Aren’t all Jewish Day Schools “Community” Schools?
Some blog posts evolve into academic mini-treatises with ample hyperlinking both for proper crediting and to stimulate further learning.
Some blog posts are born from a passionate feeling and sometimes read like opinion pieces.
Other blog posts are confessional and lead to catharsis (for me) or humanizing (of me).
The blog posts that are the hardest to write – as we are about to discover – are the ones that are born from a genuine question and a desire to solicit a crowdsourced response. Not to drive traffic to my blog or raise my social media profile. But because I am sincerely interested in learning from my colleagues, stakeholders, readers and friends. I am grappling with a difficult question and I am interested in serious, thoughtful, diverse and challenging answers to help me develop an authentic answer (for me).
The reason these posts are the hardest to write is that within the world of education, and the Jewish educational world even more so, the blogosphere is still largely populated by lurkers. You are out there and you are reading blogs (which is great), but you do not (yet) feel comfortable contributing to the talmudic chain of commentary that makes blogging so wonderfully Jewish and potentially valuable. I learn some through the process of writing, to be sure, but I learn a ton through the process of collaborating with you through the commentary.
Let’s make a game of it and let’s aim big. The 20th comment received will receive a prize from me. That means you have to encourage others to comment as well so you can position yourself as number 20. Let’s go for it!
End of extended preamble…
What is a “Community Day School”?
[NOTE: I am PURPOSELY NOT looking up and sharing definitions nor visiting RAVSAK (the Community Day School Network) for answers. Not because I don’t think their answers are the correct ones. They probably are. But because how people – not just people, Heads of School, Board Chairs, Foundations, Donors, – understand what those words mean is at the crux of what I have been thinking about.]
Stuff I Think I Believe:
- “Community” and “Pluralism” are not necessarily the same thing but they are sometimes used interchangeably.
- Every Jewish day school thinks of itself in terms of creating community, being a community for its students and parents, being a healthy part of the larger Jewish community it lives in, and has an increasingly religiously diverse student population for whom it tries to craft an inclusive nonjudgmental religious community.
- To say that a PARDES, Schechter, YU or Orthodox day school is “ideological” and a RAVSAK or Community Day School is “non-ideological” feels like a false dichotomy.
That’s probably controversial enough for now.
I know more about Schechter than anything else and I have firsthand experience heading a Schechter in a Jewish community where it served and serves as the non-Orthodox Jewish day school. It has a diverse student population with levels of Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, unaffiliated, secular Israeli, etc., that are commensurate to many other Schechter schools and, to my understanding, many Community Day Schools.
In terms of Jewish ritual and practice, it looks and feels very much in the “center”. This, too, is similar to many “community day schools” where the “center” is the natural compromise between the various religious communities who make up its population.
Yes, in some cases the driver for Schechter’s center approach is a commitment to Conservative Jewish practice. Yes, in some cases the driver for a Community Day School’s center approach is a commitment to compromise or accommodation. But there are also cases where the reverse is true in both settings and lines remain ever-blurry.
More Stuff I Think I Believe:
- There are Orthodox, Conservative and Reform day schools who are explicitly NOT Community Day Schools. They typically thrive in communities with large enough Jewish populations to sustain multiple schools with more targeted religious purposefulness.
- There are Orthodox day schools who are Community Day Schools (either by self-defnition or RAVSAK affiliation or both).
- There are Reform day schools who are Community Day Schools (ditto).
- If Orthodox and Reform day schools can be ideologically-identified and still labeled “Community”…why not Schechter? [Fact: There are Schechter schools who define themselves as both. There are already Schechter day schools who are Community Day Schools.]
- There are also Community Day Schools who live and breathe a mission-driven pluralism that is clearly nondenominational or post-denominational or trans-denominational. Whether you want to call “pluralism” an ideology in its own right is a fair question, but the point here is to acknowledge that there are absolutely Community Day Schools whose approach to Jewish living and learning is mission-driven and clearly not Reform, Conservative or Orthodox. It wouldn’t be fair to leave that out.
Here’s why it matters to me.
It is no secret that in recent years there have been a number of Schechter schools who have explored changing their official affiliation status from “Schechter” to “Community”. In a few cases this has genuinely been about a purposeful, mission-driven decision to change the way Judaism lives and breathes and/or to change dramatically the rigor and commitment to Jewish Studies for whatever reason. In many cases, however, the exploration is born from a feeling or hope that by changing their external status it will somehow cause a spike in enrollment or fundraising because it is signaling that the school is now of and for the community in a way that it wasn’t or couldn’t be as a “Schechter”.
This perception remains despite the data proving that the former is not true and the fact that Schechter schools can be and often are as “of and for the community” as any other kind of school.
Changing one’s affiliation status without any corresponding change to mission does a disservice to affiliation by rendering it a business equation. It reduces “Schechter” to a caricature and “Community” to a strategy. It denies both the full meaning of their philosophies and confuses the marketplace.
It is also the case (see Jewish Montessori) that schools that don’t see themselves as “Schechter” by its narrowest definition are beginning to explore how they may fit in with “Schechter” by a more expansive understanding of what it means and has to say about Jewish education. And so the lines between schools and networks blur even more…
What does it all mean? For our schools and for the field? Aren’t all Jewish day schools “community” schools? And why does it matter anyway?
Don’t just talk amongst yourselves! Talk to me and to each other.
COMMENT. (Remember…20th comment gets a prize. Spam doesn’t count!)