As Pew Study Raises Concerns, Invest In Jewish Day Schools

January 14, 2014

Source: The Jewish Week


This opinion piece was written by the following: Dr. Scott Goldberg, vice provost for teaching and learning at Yeshiva University; Amy Katz, executive director of PEJE; Marc Kramer, executive director of RAVSAK; Jon Mitzmacher, executive director of the Schechter Day School Network; and Jane West Walsh, executive director of PARDES.


The Pew Research Center set off alarm bells this past fall with the release of its “A Portrait of Jewish Americans” survey, which showed that Jewish Americans are losing their Jewish identity — religious observance, denominational affiliation, and the desire to marry other Jews — at a shockingly high rate.


The survey prompted a clarion call from the organized Jewish world for more investment in Jewish early childhood education, Jewish camping and Birthright Israel. While all of those are certainly worthy initiatives and deserve more attention, lost was the call for more investment in the one long-term initiative that we as a Jewish community know works almost without fail — Jewish day schools. We understand why day schools may have gotten short shrift.


The 2006-2007 Brandeis University study, “The Impact of Day School: A Comparative Analysis of Jewish College Students" which surveyed 3300 Jewish college students who are alumni of day schools found that day school students enter college more likely to be involved in Jewish campus life than those who did not. They are more likely to enroll in Jewish classes, join Jewish clubs on campus and maintain holiday observance in the face of intense social pressure. They also express a stronger sense of civic responsibility, a greater commitment to the Jewish community, and become far more likely to pursue Jewish communal careers.


While engagement among non-day school alumni tends to wane as they become adults, the day school student actually stays committed, according to the 1998 Charles Shahar study, “The Jewish High School Experience”; that report showed that graduates of Jewish high schools were significantly more likely to attend synagogue and observe Jewish rituals, more inclined to donate to Jewish causes and volunteer for Jewish organizations, and more inclined to consider moving to Israel.


For all of us, day schools are an investment in the future. In the end, this isn’t about just preserving the identity of individual Jews. The Jewish day school is about strengthening Jewish communities — because Jewish day schools can function as core pillars of the Jewish communities they serve, places where ideas are shared and relationships made. They can help foster a sense of togetherness among Jewish families. They can be hubs for Jewish continuity, conduits to other Jewish agencies, synagogues and camps, and ultimately the mechanisms that will create the identified and engaged Jews who will support programs such as Birthright Israel for those young people that fall outside of day school reach.


Read more at The Jewish Week.

Updated: Jan. 22, 2014