Polarization, lack of cooperation and denominational differences have been problems within Jewish communal life for many years. Critics complain but creative change is hard to come by. Now comes a daring attempt to counter the trend — the agreement by five national day school organizations and networks to work together in forming a single body to advance and expand their shared educational and financial goals.
After more than a year of extensive deliberations, surveys and focus groups, the five national institutions — PARDES (Days Schools of Reform Judaism), PEJE (the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education), RAVSAK (the Jewish Community Day School Network), The Schecer Day School Network and YUSP (the Yeshiva University School Partnership) — announced this week that they will merge in the coming months. In their place, a new and more unified body representing day schools across the U.S. is set to begin operation this summer. (See story on Page 1.)
Some no doubt will see this move as one of desperation, a last-ditch effort to keep the day school movement afloat. But experts in the field assert that is not the case. Rather, they say, it was motivated by a combination of realism and idealism, a selfless effort to ensure sustainability to benefit the more than 275 schools and nearly 100,000 students now being served by these separate groups, and a chance to expand their reach.
The as-yet unnamed institution (called Neworg for now) is envisioned as being greater than the sum of its parts, allowing for the continuance of programs and services for each of the religious streams while also being a centralized presence to better interact with the community and with donors long frustrated by the factionalism that plagues Jewish life.
Yossi Prager, executive director of the Avi Chai Foundation, the influential day school supporter that played a key role as honest broker, acknowledged that the five national groups are taking a serious risk in this new venture. But he credited them for putting educational issues over more narrow concerns.
Their commitment to work together toward academic excellence, creative programming and financial sustainability while servicing their own constituencies is an exciting proposition.
We congratulate both Avi Chai for funding and shepherding the process, and the leadership of the five national groups for overcoming their turf issues to strive for a more efficient, stronger and transformative central body.