Politics, Religion

Day School Vs. Afternoon School?

The Jewish Standard reports,

As the community continues to struggle with the high costs of Jewish day school, the Jewish Center of Teaneck is planning to launch an after-school program in the fall to supplement a public school education.
The synagogue’s Rabbi Lawrence Zierler revealed plans on Tuesday for what he called “an open yeshiva.” The four-day a week after-school program geared toward fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-graders will provide b’nai mitzvah preparation, Jewish education, and Hebrew language arts.
“With this economic crisis there will definitely be families that can no longer afford going to the day schools and will be looking for some way for their children to still get a secular education and follow that up with a Jewish education,” said Eva Gans, the center’s expected incoming president. “If this works for them then we’re doing a service for the community.”…
“It’s not an old-fashioned cheder,” he said, referring to the classical model of intensive Hebrew programs. “It’s giving people the skills you need to live well as a Jew but at the same time in an exciting environment.”

Now, obviously the economic crisis and its impact on people’s ability to pay pricey day school tuitions is the Standard‘s lede here (so let’s cue the discussion in comments on how and whether day school can be made more affordable for more people in this post-Madoff era). But I find a lot of the language used here (“to live well as a Jew but at the same time in an exciting environment”, eg) very interesting. It sounds, basically, like a slightly frummer (maybe) and possibly younger (sometimes, sometimes not) version of programs that have been doing excellent work around the country for years, whether Boston’s Prozdor, LA Hebrew High, Berkeley’s Midrasha or many others like it in various cities around the U.S. Granted, some of the parents who send their kids to Midrasha or Prozdor do so because they choose public school and living in the larger culture as a value but also want their kids to have some Jewish grounding, others do so for the same reasons that the Jewish Center of Teaneck’s parents would–because day school is not a (financial) option.
Of course, one center opening isn’t going to have a significant impact on Orthodoxy in America…. but what if it signals the beginning of a greater trend among some segments of Orthodox Jewry? Is there a chance of returning to a more “modern” Modern Orthodoxy, of the sort that was much more prevalent 40 years ago?
ETA: A few things to stand corrected on, here, none of which mitigate the question of day school as more, or possibly now less, inevitable given pressing financial realities. Is the day school tuition model broken? Is there enough financial aid to go around? Is it better for the Jews if it is broken and everybody has to retool? Do supplementary programs hold a candle to the grounding kids get in a more comprehensive (day school) Jewish education, and if not, what will that mean if more people are moving away from the day school model?

11 thoughts on “Day School Vs. Afternoon School?

  1. In terms of the framing “Orthodox following lead of Liberals” —
    I believe that Orthodox synagogues had programs like this all over America in the early/mid 20th century. They were called “Talmud Torah”s. Not that Jewish education is a inter-sectarian pissing contest. Well, not for me at least.

  2. Chillul Who? is right. This is how many Orthodox people coming up in the first half (or maybe even more) of the 20th century experienced school – Public school in the morning, talmud torah in the afternoon. I know people who were part of this system. I think for a while they were even allowed out of school early to go to Talmud Torah. This isn’t a liberal invention at all.
    Also, my impression living in/near Teaneck and having formerly lived near Berkeley is it will be quite a bit more Orthodox than Midrasha (dunno about the other programs).

  3. I hope this is the beginning of a trend not only in the Orthodox world but in those segments of the liberal Jewish community that currently talk about day school as inevitable (e.g. every time “the high cost of Jewish living” is discussed, day school tuition is treated as a given).
    It doesn’t make sense for the Jewish community (and Jewish families) to scrounge up the money to pay people to teach secular subjects when this is already available from the state for free. I agree with the pro-day-school crowd that most Hebrew schools, as presently constituted, are not the answer for families who want a serious Jewish education. But if a critical mass of students who currently attend day school were to attend public school instead (which would expose both Jewish and non-Jewish students to greater diversity), then there would be sufficient demand for more serious options in after-school programs. And if there are after-school programs geared primarily toward students who come from actively Jewish homes (though open to everyone), they can accomplish much more in the same amount of time, by focusing on things that are best taught in more formal educational environments (e.g. Hebrew language, text skills) – my future kids won’t need to go to Hebrew school to learn about the holidays, since we’ll do the holidays at home.
    And now, if there are liberal Jewish families who are still concerned that sending their kids to public school will send them off the derekh, the response can be “Even Orthodox Jews in Teaneck are doing it!”

  4. The Jewish Center of Teaneck is a non-affiliated, formerly Conservative synagogue.
    I am sure the Orthodox are opening up these sorts of programs but this is not one of them.

  5. Yeah, my dad grew up in NYC, going to an Orthodox synagogue, and he and his cousins (and most of his friends, who went to the same synagogue) all went to public school, and then afternoon Hebrew school. (This was in the fifties and early sixties, at Ramath Orah.)

  6. Anonymous: That is not exactly correct. The Jewish Center of Teaneck may not be affiliated but it has a shrinking Conservative minyan and a growing mechitzah (basically Modern Ortho) minyan and it has an Orthodox rabbi. I don’t get the sense this program will be egalitarian, but I’d have to ask.

  7. The Teaneck Jewish center has a tradition of hiring orthodox ordained rabbis for many decades now. There has been a growing mechitza minyan with some womens participation (such as done in shira chadasha in jerusalem or darkhei noam in NY) and the conservative minyan, which is adamant that there can be no womens participation and no mechitza (so its hard to call the ‘conservative’ minyan more egal than the ‘orthodox’ minyan. a good lesson in the usefulness of labels).
    however, one this is clear: the Orthodox establishment in Teaneck treats the Jewish center as 100% treif, as they would any conservative seeming institution. So while the jewish center is more ‘orthodox’ in many ways than its conservative brethren, I think this story is not about an orthodox shul opening up a part time hebrew school (these do exist, even where full time Jewish education is abundant, such as at the hebrew institute of riverdale, avi weiss’s NY shul). I think this is a story about a ‘conservative’ shul opening up a textually rigorous more than 4 hour a week Jewish educational program. I wonder what the actual rigor will end up being.
    ps. you can tell from the statement ““It’s giving people the skills you need to live well as a Jew but at the same time in an exciting environment.” that they are not marketing to the orthodox community in Teaneck, because these just arent marketing terms orthodox jews use. more on that later if requested.

  8. The only way to sell a program like this is if clergy and lay leadership stand behind it very very firmly.
    I.e. If a rabbi tells parents that this is a second option for kids who would not be going to day school anyway, then nobody will go, because even those who don’t go to day school don’t want to participate in the “second tier” program.

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