Public or private? Soccer or baseball? Enroll in after-school care, or somehow try to leave the office, pick your child up at 3 p.m., and then work some more while he or she is plugged into an iPad? Yes, school-age logistics are definitely fraught.
Here, then, is one more choice: Is Jewish day school right for your family? It’s more expensive than public school, surely. And your kids might not be going to school with the same kids who live in the neighborhood or play on the town basketball team. But there’s also a more nuanced educational profile and an added layer of Jewish identity.
“Philosophically, it’s all about having your child’s Jewish identity be fostered from an early age,” says Amy Gold, head of school for Marblehead’s Cohen Hillel Academy. “Being Jewish doesn’t have to be something that happens after school or at summer camp or temple once in awhile. Being Jewish is something that is part of your mindset, an integrated part of learning.” These schools hope to foster a sense of social justice, curiosity and a healthy sense of skepticism.
Here are some pros and cons from two parents who (mostly) love it. Allison Goldberg’s son and daughter go to Cohen Hillel Academy in Marblehead. Debra Askanase’s daughters attend Jewish Community Day School in Watertown.
There’s an increased appreciation of a shared, concrete heritage
Goldberg wasn’t hyper-connected with her Jewish ancestry until enrolling her kids at Cohen Hillel Academy. “I’ve come to really love and appreciate the real understanding of our heritage that my kids are gaining. You hear, ‘Oh, Jews, 6,000 years, yada, yada. Six-thousand documented years, and these rituals are still in practice!? What a steadfast belief system,” she says. Askanase agrees: “They discuss modern-day Israel at school. It’s not some other country you visit once. It’s very real.”
Cultural knowledge is woven into contemporary topics
“I love the fact that my daughter will talk about the pyramids while having a conversation about, say, Martin Luther King. Lessons about current events are woven into our own history: slaves in Egypt, slaves in the South, what are the similarities? The kids get that perspective,” says Goldberg.
You don’t have to be ultra-religious (really!)
“There are families who are much more observant than me. Every family, every student can do what works for you. There’s not a mandate,” says Goldberg.
Your kids will learn Hebrew
“We wanted our children to have a second language, which is a big part of brain development and overall understanding of the world,” says Askanase.
Hopefully, it won’t feel like a chore
Askanase grew up going to Hebrew school, which often happens while other kids are, well, outside playing. “I wanted this learning to feel joyful and not forced. I wanted these thoughtful discussions about ethics and spirituality fully integrated in their lives,” she says.
You could feel disconnected from your hometown
Kids arrive at these schools from all over, which is terrific. But when it comes time to enroll your kid on a town sports team, for instance, he or she might not know anyone. “Purely from a kids’ perspective, you’re at a different place than the kids in the town around you. You need to make that choice: Can they handle that?” Goldberg says.
Many day schools only go up to eighth grade
Not a huge drawback, per se, but you’ll need to be prepared to go elsewhere when your kids are at the peak of adolescence. Many go on to private schools, and some continue to public schools in their hometowns.