SSDS clarification and support for new high school

SSDS clarification needed

I deeply appreciate the coverage that the Jewish Light gives to important Jewish institutions, such as the Jewish Day Schools, in St. Louis.

I wish to clarify what was reported in the Jan. 17 Jewish Light.

There is no mention of the term “patrilineal descent” in the policy statement formulated by the Rabbinic Advisory Committee on the Solomon Schechter Day School Admissions policy. There was no mention of “patrilineal descent” in the presentation of the policy to the board of Solomon Schechter.

As commonly interpreted it would be a violation of the standards of the Rabbinical Assembly. Ironically limiting it to families of “patrilineal descent” also would have narrowed the approach of being more welcoming to families who fall into the status of “Al Derech”, where a family is exploring their status as Jews. In the end the policy was a modification of an existing policy, along with the creation of a “mentor” program to assist thos families.

As one of the founding Rabbis of the Solomon Schechter Day School it is important to note that similar discussions were held more than 25 years ago as the polices of the school were being developed. The original policy, at that time, was also an attempt to fulfill the desire that the school be welcoming for families who were clarifying there own Jewish status.

Rabbi Zalman Stein

University City

Jewish education vital

After reading the thoughtful letter from Norman Pressman in your Feb. 14 edition, I must respond to major faults in his arguments. Mr. Pressman argues that private Jewish education will isolate Jewish children from American society, and that our community cannot afford the expense of another Jewish school.

Affordability is a question of priorities. While our Federation’s annual campaign has been growing slowly, our community demonstrated recently that we will give to specific compelling causes. Last fall’s Israel Emergency Campaign raised well in excess of its $2.5 million goal, and our JCC’s capital campaign has raised over $20 million. There is enough wealth in our community to support a new school, so we turn now to the reason such a school should be a priority.

The 1990 National Jewish Population Study showed that Jews are fully integrated into American society. No profession is closed to us, and our neighbors rarely show concern when our children want to marry theirs. Integration is not a problem — assimilation is! We must raise Jews who will continue to be involved in Jewish life rather than disappearing into the surrounding American culture.

Jewish day schools, because their curriculum includes both Judaic and general studies, can accomplish that goal in a way that our Sunday and Hebrew schools cannot, and it is at the high school level where the impact of an integrated Jewish and general education is strongest. Jewish High schools teach their students how to apply our Jewish values and traditions to the decisions they will make in their professional and personal lives. Graduates of such schools receive an education that is on par with the best public and private schools.

Raising a generation of educated lay people and well-informed young leadership through the formation of a pluralistic Jewish high school is a hallmark of a forward-thinking community that is responding to the challenges of preserving Jewish life in modern America. So, I add to the questions raised by Mr. Pressman: Why would anyone who cares about our Jewish future object to such an institution?

Rabbi Ari Vernon

Director of Secondary Education

Central Agency for Jewish Education

In his letter “J day high school not needed” published in the Feb. 14 edition, Norman Pressman shares why he feels the current effort to provide our community with such a high school is ill-advised. As advocates for the establishment of such a school in St. Louis, we appreciate Mr. Pressman’s concerns. We value the opportunity to examine each one of his points in the hope that we may open some room for healthy discussion.

Point one: Public education is a “great equalizer”… “to isolate some of our best and brightest into a Jewish high school is a bad idea.”

This argument assumes that the high school would operate in “isolation.” The public school system creates its own “isolations” by isolating county from the inner-city — except for a select few: “the best and brightest!” Day schools in general are rather diverse institutions, spanning multiple Zip codes, national diversities, and significant economic diversities.

A Jewish high school experience is unlikely to be an isolating experience as inevitably it involves many inter-mural activities in the wider community. The current system of supplementary religious education is incapable of giving any but the most motivated student the kind of knowledge and background to appreciate the high-level of sophistication our tradition offers on the meaning of life. This situation is simply unacceptable for those of us who understand that an in-depth sophisticated education in both Jewish and secular subjects is the minimum standard for a meaningful and successful future for our children and for Jewish life in North America in the 21st century.

Providing full-time teachers who are experts in training young people in the Hebrew language and other Jewish concepts, skills and values, and who can inspire them with an understanding of Bible, Biblical commentary, Midrash, Talmud, Jewish history, literature, philosophy; and who can make the Siddur (prayer book) come alive will add to the life of this community. Furthermore, graduates of such an educational institution will have even more to offer whatever community they choose to make their homes in — again both Jewish and secular.

Point two: A concern for using up limited community resources in the face of the huge cost of high school education.

In the short term Mr. Pressman’s point is well taken: there are a number of important organizations serving our community’s needs. However, it is quite possible that there remain resources both locally and on the national levels, which are yet to be tapped, and which could provide serious dollars in making the school a reality. While it is true that the community high school is not for everyone, providing additional educational opportunities adds to the resources our community has to offer. We have heard for some time now, how St. Louis is facing very stiff competition in attracting Jewish professionals and highly educated Jewish families in other professions to our community. One reason for this can be attributed to our own limited community resources when compared with cities of similar size. We believe a strong argument can be made, that having an outstanding institution of higher Jewish learning for high school age students would make St. Louis more attractive by far.

Again, in the long term, it is likely that the benefits to the overall quality of Jewish life in St. Louis which the community Jewish high school could provide will result in attracting those Jews for whom this kind of educational opportunity is important. Generally, such individuals have already demonstrated a commitment to Jewish life and Jewish institutions. One way in which such a commitment is transformed into reality is by practicing the learned Jewish values of tz’dakah, and g’milut chassadim — charity and acts of loving-kindness. In sum, generating support for the Federation and other charitable institutions. The day such a school opens in our community will mark a significant turning point towards a bright future for all of us who have made our homes in St. Louis regardless of affiliation and denomination!

Rabbi Mordecai Miller, Dr. Alyson Aviv, Dr. Aviva Adler, Dr. Harvey Cantor Maurice Guller, Arleen Korenblat, Dr. Phil Korenblat, Missy Korenblat-Hanin, David Holden, Galia Movitz, Dr. Rozalind Neuman, Dr. Harris Pearlman, Ellyn Polsky, Paulie Rose, Michael Rubin

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