Turning to Day Schools When Synagogues Just Won't Do

Let's Expand a Successful Institution To Include Everyone

Working Model: Day Schools are serving needs that synagogues simply aren’t anymore.
Getty Images
Working Model: Day Schools are serving needs that synagogues simply aren’t anymore.

By Ken Gordon

Published January 23, 2014, issue of January 24, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

My name is Ken Gordon, and I don’t belong to a synagogue. When the Pew Research Center reported that two-thirds of American Jews are in the same situation, I didn’t break out into a cold Jewish sweat, as did so many of my colleagues. I thought instead: I’m not alone!

My wife and I send our kids to a Jewish day school. It’s an intense, joyous, valuable experience, and that’s really all we need or want. It’s our Jewish institution of choice. Period.

Recently, a rabbi tried to change my point of view. She basically tried to guilt me into joining her synagogue. I had inquired about doing an independent bat mitzvah for my daughter.

“We often find that day school families are looking for a community and clergy connection that complements the deep sense of community experienced at day school,” she wrote in an email. “We also know that (most unfortunately!) day school years do not last forever, and it is important to establish communal Jewish connection post b’nai mitzvah and post day school.”

At first, this infuriated me. It implied that I was cutting my kid off from Jewish life, that the only road to communal participation was through membership at a synagogue — and that day school was, at best, a short-term investment. In other words: I was walking my little girl down the royal road to assimilation.

The email didn’t change my mind — in fact, it made me that much more determined to figure out an alternative way to make an independent bat mitzvah happen — but it did suggest something to me: Day schools don’t last forever, but they should.

Here’s the typical pattern: Parents send their kids to a day school. The kids graduate. The parents become uninvolved. The kids, well, they grow up. They get married, have kids and, if everything goes as hoped, send their children to day school.

This is a flawed model. The huge gap in a family’s active day school engagement is one reason that schools face such serious sustainability issues, and why they serve only a small fraction of the population. The solution to this problem — and perhaps to the problem of Jewish day schools in general — is that the schools need to think bigger.


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!
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • 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.