Weeks Before School Starts, New Jersey Schechter Closes
08/20/13
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A Conservative day school in central New Jersey is closing, just three weeks before the first day of classes.

Solomon Schechter School of the Raritan Valley is one of several Conservative day schools in the New York region to close in recent years.

In an announcement posted on its website Monday, the more than 30-year-old East Brunswick school said it “will not be opening its doors this fall” despite “the heroic efforts” of many community leaders, parents and alumni to help in the past week.

The school had been struggling for years with declining enrollment, and on Aug. 7 first announced it would close. On Aug. 16, after an infusion of pledges, school leaders reversed course and decided to re-open, according to the New Jersey Jewish News.

Related Story: New Hope For Schechter

But the next day, when school officials called parents of the 99 children enrolled, in order to confirm they would be attending, “so many of them had already made other plans, that sadly the plans could not be put into place,” said Head of School Rabbi Stuart Saposh, in an e-mail interview.

Rabbi Saposh said four factors contributed to the decision to close: declining enrollment for 2013-14, a “dramatic increase in the level of tuition assistance needed to retain and attract families,” loss of a “major financial award and the ongoing effects of the economic downturn” and “demographic shifts in the Jewish population in Central New Jersey.”

Asked if a nearby Hebrew charter school, opened in 2010, had adversely affected his school’s enrollment, Rabbi Saposh said, “It’s hard to say, but since the charter school has no tuition, it likely had some impact on our ability to recruit entry-level students.”

Jon Mitzmacher, executive director designate of the Schechter Day School Network (who fielded calls on behalf of the current executive, who is on vacation) told The Jewish Week two neighboring Schechter schools — Golda Och Academy and Solomon Schechter Day School of Monmouth County — have offered admission to Raritan students, arranging for bus transportation and financial aid.

Mitzmacher, who will officially assume his position at the helm of the Conservative day school umbrella group in a year, said, “It’s always sad to see a school close, and this particular school and community have worked valiantly and heroically over the last recent stretch of years to keep the school going in light of challenging demographic issues.”

Raritan Valley’s closing should not be seen as a “referendum on the state of the Schechter network,” he said, particularly because many of its students may end up re-enrolling at other Schechter schools.

“This is not part of a narrative of the failing of the Schechter movement,” he said. “I see this as one school’s story that unfortunately ends with it closing.”

The Schechter Network last month raised almost $2 million in new funding, the majority from the Avi Chai Foundation, in an effort to strengthen services for its 40 member schools.

First established in the 1950s, a period of intense growth within the Conservative movement, the Schechter movement at its peak boasted 63 schools enrolling more than 21,000 children.

julie.inthemix@gmail.com; @julie_wiener

 

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05/23/2014 - 16:13

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This is a huge opportunity for the student body of the school, not a loss for the broader Jewish community!

The day school was a place where Jews with limited appreciation for their special heritage from Sinai inculcated a generation of impressionable youth with a religious background insufficient to drive them to realize their potential as Jewish adults. A "bar mitzvah"--literally a child of the Biblical commandments--connotes one who has reached the age of majority in the eyes of the Torah, one who has reached the maturity and educational attainment to be able to execute on the obligatory Jewish blueprint for a meaningful life (understanding that it's obligatory, and why, is part and parcel of that educational attainment). But in the SSDS movement, bar mitzvah generally marks graduation from daily thought of honoring our Creator and coming close to Him into a life largely devoid of Judaism beyond bagels and Fiddler on the Roof.

An institution that perpetuates ignorance of Judaism and calls that perpetuation a Jewish education is hardly an example of desirable diversity in the community. Rather, let's hope that the children who might reasonably have concluded a Jewish life is a wasted one based on what they'd have learned about Judaism at SSDS will now have an opportunity to either learn Judaism in an actual Jewish school or else to grow up at least without confused notions of their heritage so that they may be able to discover the true meaning of their roots later on as adults unhindered by pre-indoctrinated misunderstandings.

What's more, the closure of this branch (bringing the accelerating decline from 63 down to 40--and counting) is undeniably indicative of and in line with the trend among Jews who found themselves born into the pews of the Conservative movement's "temples" to head for the exits. Unfortunately, most follow the Conservative path's natural tendency and systemic educational push toward secularism, assimilation and intermarriage; a few successfully return to their forebears' Torah lives; almost none remain to visit that which was so meaningless to them onto their innocent children. Thanks to the Conservative clergy, who dispensed with traditional Jewish definitions of such elementary concepts as marriage and conversion for the purposes of constructing their new religion, it's impossible to say at this stage just what proportion of the membership of the Conservative movement is Jewish. But if you notice how empty the temples are on Saturdays compared to how they used to be, consider that way back when, when there was a crowd, the crowd was mostly Jewish. Not necessarily so in the small gatherings they get today.

I was a student at SSDS-RV a long, long time ago, back when it was in a bunch of trailers and at recess we went outside to chase each other on a dirt field. I'll miss that school.

This is a huge loss, not just for the conservative community but the entire community, which benefits from diversity. The question is, if they were able to ultimately raise enough money to open the school within 10 days after its closing was announced, why was that money not raised/given sooner -- before an announcement was made that caused half the students found other places? Did the school's leadership not sound the alarm early enough, or did the larger community not step in when it should have? I do not know which would be worse, but the question should be answered so this does not happen again elsewhere.

You are correct. The problem was that the Board of the School announced the School's closure BEFORE seeking help. Therefore, even though the money was ultimately raised, about 75 % of the student body went to new schools and did not come back to this one. IF the Board would have sought out the help BEFORE announcing its closure, they would have raised the money and STILL HAD THE STUDENTS. Unfortunately, I believe this was terrible case of mismanagement at its very best. This school could have and should have survived. It is so, so sad.

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