Why Jewish Day Schools are Unique

    Down here in Atlanta, GA many of us have just finished our first week of the 2011-2012 school year. It’s a good time to pause and reflect on what makes Jewish day schools like The Davis Academy unique and exceptional. I recognize that this post is going to read like a love letter (or a brag) but I think it’s important to put some of this stuff out there for folks that might not know! This isn’t a comprehensive list by a long shot, it’s more of a starting line. So feel free to run with it.

     1. Jewish Time. Jewish day schools are the only institutions outside the State of Israel that allow families to live the rhythms of the Jewish calendar. Unlike public schools or non-denominational independent schools which typically do not acknowledge major Jewish holidays, let alone minor Jewish holidays, Jewish day schools, due to our adherence to the Jewish calendar, help families explore the Jewish calendar by carving out sacred time for holidays like Sukkot, Pesach and Shavuot.  While this makes Tishrei pedagogically challenging due to “swiss cheese” school weeks, it’s important to recognize that Jewish day schools are unique and exceptional because they fully honor the Jewish calendar and empower families to do the same.

     2. Learning Community.  One of the greatest misconceptions about schooling generally and Jewish day school in particular is that ‘school is for kids.’ Every dynamic Jewish K-12 learning institution understands that, while our primary mission is to educate children, we also educate parents, grandparents, faculty and staff. At The Davis Academy and at many other Jewish day schools, the learning relationship, particularly when it comes to matters of spirituality, Jewish practice, and Torah study, is reciprocal. Students learn from teachers, but teachers also learn from the insights and questions of students. Parents who’ve made the investment in Jewish day school know that, while they will always have invaluable lessons to impart to their children, there will be times when their children are the ones who do the teaching. This is primarily because of the immersive Jewish environments that day schools represent (including the rigorous exposure to Hebrew and Jewish studies). It’s unique and exceptional to be a part of a community where all constituencies are learning from one another and where all constituencies feel empowered to teach. The sense of kavod and hokhmah can be truly overwhelming.

3. Community of Practice. Fact: Jewish day schools “see” their congregants (students) more in a given week than many other organizations see their congregants in a month or even a year. The sheer intensity of Jewish day school means that issues of Jewish practice are constantly being discussed and explored. What does kashrut look like for a Reform Jewish day school with many families that come from a more “observant” background? What does kashrut look like on school trips? How do we practice Judaism on school trips? What siddur do we use for weekly tefilah? Why? What tefilot do we recite on a regular basis? When are they taught? How do we engage non-Jewish faculty or parents in the Jewish soul of our school? What, if any, are the boundaries to this engagement? What definition of Jewishness guides our admissions policy? How often do we daven? For how long? What guidelines do we offer families for bnei mitzvah celebration when there are 70-80 bnei mitzvah in a given year? How do we handle the issue of birthday parties on Shabbat? How does the existence of our school positively impact the overall Jewish and non-Jewish community in our city?
                  At a Jewish day school, these questions and those like them, are being discussed, debated, and put into practice every day. Parents, students, teachers, administrators, community rabbis, and other day school colleagues are all a part of this conversation. It’s amazing to be a part of a Jewish day school where the asking and answering of these questions is directly impacting the Jewish future.

4. Tikkun Olam. Many Jewish organizations do amazing work in the realm of tzedakah and social justice. Even so, Jewish day schools are unique and exceptional. At Jewish day schools tzedakah and tikkun olam are integrated into both Jewish and general studies curricula. Changing the world isn’t something that is done during specially dedicated times, it’s something that is done regularly and consistently. Just as students learn math, science, and Hebrew, so too they learn the importance of making the world a better place. Perhaps most importantly they learn that their practice of tzedakah and tikkun olam is as critical to their overall intellectual and spiritual development as anything else they do. Only Jewish day schools have the ability to achieve this full integration of social action into the school experience.

5. Your thoughts here.

Thank You and Shalom,

Micah

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