Continuing the conversation – ‘No substitute for day school’

Continuing the conversation – ‘No substitute for day school’

Sandra Steuer Cohen argues (May 15) that Jewish day schools are a divisive force within our community, created as a result of the advent of school integration in Teaneck. Her utopian conclusion is that all Jewish children should attend public schools and that we create a system of afternoon Hebrew schools which, along with the home and synagogue, will ensure the proper transmission of Jewish values.

Ms. Steuer Cohen’s assertions are distortions of historical fact. Teaneck voted for school integration in 1965. The two day schools to which Teaneck’s children were sent in the ’60s and ’70s, Yavneh and Moriah, were founded in 1949 and 1964, respectively. They were created because observant Jews wished their children to receive an enriched Jewish education, not because non-whites were being transported into Teaneck’s public schools. Further, the system of afternoon Hebrew schools that existed until the rise of the day-school movement has been generally acknowledged to be a failure. Few children emerged from these schools with more than a rudimentary familiarity with Hebrew language, Bible, and Jewish observance.

Ms. Steuer Cohen’s statement “It did not make any of us less Jewish to attend public schools or less educated in the long run” is unsupportable, particularly when applied to the contemporary period. Parents and synagogues certainly help greatly with instilling Jewish values. However, for most children, immersion in the secular, hedonistic culture prevalent in the typical U.S. public school, particularly at the high school level, unfortunately tends to counter the best efforts of both their families and shuls. Observant Jews of all denominations have come to understand that there is no substitute for a fully realized Jewish day-school education and they have worked mightily to create and strengthen the day-school system. Certainly, the tuition crisis needs to be addressed and solved through creative initiatives. However, it is both a calumny and a mistake to conclude that the day-school system exists out of racism and that it should be dismantled in favor of an approach associated with a track record of failure.