New school warranted

Letters

, Feb. 14). Touting the public school education that his father and he received in Philadelphia and New York and that his children received in St. Louis, Mr. Pressman slams Jewish day schools as a “movement to isolate some of our best and brightest into … parochial school” thereby preventing Jews from interacting and mixing with other Jews and “more importantly,” to use his phrase, with gentiles.

It should be pointed out, first, that none of the Jewish day schools of St. Louis can be classified as parochial schools. By definition, parochial schools are schools run by a particular ecclesiastical district such as a church or parish. The Jewish day schools of St. Louis, like many other private schools in this area, are run by community parent groups who band together in order to provide their children and grandchildren with a certain type of educational experience — a combined general studies/Jewish studies program designed to inculcate in the students a knowledge-base suffused with both American and Jewish values of the highest order. To suggest that such an emphasis somehow undermines the students’ ability to interact with others, Jews and gentiles, is simply wrong. Every study that has ever been done of Jewish day school graduates shows their ability to succeed, not only scholastically but socially, in whatever environment they find themselves.

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But second and perhaps even more important is the realization that many of us have come to that what may have worked for Mr. Pressman’s father, of the so-called first generation, and for Mr. Pressman himself, the second native-born generation of American Jews, will no longer work for the third and fourth generations. America’s open society and the paucity of anti-Semitism have resulted in almost half of our young people marrying out of our faith and a very high percentage of their offspring being raised with little or no attachment to Judaism. There is only one way to assure the perpetuation of the Jewish community — not to speak of leadership as well as future contributors to Federation and other Jewish causes — and that is through top-notch Jewish education. And, again, all scholarly studies show that the intensity of Jewish education is the single greatest determinant of a person’s eventual commitment to Jewishness. The bottom line is that if the Jewish community is to continue in America beyond our lifetimes, it will be because we have provided our children with meaningful, relevant, intensive Jewish education which succeeds in blending the best of America and the best of Judaism, which, to the best of my knowledge, is the mission of every Jewish day school in St. Louis.

As to the effort to create a day high school for St. Louis, once again it is being fostered by a group of parents and grandparents, headed by Dr. Phillip E. Korenblat and Mr. Maurice Guller, none of whom represent any ecclesiastical body. They are seeking to create a pluralistic school which will bring together Jews affiliated with all the various streams of Jewish life, as well as those who are unaffiliated, who regard an elementary and middle day school experience to be good but not good enough.

They contend that if the lower grades are succeeding — and they seem to be — why cut things off at precisely the time that the students are entering their most formative teenage years when significant life choices and ultimate decisions regarding the future are formulated. Let those years be lived, reason the founders, under the influence of an integrated educational experience characterized by a solid academic foundation informed by Jewish values and priorities.

As I reread what I have just written, I realize that I may have neglected to address one of the, if not the, main point of Mr. Pressman’s letter. Is his main point that St. Louis cannot afford day schools in general and another day high school in particular? If that is indeed his point, then I beg to differ. It is my opinion that the Jewish community of St. Louis can afford whatever it considers, whatever it really considers, important.

Jews have been and are at the forefront of every worthwhile community endeavor, educational, as well as eleemosynary.

When the community comes to the realization, as I am confident it will, that our very survival as Jews rests upon the quality and intensity of the Jewish education available to our young people, I have every faith that priorities will be reordered and sufficient resources found to fund this and all other solid Jewish educational offerings for St. Louis.

In closing, let me add that I do agree with Mr. Pressman on one point and that is that we do not need more buildings. What we need, desperately, is more and better Jewish education, which includes, from my perspective, a pluralistic day high school.

Rabbi Bernard Lipnick

Rabbi Emeritus, Congregation B’nai Amoona