HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal

Marketing Community Day Schools to the Orthodox Community

by Rabbi Dr. Jeremiah Unterman Issue: Marketing Across the Spectrum
TOPICS : Advocacy

Where the Orthodox community is large enough, it will have its own day school(s). Where the Modern Orthodox community is not sufficiently large to have its own day school, members may choose to send their children either to more right-wing schools or to a community school (or lacking the latter, to a Conservative school). In reference to educational issues pertaining to N-8 community day schools, the Modern Orthodox community is generally differentiated from more liberal communities by:

  • Its belief in Divine authorship of the Torah;
  • Its concern with learning classical medieval rabbinic commentaries, particularly Rashi;
  • Its concern with learning Talmud and dinim;
  • Areas of coeducation, particularly in prayer;
  • Its desire that at least 50% of the school day be spent in Judaica;
  • Its desire that teachers in religious subjects be religious themselves;
  • Strict halachic observance in kashrut, Shabbat, chagim, tzniut, etc.

On the other hand, some attractions that community day schools have for the Modern Orthodox are:

  • The community school is a day school;
  • The community school is Zionistic;
  • Girls will be able to learn Judaica equally with boys;
  • Children will be learning in a Jewish atmosphere.

In order for the community day school to appeal to more Modern Orthodox Jews, it needs to enfranchise them. The Modern Orthodox need to feel that their values are not being denigrated; that their lifestyle is appreciated; that their concerns are receiving a sympathetic hearing and that the needs of their children are being paid attention to in extra-curricular settings.

Thus, the community day school needs to reassure Modern Orthodox parents that their children:

  • Will have a suitable prayer option. Prior to bar/bat mitzvah, this is usually not a problem. However, at bar/bat mitzvah age and above they need either a mechitzah or separate rooms for boys’ and girls’ prayer services;
  • Will not be taught content which conflicts with Modern Orthodox belief. Problems will be caused if teachers state that, for example, the Torah derives from human authorship. I am of the opinion that it is not necessary at the day school age to deal with issues of authorship and dating of the Biblical text. Educationally, it makes much more sense to focus on values, content, and skills;
  • Will have opportunities for learning Rashi, dinim and some Talmud. The only issue here which may be truly problematic for community schools is the teaching of Talmud, which is not a focus for most such schools. If only, for example, a few Talmudic stories are taught, the Modern Orthodox child may require some tutoring outside of school;
  • Will be taught by teachers who are appropriate religious role models. In their private lives, teachers of religious subjects in community schools may or may not be observant. Nonetheless, in the school itself and other public venues in which children may meet them, these teachers should be able to show the students that they themselves greatly value the texts and traditions they are teaching;
  • Will not be put in situations in which their observance is challenged. Classic problems are birthday parties which are held on Shabbat, or at which non-kosher food is served, or at which improper movies are shown (many PG -13 films, for example, use inappropriate language and sexual innuendos). Such realities often make Modern Orthodox families feel excluded and unappreciated. Of course, this is a dilemma faced by families of all committed backgrounds.

Assuming that the community day school can meet the above needs, that school should be able to make its case to Modern Orthodox families who do not have their own day school and perhaps to many who do.

Ultimately, the community day school will succeed in attracting Modern Orthodox families when its pluralism shows evidence of inclusiveness based upon respect for their diversity.

Rabbi Dr. Jeremiah Unterman is the Director of Education at the Hillel Academy in Ottawa. Rabbi Unterman can be reached at: unterman@hillelacademy.ca.

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