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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But by now, the school supplies have been played with, the tzitzit have been bought.

Our school, which in 2012–13 had more than 120 students now had 40 students or so saying they’re coming back. The doors are opening, but — . We’re no longer an “if,” but a but —.

Or no but. The meeting ran long and late, and again, the optimism was heady. The next morning, emails and phone calls abounded: The doors will be open! We did it! We raised lots of money and ruach, spirit, and all’s a go. That was the message at 8 a.m.

And yet — the but: When pushed against the now-open door, my husband and I had to say what too many other parents had to say. We can’t do it. Because this Schechter is not the Schechter of 2012–2013. And we can’t send our kids to this Schechter — not without critical mass for our classes. Not without the teachers we were coming back for. Not without the bus that would save us three hours of driving each day. By the time the Sabbath rolled in — a mere 13 days before the first day of school — another message was delivered. Dear parents, our doors will not open, after all. Funding they got; loyalty they lost. Open and shut, open and shut, open and — because people could never be sure that the doors wouldn’t shut yet again — forever shut. Solomon Schechter of Raritan Valley is no more.

I’m a little jealous of those schools in Manhattan that have a supply of students creating so much demand that they can’t even meet it. That’s not the case in most of New Jersey, not so in Pennsylvania. And it’s probably even less so as you get farther away. Here, Jewish friends look at me with plain disdain in their faces as they ask why I am sending my kids to Jewish school. I want to say to them: “Don’t you want this, too? Don’t you want your children to know where they come from? To be able to pray with a minyan? To know to sing ‘Od Yishama’ at a wedding or say ‘Ha-Makom yenachem etchem betoch sh’ar aveilei Tziyon V’Yerushalayim’ at a shiva? To be able to read from the Torah at their bar and bat mitzvahs in Hebrew that hasn’t been transliterated? To dream through the stories of I. L. Peretz and S. Y. Agnon? To deftly explain the differences between the destruction of the two Temples?”

But I don’t say this, because I’m not really sure anyone cares about the Temples. This isn’t New York. There, the doors on the Jewish schools — heavy, solid, stable — open narrowly, admitting those who meet their criteria. Here, the doors fling open wildly, admitting everyone, but they are flimsy, with not enough will or belief or funding to give them strength. And with a gust of wind, the doors slam shut. For good.

*Karen E.H. Skinazi is a literary and cultural critic, a lecturer at Princeton University, the wife of a scientist and the mother of three boys.


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