Solomon Schechter Schools May Open Doors to Non-Jews

Conservative Network Seeks Answers for Declining Enrolment

courtesy of marla shelasky

By Uriel Heilman

Published November 22, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

(JTA) — Synagogues aren’t the only institutions in the Conservative movement changing their policies to become more welcoming to non-Jews and interfaith families.

The movement’s school network, Solomon Schechter, is too.

Last week, the organization’s board voted to set up a task force to reconsider its admissions policies, which limit enrollment to Jews or non-Jews who intend to convert.

What’s really at issue is the Conservative movement’s stance on patrilineal descent.

Conservative Judaism — like the Orthodox but unlike Reform — does not recognize as Jewish children who are born to non-Jewish mothers and Jewish fathers. Yet more and more schools are encountering prospective students who fit that category and don’t intend to convert because they already consider themselves Jewish.

Jon Mitzmacher, the executive director-designate of the Schechter Day School Network, told JTA this week that changing the rules on admitting such students is important particularly in communities where the Schechter school is the only non-Orthodox day school in town. If the Schechter schools don’t accept children who are Jewish by patrilineal descent, Reform kids who fit that category will be shut out from day school education.

“Is a Schechter school about a certain kind of education, or is it about the halachic identity of the students sitting in the seats?” said Mitzmacher, who expects to start his new job at the helm of the Schechter network next summer (he currently is head of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School, a Schechter affiliate in Jacksonville, Fla.). “In 2013, are we in a position where we want to be putting up roadblocks for parents who want our product?”

The shift in outlook comes at a time of serious decline for Schechter schools: Over the last 15 years, the number of Schechter schools in the country has shrunk from 63 to 41. Many schools have ignored the network’s admission rules and loosened admissions criteria on their own. Others have opted out of the Schechter network entirely and become pluralistic Jewish community day schools. A few have simply shut down.

The Schechter network is itself in the midst of a significant overhaul. It is in the process of becoming independent from the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, though it will remain part of the Conservative movement. It recently was awarded some $2 million in grants from the Avi Chai Foundation and an anonymous foundation (and some resources from United Synagogue), which will allow it to expand its staff and build capacity.

Mitzmacher says change is long overdue and that he hopes a new admissions policy will be in place by this summer.

“How we think about admissions and everything we do is subject to reexamination,” he said.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • "Hamas and others have dredged up passages form the Quran that demonize Jews horribly. Some imams rail about international Jewish conspiracies. But they’d have a much smaller audience for their ravings if Israel could find a way to lower the flames in the conflict." Do you agree with J.J. Goldberg?
  • How did Tariq Abu Khdeir go from fun-loving Palestinian-American teen to international icon in just a few short weeks? http://jd.fo/d4kkV
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.