Let’s Talk about Jewish Day Schools

Between Us

Steven A. Rakitt

Let’s talk about….Jewish Day Schools.

The sounds are what caught my attention first: from the giggling of younger children in the hallway, to the thoughtful questions of 8th graders about relationships between Jews and Arabs in Israel during the 1930s, to joyful tunes welcoming Shabbat during a siyyum, a ceremony marking the completion of a section of study.

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to spend a few hours at Gesher Jewish Day School in Fairfax, VA. Founded over 30 years ago to meet the needs of a bourgeoning Northern Virginia Jewish community, Gesher now sits in a new building on a beautiful, wooded campus. The atmosphere is warm, friendly, welcoming and joyous. The students, parents, faculty and staff are all proud of their school, and rightly so.

Full disclosure: All of my children attended Jewish day schools, and one still does. I believe strongly in the value of Jewish day schools and these feelings were reinforced during my recent visit to Gesher.

Choosing a school for a child is an important decision. It is highly personal and reflective of a family’s values and aspirations. Jewish day schools offer small class sizes, a robust sense of community, dual language learning, nurturing environments and rigorous general studies and Jewish curricula. Each of our community’s day schools have strong records of excellent academic achievement, with graduates going on to the best colleges and universities.

What sets Jewish day schools apart from other private school education is the thoughtful way in which values-based education is woven through all subjects. The role models – teachers and older students – exemplify positive behavior, self-confidence, the importance of academics and positive social behavior, all while modeling strong knowledge and confidence in their Jewish identity.

When I visited Gesher, I met with Board members, faculty, staff and students. In just a few hours, I saw positive and warm interactions between teachers and students, a fun approach to scientific exploration, knowledge and respect for Jewish heritage and ritual, an a positive educational environment. It is a pivotal institution for the Northern Virginia Jewish community and a valuable resource for all of us.

Gesher is one of many day school options available in our community. Through The Federation’s Annual Campaign, we are able to proudly support The Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, The Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy, Gesher Jewish Day School, The Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capital, The Torah School of Greater Washington and Yeshiva of Greater Washington. Extensive research (as outlined in this blogpost by Rabbi Mitch Malkus, Head of School at CESJDS) shows that Jewish day school education is extremely effective in nurturing the next generation of Jewish volunteer and professional leadership for our communities.

All of our day schools offer generous scholarships, but as a community, we must find more ways to address the affordability of Jewish day school education, especially for the increasingly-squeezed middle class. The value proposition, however, is clear: a Jewish day school education is an extraordinary investment in our children, their families and our future.

Steven A. Rakitt, Chief Executive Officer
[email protected]

Here are three ways to Make It Yours this week:

  • Celebrate The Art of Jewish Food with Chef Paula Shoyer at a Passover themed cooking demo and tasting on Tuesday, February 10 at the JCCNV.
  • Join us for an important conversation on the future of disability inclusion in our community at The Federation on Sunday, February 22.
  • Register for The Network Event, an evening of networking with influential business leaders and a presentation by ESPN’s Mike Greenberg of Mike and Mike onThursday, February 26.

Let’s Celebrate Inclusion

Happy Jewish Disability Awareness Month! Since 2009, February has been deemed the official month when Jews across the nation join together in a unified effort to raise awareness and champion the rights of people with disabilities. The Federation is incredibly grateful to be a part of a community that is so deeply committed to supporting meaningful inclusion for people with disabilities and their families. We believe a strong Jewish community is one in which the value of B’tzelem Elohim (we are all created in God’s image) is at the forefront of programming. We believe that if we each ask ourselves “what more can we do to create a unified community” – progress can be made. And we are excited to invite you to inclusive events all month long! Together, let’s make February ours as we foster a more inclusive Jewish community that emphasizes the value, dignity and abilities of every individual.

A FREE Trip to Israel?!

That is not a typo. The Federation’s Young Leadership Department is partnering with Birthright Israel and Shorashim for TWO FREE TRIPS to Israel this summer. So if you (or someone you know) is a Jewish adult age 22 to 26 living in the Greater Washington area looking to have the time of your life, meet some incredible new people and experience Israel with your head, heart and soul, keep reading. This is your chance to be a part of a life-changing opportunity to immerse yourself in the history and culture of the Holy Land, and foster meaningful connections to Israel and your Jewish identity. We invite you to apply now.