A new community high school?

BY ROBERT A. COHN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF EMERITUS

The establishment of a St. Louis Jewish Community Day High School moved some steps closer to reality, according to speakers at an “open community meeting” Monday attended by over 100 people in the Zorensky Family Conference Center in the Jewish Federation Kopolow Buillding.

Dr. Phillip E. Korenblat, Maurice Guller and Dr. Alyson Aviv, co-chairs of the Jewish Community Day High School Committee, welcomed those who attended meeting, which heard a major address by Dr. Bruce Powell, who has helped form 16 Jewish community day high schools across the nation, and who is currently Head of School for the New Community Jewish High School in Los Angeles, which has grown from an initial enrollment of 40 students to over 400 in its first six years of operation.

Powell got the attention of the attendees, most of who expressed interest and support for the establishment of a St. Louis Jewish Community Day High School, by asking them to imagine “The year is 1945 and every university and college in America has been destroyed. No more Harvard, no more Yale, no Princeton, no Cal Tech, no Washington U. I want you also to imagine that it fell to the American Jewish community to replace all of these great universities.”

Powell said, “while the above scenario would be unthinkable in our own country, in the aftermath of the Holocaust, every single Jewish institution of higher learning throughout Europe was utterly destroyed. All of the great yeshivot and Jewish academies were wiped out. The American Jewish community was the only Jewish community in the world with the resources to attempt to replace what was lost. We started in Philadelphia in 1946 with the establishment of the first non-Orthodox Jewish community day school. Rabbi Aaron Cotler out of Lakewood, N.J. had already set up many Orthodox Jewish day schools. The community Jewish day school in Philadelphia, the Akiva Academy is still operating successfully.”

Powell added that between 1946 and 1990, “the American Jewish community set up six non-Orthodox Jewish community day schools. “But starting in 1990, something major shifted as we moved further and further away from our attachment to nostalgia for the Old Country. Kids no longer had a bubbe or zayde from Europe; my own mother was born in New York, and this became more typical. But from 1990 until 2007 34 more non-Orthodox Jewish community day schools were established. The New Community Jewish Day High School in Los Angeles is one of those schools, and there are also such schools, open to all streams of the Jewish community in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Irvine, Calif., San Diego, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Detroit and Chicago, Boca Raton and Hollywood, Fla., among others. If we could set up a Jewish Community Day High School in St. Louis, it would be school number 35 since l990, and would bring the total number of such schools up to 41.”

Powell emphasized that students attending Jewish community day high schools “receive a values-added education. In all aspects of our teaching and learning, Jewish values are stressed constantly. We have only to look at some of the top Nazis who attended the Wannsee Conference to plan the Holocuast, many of whom had Ph.D. and M.D. degrees; 25 percent of those attending had advanced degrees, but they had earned them in a moral vaccuum. In 1945, we used the atomic bomb to end the war against Japan, and I am glad that the war was ended, a fact that may have saved my own father’s life; he was a Marine scheduled to take part in the invasion of Japan. With this vast power in human hands, who will ask the moral questions about its use. Who will ask the moral questions about human cloning?”

Powell indicated that among the 400 students now enrolled at the New Community Jewish High School in Los Angeles which he heads, are those from Reform, Conservative, modern Orthodox and unaffiliated backgrounds. “Modern Orthodox Jewish families are more willing to join schools like ours. More traditional Orthodox families are very reluctant to cross the co-ed line, and tend to remain in their own day schools.”

Describing the students at his school as being “normal” in every sense, Powell said that in addition to a full curriculum of both Jewish and general studies, the school offers 19 sports teams, social clubs and other extra-curricular activities. Among the sports offered are wrestling, lacrosse, volleyball, baseball and golf.

“In addition,” Powell continued, “we offer seven languages, including Hebrew, Spanish, French, Russian, Arabic, American Sign Language and Yiddish.” He added that the teaching of American Sign Language actually helped save the life of one of his students who was seriously injured when hit by an automobile. “Her jaw was broken, so she could not tell the paramedics what was hurt, so her felllow students translated for her, and she was able to get the prompt care which saved her life.”

Powell stressed, “Jewish values are constantly stressed in all aspects of our school experience. We ask the six questions posed in the Talmud which are supposed to be asked before we go to the world to come. Among those questions are: “were you honest in business? Did you make a set time to study? Did you live with hope? Did you help raise up a community? Did you act with wisdom? Did you understand the difference between big things and small things?”

Powell said that those questions are helpful to both students and faculty at the school. “If we get stuck on a California freeway, instead of complaining, we express the hope that if there was an accident that the person injured will be healed. This value system is what sets apart the Jewish day school experience from other educational options. We hope you can make it happen right here in St. Louis.”

The initial stages for the proposed Jewish Community Day High School have been funded partly by a grant from the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE), which was matched by a local grant from Dr. Phillip and Arleen Korenblat.

In remarks after Powell’s presentation, which included a film of activities at the Los Angeles New Community Jewish High School, Dr. Korenblat thanked his co-chairs, businessman Maurice Geller and Dr. Alyson Aviv, a clinical psychologist. “If there is sufficient interest in setting up this school, we will find the funding,” Dr. Korenblat said.

The mission and vision statements of the proposed school were posted on the walls of the Jewish Federation board room, along with sign-up sheets for various committees to help launch the school. Paperwork is being processed through the Missouri Secretary of State to obtain a state non-profit status for the school, and an application for a federal 501 (c) 3, tax-exempt status is also in the works, it was announced.

For additional information about the proposed Jewish Community Day High School, visit its website, www.jcdhs.org.

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