For someone who didn’t have a bat mitzvah or attend a Jewish day school, Karen Everett has turned out to be a passionate advocate for day schools and involvement in the Jewish communal world.
As director of admissions and outreach at the Solomon Schechter School of Westchester, Everett firmly believes that day schools offer a compelling answer to current concerns about Jewish identity and affiliation. “There’s no trade-off to the general or secular experience,” she said. “We provide a robust experience, with a wonderful Jewish education. We’re a community more than a school.”
As she sees it, graduates of schools like Schechter are “the ones becoming Hillel leaders at college, and can answer questions about Israel when they go to campus. Israel is in the blood of our children since kindergarten.”
Everett, whose three children are Schechter alumni (and whose husband, David, recently elected a Westchester County Court judge, had graduated from the Midwood Schechter in Brooklyn), initially became involved in Schechter as a parent. She ran the journal and dinner dance, before being tapped for the school board, where she chaired a marketing committee.
It’s no surprise that Schechter turned to her for her professional expertise, given that Everett, who earned a sociology degree from Princeton, had strong background as a marketer (a career that she put on hold while raising her children).
“My role,” Everett said, “is to make connections with other organizations and communities in terms of education and to enhance our programs.” One of her recent initiatives was bringing talks about the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) program to the school, where the community is invited to hear professionals in the field discuss “their professional trajectory and encourage our students to pursue STEM careers.”
Everett admitted that one of her biggest challenges is to “convince non-Orthodox Jews that day school is worth it. Every non-Orthodox group is trying to figure out how to do Jewish education better; if you turn and look at the value and results of Jewish day schools, the answer is in Jewish day schools.”
She said that at present the Westchester school enrollment policy is still following the Conservative movement’s definition, based on matrilineal descent. She pointed out, however, that there are students from mixed marriages at the school, where the mothers are Jewish, the children have been converted, or are in the process of converting. Westchester Schechter has students along the Reform-to-Orthodox spectrum, as well as those who are non-affiliated, and secular Israelis. The school also offers a program for children who don’t have a Jewish day school background, through the 10th grade.
Everett was raised in Atlanta in a family that was strongly connected to the Jewish community there, as well as elsewhere in the South. Her family was active in the local Reform community, where her parents were founding members of the Reform temple. Her grandmother in Mobile, Ala., helped build that Reform community, was instrumental in bringing Jewish refugees from World War II to the area, and was also involved in interfaith and inter-racial relationships there.
Recently honored by the Westchester Region of Hadassah for her leadership, Everett remains involved and is currently serving on the national board. She first connected with Hadassah in the early 1990s when she and her husband, with their new baby, moved to Orange County. The Newburgh chapter, which included a group of young Jewish mothers, offered Everett an outlet for her desire to work with the Jewish world as well as congenial, like-minded women.
“Hadassah has been my primary volunteer home ever since,” she said. What especially appeals to her is “Jewish women from all across the country and around the world, of all ages and backgrounds, coming together to heal the world. Hadassah is the only organization where the power of women, in particular of Jewish women, is brought to bear on some of the most difficult health and welfare challenges of our day.”
Everett also has a definite soft spot for UJA-Federation.
“My mother encouraged the girls in my family to go to federation events to meet nice Jewish boys,” said Everett, who met her husband at a Catskills Shabbaton. “We both have a strong Jewish connection, and an impetus to do good in the world.”