Jewish private schools offer unique educational experience


Where Jewish teens go to school has a major impact on how their religion mixes with their everyday life.  

Jewish teens attend many different schools in the St. Louis area, including public, private and ones at home. Some schools contain large Jewish populations, while others do not.  This can affect a Jewish teen’s interaction with peers who share similar values as well as his ability to become involved easily in the community.

“There [are] not many Jews at [my school],” said Zachary Poscover, a freshman at Parkway West High School whose class numbers 325. “Often, people ask me about Judaism. The few other Jews [in my school and I] are in the same science class, [but] more times than not, I’m always the only Jew in my class.”

Zachary says he is one of a handful of Jewish kids in his school. This may affect at times how he is able to practice his religion. For example, keeping kosher at his school and many others that aren’t Jewish-based can be extremely difficult.

“I don’t even think people (at my school) know what kosher is,” he said. “It’s difficult to pick out a kosher meal if you’re buying lunch from school (because) there are not any kosher meals already prepared.”

What if, while in school, teens also discovered more about their Jewish identity? For some, such as Yoneena Heit, an 11th-grader at the Orthodox-run Yeshivat Kadimah High School, learning about Judaism is part of her everyday life because part of her education there focuses on Jewish life.

“I have Judaics from 8 to 12:30,” Yoneena said. “From 1 to 5 I have secular studies.”

Davening (prayer) at a Jewish school is an easy task because students are expected to do so at specific times.

“We daven shacharis, mincha and maariv and the girls and boys are separated by like a mechitza (a divider),” Yoneena said.

But in public schools, because students have a variety of religions, students are not given structured time to pray during the day. Zachary says there is a room in his school that many people use for prayer, though there is no structured prayer time.

Because Orthodox Jewish private schools adhere to the more traditional views that are in the Torah, they follow the ways of shomer negiah, refraining from touching the other gender until marriage.

“The boys are not supposed to be touching the girls and same for the girls to be touching the boys,” Yoneena said.

However, these traditional values are not practiced among most Jewish teens outside of the Orthodox circle.  A similar difference is that at Yoneena’s school, there is an enforced dress code, while Zachary’s does not have such a stringent one.

“For the girls, you need to wear skirts that cover knees and shirts that cover [the] elbows,” Yoneena said. “For the boys, long pants like khakis or solid color and collared shirts.”

Tamar Lerner, a ninth-grader at Parkway Central High School, used to attend Saul Mirowitz Day School-Reform Jewish Academy (now known as Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School).

“Everybody at my old school was Jewish,” she said. “When I got to Central, I met people who didn’t know some of the Jewish holidays, which I wasn’t used to. It was hard to explain the holidays … and kosher meals to my non-Jewish friends.

“At Central, there’s a variety of backgrounds and people to meet. But at RJA, it’s really easy for you to get to know your own Jewish culture.”