Our week began with horrifying news of a massive tornado that struck an area outside Oklahoma City on Monday afternoon. At least 24 people, including nine children (seven of the children were at Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Oklahoma), were killed. The scenes on television were heartbreaking.
The Jewish Federation has opened a disaster relief mailbox where 100% of all funds raised will go to help the impacted area. Thank you to those who have already responded. If you are interested, please click here to make your contribution.
Let me be upfront…I am a proud Jewish day school parent. I believe in the need for a strong Jewish education for every child. I believe in fostering in our children a love of Judaism and pride in our history, traditions, and culture. I believe that the Hebrew language is an important connection point for our people. And I believe that any community would be incomplete without a vibrant Jewish day school.
On Tuesday morning, a small group of community leaders went on a mini-mission to visit our community’s three Jewish day schools: Portland Jewish Academy (PJA), Maimonides Jewish Day School (MJDS) and Maayan Torah Day School (MT). Each school has its own history, culture, educational focus, and spirit. It was an inspiring morning!
Currently, our community has 230 students in Jewish day school in grades K-8. The vast majority of those children attend PJA, while MJDS and MT each have 22 students in K-8. It is evident these children have a love of Jewish life and a true commitment to Jewish values.
While visiting the schools, I heard about “cross-collaboration,” where Judaic studies and secular subjects are blended together to enrich the educational experience. The concept of “student-centered learning” where the teacher is the facilitator of learning and the student is the central focus. The mindset of a “progressive education in accordance with traditional Judaism.” And the concept of “blended learning” where for part of the day students take classes online with a learning coach in the classroom. Of course there is art, music, physical education, and all the other aspects of a school. But what stood out the most is that these schools are instilling in their students knowledge, values, and experiences to ensure meaningful lifelong connections to Judaism and Jewish life.
At the end of each school visit, I asked each principal what they are most proud of. Here were their comments:
“I am proud of the mensches that we help to nurture for the betterment of the Jewish community and our world.”
“I love equipping our children with a sense of Jewish values and an understanding of who they are as a whole person.”
“It is astonishing what our school has done for the Portland Jewish community, including making a major impact on the Orthodox community.”
One of the greatest issues facing parents regarding Jewish day schools is affordability. Day school tuition is quite high and perhaps out of reach for many families. In fact, 54% of students at PJA are on financial assistance…66% of students at Maayan Torah are on financial assistance…and an even higher percentage at Maimonides. How can we as a Jewish community help to reduce the cost so more families see Jewish day school education as a viable option? (And the same holds true for Jewish preschools, Jewish summer camps, and Israel experiences for teenagers.)
I have heard from people who do not think the Jewish community should support what in essence is a private school. Plus, we have very good public schools in the area. Our tradition has always placed an emphasis on education – on a Jewish education. And, we as a community have an obligation to make Jewish day schools accessible for all (including those with special needs and learning differences) who are interested.
Jewish day schools are one way to educate our children. There are multiple Jewish preschools and supplementary Jewish schools that also provide opportunities for formal and informal Jewish learning. Each is vitally important and plays a major role in forming our children’s long-term Jewish identity and commitment.
I encourage each of you, especially parents of young children who may be considering (and, if you are not, maybe think again) either Jewish pre-school or Jewish day school, to visit and see firsthand what each of these schools have to offer. Challenge your perceptions. Meet the teachers and administrators who are truly doing an amazing job each and every day. You will be inspired by their passion and dedication to our children, their families, and our Jewish future.
As I reflect on the visit to the three schools and seeing so many happy beautiful children, I am still haunted by the fact seven children died in their elementary school during Monday’s tornado; their lives cut short. Our prayers go out to those families and everyone impacted by the storm.
Portland is blessed to have incredible Jewish day schools. Our children truly are our future – may they continue to learn and lead our Jewish community for generations to come.