case. And it’s beautiful: purple walls in the girls’ Sephardic-inspired beit midrash; an Israel room featuring a “Superjew” shirt and computers representing Haifa’s Silicon Valley, along with the more traditional Jerusalemite fare, and a Holocaust library with the kids’ own family photos. There is a big indoor jungle gym for when the wee ones want to blow off steam in the winter. And Orthodox feminist Blu Greenberg is consulted when the school needs to figure out how to meet the demands of its pluralistic students. This charming school in leafy Pennsylvania is as religiously diverse as that school I once called in the city. I told the principal I’m impressed (I am!), and also that I will have to let him know if we’re coming once we see what happens with Schechter.

And what is happening with Schechter? No one knows. The optimism is fading. A questionnaire was sent out. Will you come if we open our doors? An informal poll followed: Will you come if we open our doors? Phone calls: Will you come? Will you come? We count the kids who say they will come. In each grade, about seven. Six other kids for my kid to play with. Three other boys for each boy to do boy stuff with. The parents have scattered, have registered at that other Schechter that pointed out it’s not only honoring financial aid and offering free busing, but is also stable. That’s the word that keeps showing up: stable. We are a stable school. We offer our children stability. We will provide a stable for your little butts to inhabit. Well, maybe not that one. But “stable” stands in sharp contrast to our Schechter, which continues to head each message with that conditional “if.” If we open our doors. If. If. If — that great hallmark of instability.

Outside of the polls, formal and informal, parents are texting and emailing and Facebook messaging and calling among themselves. “What are you thinking?” “The opposite of what I was thinking yesterday.” “No kumbaya?” “Will you go back?” “I’m not sure… but I called the local Orthodox day school.” “What are you thinking now?” “I am letting the kids play with their Schechter school supplies.” “And now?” “I just bought three pairs of tzitzit.” “So you made your decision?” “No, we’ll see…. Will it open its doors?”

Scheduled for Thursday, August 15, exactly two weeks before the doors of Schechter are supposed to open: another emergency meeting! This one was prefaced with an if-free email. We’re going ahead! This is our go-ahead plan! We are opening our doors. Come on in!


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