Why send your child to a Jewish day school? It costs a lot. Other good private and public schools are available. What makes a Jewish day school a compelling choice? The reasons are many.
Achievement-Extensive research by education scholar, William Jeynes, found that “attending private religious schools is associated with the highest level of academic achievement among the three school types [religious private schools, charter schools, and public schools], even when sophisticated controls are used to adjust for socioeconomic status.” This widely publicized study gives religious schools an edge not only over public schools but also charter schools and non-religious private schools.
Jeynes summarized this in an interview with a publication of CAPE(Council for American Private Schools), “Students who attend religious schools score at an academic level about 12 months ahead of their counterparts.”
Brilliance– despite the fact that Jews make up less than 0.2% of the world’s population, they have won 41%(!) of Nobel prizes in economics, 28% in medicine, 26% in physics, and 19% in chemistry. Did all those winners attend Jewish day schools? Of course not. However, there is something unique and brilliant that remains tied to the Jewish culture of learning, critical thinking, desire to improve the world–all Jewish values that are practiced and reinforced in Jewish day schools every day.
College– the challenging curriculum of day schools gives graduates a high level of academic confidence and skills, a positive attitude toward learning and coping with new information, and a foundation for engagement in Jewish life in college and beyond.
Development– Religious schools focus on the whole child—self-discipline, emotional well-being, family background, and reaching full potential. Andrea Askowitz, a mother in Miami, explained why she moved her child from a public to a Jewish school, “I wasn’t drawn to the Jewishness, just drawn away from the inhumanity.” Jewish schools relate to the whole child.
Excellence-The Brandeis University 2007, Study “Does Jewish Day School Make a Difference,” found secular studies in Jewish day schools to be excellent. I am personally proud to have students who have some of the highest scores on state math competitions as well as the international Bible contest. Excellence is valued and encouraged.
Friends &Family – friendships we have as children remain with us for the rest of our lives. Friendships formed in Jewish day schools are not just bonds between students, they are friendships between parents, families, and even different communities; friendships that are likely to last a lifetime. Furthermore, research by Alex Pomson published in his book “Back to School“, shows that when parents choose a Jewish day school, they are doing so for the entire family’s Jewish experience rather As the Brandeis study shows, this does not limit your child’s ability to engage with a wide plurality of friends from diverse backgrounds in the future.
Grandchildren– the best way to ensure that your grandchildren will be Jewish is to send your child to a Jewish day school. Children who attend a Jewish day school for more than 6 years have an 80% likelihood of marrying a Jewish spouse. After 7-12 years, the probability rises above 90%. By contrast, the recent Pew study showed, intermarriage among non-orthodox Jews soaring above 70%.
Hebrew– Knowledge of Hebrew is key to a strong Jewish identity and full engagement in Jewish learning and prayer. The Hebrew language also makes it possible to communicate with Jews from around the world.
Israel—Thousands of Jewish day school students march in the annual Celebrate Israel Parade in New York City, a refreshing contrast to the many young Jews taking anti-Israel and pro-BDS positions on college campuses. Having a strong commitment to Israel also translates into a deeper understanding of Jews as a people and greater identification with Jews from communities around the world.
Judaism–sending your child to a Jewish day school is the best thing you can do to ensure your child’s understanding of Jewish heritage, texts, customs, and practices. As NYT Bestselling author Alina Adams explains in her article “I Cheated My sons Out of a Jewish Education”, even strong reinforcement at home, Hebrew School, and frequent visits to Temple, cannot make up for, or come close to, the level of engagement and knowledge, imbued in Jewish day school students.
Kvelling— one of the most beautiful scenes in a Jewish day school is parents standing outside the classroom door, moments after dropping off their children, listening to their kids with tears in their eyes. The beauty of the songs, prayer, and lessons, are sources of nachat and kvelling that no other venue can provide.
Language—a variety of studies show benefits of knowing another language to include improved intelligence, a better ability to multitask, improved memory, improved English, and better decision-making skills. Sending your child to a Jewish day school where Hebrew is an integral part of the lessons and culture, helps impart to your child those benefits that come with learning another language.
Menschlichkeit– a mensch is “a person of integrity and honor” by dictionary definition. But in Jewish culture, it means much more than that. A mensch is a person who demonstrates the highest respect, kindness and consideration for others. This is the model of behavior applauded and encouraged in Jewish day schools. The success of this emphasis on character is reflected in the high rates of volunteerism, considerations, and social engagement of day school graduates.
Need– Children need religion. In an article in the Huffington Post titled “Why Children and Religion Mix”, Dr. Peggy Drexler explains ” Participation in a religious community may help kids develop a strong moral core … For a generation of children that’s required to be more adaptive than ever before, simple acts like reciting prayers…can help impart a feeling of safety and groundedness.”
Optimism– a 2011 YU study, and a recent 2016 Harvard University study, show a strong correlation between religion and optimism with religious attendance making people as high as 56% more optimistic than others and even enjoying better physical wellbeing. Unless you are set on sending your child to a Christian parochial school, a Jewish day school might be a good way to give them the gift of optimism.
Pride— Anti-Semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric and incidents are escalating on college campuses and elsewhere. Going to a Jewish day school empowers children by giving them knowledge and pride in Judaism and equips them to lead a proud, meaningful, and informed Jewish life.
Questioning– there is an age-old joke about a Jew being asked: “why do Jews always answer questions with questions?” “Why not?” responds the Jew. Asking questions has always been a major characteristic of being Jewish. As Edger Bronfman points out, this trait fosters leadership, highlights our responsibility to act, and safeguards the freedoms we so value. Jewish schools encourage asking questions and a quest for deeper understanding. If leadership and critical thinking are important to you, a Jewish school is the right choice to make.
Resilience- House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, after a sustaining a crushing election defeat which shocked the world, said at the time: “growing up in the Jewish faith…you learn a lot about individual setbacks. But you also read and you learn that each setback is an opportunity and that there’s always optimism for the future.” The values and spirit instilled in Jewish day school students give them the power and resilience to overcome setbacks and succeed in life.
Sustainability–88% of children who grow up in Evangelical homes leave the church at age 18, never to return. As Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe points out, sending a child to a non-religious school makes religion not just unavailable. It most likely assures that religion of any form is not going to be part of their lives. Jewish day school are the best place to make sure Judaism remains an integral part of your child’s life—throughout their life.
Torah- President John Adams once wrote “I will insist the Hebrews have [contributed] more to civilize men than any other nation. If I was an atheist and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be an essential instrument for civilizing the nations … ” The Torah has been the most powerful and transformative work in history and is the epicenter of Jewish identity and survival. Sending your child to a Jewish day school gives her the opportunity to experience and know, firsthand, what keeps our people and much of civilization alive.
Unmatched- while there is much to say for Hebrew School, Sunday School, Bar/Bat Mitzvah lessons, and what is taught at home, studies show that nothing can match—or even approach– the value of day school education. The preservation of Jewish identity, marrying inside our faith, and choosing a Jewish education for one’s children are strengthened most—in an unmatched way—by day school education.
Volunteerism–day school graduates have a strong sense of civic responsibility, social engagement, and participation as volunteers to help make this world a better place.
Warmth-Rona Kaufman-Kitchen moved her children from an excellent Pennsylvania public school back to the Jewish day school. Here are some of her words: “It is in the sense of community exhibited by… Mrs. Glick approaching me the week after Naomi sang a solo at the Zimriah. She is glowing with a wide smile. She gently squeezes my arm and says, “Did you see OUR Naomi? Could you believe it? Wasn’t she amazing?”
…It is the drum music, dancing, and laughter that fill the gym during Kabbalat Shabbat. It is watching my daughter chant Torah in 5th grade. It is knowing that my children’s teachers and friends love them. And knowing that my children know this, too. For these gifts and more, my kids will be returning to Community Day School… even though it means we will be schlepping to and from the suburbs each day.”
Xenophobia– with antisemitism rising sharply and anti-Semitic incidents taking place even in the most tolerant and pluralistic public and private schools, parents should think twice before sending Jewish children to non-Jewish schools. Giving children a happy childhood, without exposure to racism, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia is a gift that will remain with them their whole life.
You– Sending your child to a Jewish day school is a powerful experience which can benefit you and your family, sometimes more powerfully than the child sent there.
Zest -one of the most beautiful things about Jewish day schools is the vibrancy, excitement, passion, and enthusiasm, zest for life and sparks of enthusiasm so typical of Jews are an essential part of Jewish day school.
Rabbi Elchanan Poupko is a rabbi, teacher, and blogger (www.rabbipoupko.com). He lives with his wife in New York City.
 As this article covers a vast amount of information please see hyperlinks to the various studies and pieces of information referred to in this article and otherwise see what is written here is my personal opinion or a reference to another article. When writing this article, I understood that not every parent will find every reason listed here to be irresistible, but my intention was that of the 26 reasons listed here, parents would find at least a few that are compelling and close to their heart. I would like to express my deepest thanks and gratitude to Dr. George Flesh MD and Dr. Karen Shawn of Yeshiva University for their help with this article. I would also like to thank Dr. Ruth Wisse of Harvard University for her kindness and for always being ready to help, comment, and advice. Thank you!
Published in the Jewish Journal, January 19th, 2017