Reform Judaism With Latin Flavor Takes Root in Miami

Sinai Academy Is Very Unusual Jewish School

Beach Day: An Orthodox Jewish woman takes in some sun in Miami.
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Beach Day: An Orthodox Jewish woman takes in some sun in Miami.

By Uriel Heilman

Published February 01, 2014.
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That’s immediately apparent at Sinai Academy, from the mix of languages on the playgrounds and in the classrooms to the tight security at the school’s entrance – a concession to anxious parents long accustomed to worrying about security. (Last year, two students had relatives back home who were kidnapped for ransom.) The school has students from 17 countries, including Russia and Israel.

Latin Jews have been a boon to Sinai. The number of students has swelled by more than 50 percent since 2000, and there’s now a wait list to enter preschool despite tuition fees ranging from about $16,000 in kindergarten to $24,000 in eighth grade.

As recently as the late 1990s, alumna Melissa Neuhut recalls, hers was one of just three Latin families in the school. Just eight years ago, teachers with Latin roots were told to refrain from speaking Spanish on campus, according to one administrator.

Today, two of the three preschool classes are Spanish immersion. English speakers begin studying Spanish in kindergarten. An office assistant helps facilitate visas for Latin children. The school employs two full-time specialists in English as a second language. The on-site temple has a Latin cultural committee.

“It’s been an interesting transition for the school,” said Nancy Posner, Sinai’s head of school. “We want to make them American, but we want them to keep their cultures.”

Sinai hasn’t been the only Miami-area beneficiary of Latin immigration. On the other side of the 14-acre JCC that abuts the school sits the Scheck Hillel Community School, an Orthodox-run institution nearly twice the size of Sinai that also is mostly Latin.

It’s not surprising that many Latin Jewish immigrants are opting for day school education: In many Latin American countries, Jewish day school enrollment is de rigueur even for non-observant families. What’s unusual in Sinai’s case is that so many Latin families are choosing a school affiliated with Reform Judaism, a movement with which few Latin American Jews are familiar.

Sinai parents such as Liliana Eidelstein say the Reform-affiliated school is much more reflective of the liberal Judaism they practice than the Orthodox-oriented schools in Latin America to which they used to send their children.


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