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

(page 2 of 2)

Jewish day schools could be, like synagogues themselves, for the entire Jewish community. They should be the place where people come to study, a home for everything from early childhood education to traditional day school study, b’nai mitzvah prep and adult education. Imagined this way, day schools would have a much larger base and a much greater opportunity to build lifetime relationships. Why shouldn’t day schools take the lead in lifetime learning?

I can easily imagine how a day school might open its doors to the community. Not just obvious stuff like text study with the great Judaic studies teachers on staff, or “Hebrew for Hebrew School Dropouts” (given by the parents whose lousy Hebrew school educations prompted them to choose day school for their own kids). Why not do a lecture series using the smart writers and professors in your local community? Why not bring in the business owners and entrepreneurs to talk innovation? Why not provide professional development and networking classes to people in your community who might need them? How about robust after-school programs? On-campus camping?

Some might think that I’m suggesting we turn a day school into a Jewish community center. Not so. Yes, JCCs do offer education for the community — but day schools are different. They are dedicated to education in a way that community centers, with their wider mandate, are not. Day school students spend half of each day speaking and living Hebrew. Does that happen at your local JCC? And it’s also a matter of time. At a day school, kids are in a Jewish — and not necessarily a religious — learning environment all day long, five days a week. The day school experience is an all-out Jewish experience, one of the few that our kids will ever get while walking on American soil.

The question of cost will inevitably arise, as day schools have a reputation for being unaffordable to many. Should a school give away all this after-hours learning for free? That’s not what I’m suggesting. It might be feasible to offer a carefully selected activity or two to the public gratis — the value of getting certain prospective parents or families in the door might outweigh the lost revenue — but in general, one would expect schools to charge a fair price for the high-quality learning experiences they offer. I leave it to individual schools to crunch the numbers and determine just what parents can afford to pay. Perhaps a local donor or two, sensing that the community is already overburdened, might want to help by subsidizing some adult education. Remember, I’m suggesting that day schools will provide the services that synagogues are not — and think of what people pay for synagogue memberships just so they can go to the High Holiday services twice a year.

The secret sauce here will be synagogue-averse Jews. For them, congregational life isn’t part of the equation. While they won’t be swayed by a religious appeal, they just might go for a cultural one. An intellectual one. If these people were keyed in to the close, warm learning communities that day schools embody, it just might change the way in which Jewish life in America constitutes itself.

What would it take to expand our day schools’ area of operation? It would take some smart, vigorous programming. It would take people who understand local social networks. And it would take visionary educators who see why daring to place learning at the heart of Jewish life is exactly what’s needed right now.

Ken Gordon is the senior social media manager and content strategist of the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education. He’s also a co-founder of JEDLAB, a network of Jewish educators.


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!
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • 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.