From the beginning, parents of potential students at our school have asked us the critical question: “Why should we consider sending our child to a Jewish college preparatory boarding school?” Many seasoned Jewish educators warned us that a Jewish boarding school would not succeed. Yet in our relatively short, 17-year history, the American Hebrew Academy has welcomed students from across the United States and 38 countries; built an institution of esteemed faculty; and formed a student body with a record number of merit scholarships and competitive college admissions. Unfortunately, even as our reputation grows, we have an increasing number of families who struggle to afford an Academy education for their children, despite our continued investment in financial assistance.
Many Jewish schools are blessed with an impressive endowment provided by loyal benefactors and a generous parent body. However, no school, including our own, is immune to the economic realities and financial constraints felt by Jewish educators around the world, who must operate no differently than a for-profit organization.
We must recognize our shared challenges in the current educational climate – and our common interests – and acknowledge that Jewish education is not a competitive sport. The closure of a single Jewish school is never a cause for celebration, as though faith-based education is a free market battle. Competition among schools can serve to strengthen our institutions, but it should never weaken us as a people. Can we not all agree, in homage to Klal Yisrael, that it is more important for a child to receive a Jewish education than none at all, no matter which Jewish school the parent chooses?
People demarcate the traditional denominational lines of the Jewish faith in different ways. As educators, we should recognize that local economic, societal, cultural, and geographic forces remain critical considerations for all Jewish schools, as well as changing demographics and parental feedback. I am often invited to speak around the world to Jewish educators and philanthropists who want to learn about our founding and success first hand; they want to learn how to enhance their institutions, programs, and professional development and better understand the innovative methodologies of the Academy.
We welcome these opportunities for collaboration. In fact, it is a fundamental principle set forth by the Academy’s founder, Chico Sabbah, z”l, whose dream was to build a school that served as a paradigm for Jewish education and future generations. In an effort to reach Jewish communities around the globe, we have opened our campus to visiting students, faculty, and administrators from other schools, educational leaders from academic foundations, designers, architects, engineers, environmentalists, and adult and youth organizations, including Hadassah, Hillel, JNF, and BBYO. We host the Special Olympics each year and share our new curriculum and whitepapers with other Jewish schools. I mention this not to call attention to our generosity, but to illustrate a mindset and reiterate that there is always more to do for the Jewish people, more ways to help each other achieve our shared goals.
The proverb “to the victor goes the spoils” has no place in Jewish education; instead, we should consider the competing belief that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” May we be victorious in our pursuit of Jewish education for all youth? I believe the answer lies in our collective action.
Glenn Drew is CEO and general counsel of the American Hebrew Academy.