Of Jewish Day Schools And The Interfaith Family
05/19/2011 - 22:14
Anonymous

Yes, it’s been awhile, and my bloggers’ license is probably on the verge of expiring.

I promise you that while I was neglecting this blog, I was not lying around eating bonbons, but reporting on my other beat: Jewish education. Lately that's a lot about charter schools, Jewish day schools and congregational schools.

Whenever I cover the Jewish day school world, I always feel a bit embarrassed to admit that my own children attend public schools. (Similar to the sheepishness I used to feel upon admitting, when asked, that my husband is not Jewish.)

Since I’m a perennial second-guesser/self-doubter and have been listening to a lot of new marketing rhetoric from the Conservative movement’s Schechter Network I lately have been wondering if we should have more seriously considered day school. Specifically, if we should have considered the Solomon Schechter School of Queens, since it’s the most geographically accessible day school choice for us. (Would still have been a trek, since we live in a different neighborhood of Queens and have no car, but would have been easier than trekking to the Upper West Side.)

However, I must admit day school is just not something I want badly enough to a) Go into significant debt for, b) Persuade my fiscally cautious husband that it is worth going into debt for and c) Give up the convenience and diversity of our local public school.

Plus there’s the intermarriage issue, even though I think all non-Orthodox day schools (and maybe even some Orthodox ones) have become much more welcoming of interfaith families in recent years.

In fact, a recent essay on InterfaithFamily.com tells about one intermarried family’s very positive experience with a Schechter school in Dallas. Speaking of InterfaithFamily.com, they have just announced a very exciting new outreach initiative in Chicago. I’ll be blogging more, and writing an actual article about it, in the coming weeks, so stay tuned. 

The Schechter schools, which used to be very strict about matrilineal descent, have become more open and flexible in the past few years. Here’s what Elaine Cohen, the executive of the Schechter Network told me in an interview last week:

There’s a standard or desired situation based in the practices of the Conservative movement, which is that we want the children to be [halachically] Jewish, and if they are not that there would be a conversion along the way. The policy used to be to convert within a year of enrolling in the school ... What’s changed is there is definitely a recognition that the non-Jewish mother is not the target here. We want the family to be living a Jewish life, with only one religion practiced at home, but there’s respect for the fact that the mother has her family [and thus might not wish to convert, for fear of hurting non-Jewish family members] ... We’re focused on the child, and there’s a recognition that the process can take more than a year. It often needs to, and there’s respect for that.

Some of our schools really are traditional schools and feel very comfortable with the policy that way, and the admissions director lays it out that these are the policies and we’ll work with you ... There are other schools that are much looser about this and feel a community rabbi is the appropriate one to guide the process and that by the age of bar mitzvah a conversion or affirmation ceremony is going to take place.

The network doesn’t have the capacity for enforcement . This is a good-faith practice. Within [New York, New Jersey and Connecticut], schools are on the more traditional end of the spectrum. Further out West, there may be a more liberal approach. Also, if it’s a Reform rabbi overseeing a conversion that’s fine too, as long as he or she respects the standards of the Conservative movement.

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