Jewish Day Schools
To the Editor:
The first half of Milton Himmelfarb’s article “Reflections on the Jewish Day School” [July] invoked no negative response in me; the second half did. [By this] I do not mean to imply that any part of his article was erroneous or misleading—everything he says is true; and I write only from my viewpoint and not for the entire movement. I should like to answer some of the points raised by Mr. Himmelfarb.
The Day Schools would like to continue beyond the grammar school level, but where are the facilities and the money? For an enrollment of approximately a hundred children, our local operation budget is in excess of $50,000 and this without capital investment or expenditures. Tuition covers less than 40 per cent of operating costs.
As for the general education aspects of the Day Schools, statistics will show that Day School children receive a better secular education than their public school counterparts. Achievement tests by our local public school psychologist administered this year indicate that our children rate from one to three years above their normal public school level.
We are mindful of the fact that the Day Schools offer only a grammar school education in Judaism and Jewish culture, and one of our basic problems is to continue the child’s education once he graduates from the Day School. (Does anyone have any suggestions?) Not all problems are solvable—isn’t it better for the children to receive at least a Day School education than the other forms of Jewish education now available?
Any type of Jewish education that teaches positive values and action will be labeled Orthodox. That most children are not from Orthodox homes (when judged by Orthodox standards), that the officers and directors are not Orthodox Jews, and that the secular teachers are non-Jews, seems to make no difference in tagging the Day Schools as Orthodox institutions. I had one man tell me that since the children said a blessing before and after lunch, the school was Orthodox! This type of thinking and reasoning can be repeated a thousandfold. Certainly, the Day Schools are not producing Orthodox Jews and if they were, would that be a catastrophe?
Of course, there isn’t enough time to teach everything. The incidentals of the public schools must be eliminated. (One set of our parents took their children out and sent them to public school . . . [because] dancing is not part of our curriculum.) Work is gradually being done to coordinate the curricula and programming of the schools. I have never heard of an instance when a former Day School student had any difficulty on transferring to a public school—either social or scholastic.
Naturally there is some minimal conflict between totally non-observant homes and the Day School. Intelligent parents channel the conflict along constructive lines. But must our Jewish parents create the conflict? . . . For instance, when the child’s home is not kosher, must the mother insist that the child . . . eat bacon, ham, and pork at home?
Mr. Himmelfarb . . . apparently cannot appreciate the growing pains and problems: [problems such as] scholarship, unpaid tuition, payrolls, accounts payable, staff, fund raising, facilities, transportation, P.T.A., spoiled and narrow-minded parents, curriculum, training aids, banquets, recitals, etc., etc. That the Day Schools are springing up all over the country and surviving is living testimony to their general acceptance. If not the Day School movement, what are the alternatives to Jewish survival in America?
Hebrew Academy of Tidewater
To the Editor:
Milton Himmelfarb’s article . . . contributes to the great need . . . to be aware of the growth and development of the Jewish Day School as an educational institution. . . .
[However], it is dismaying to read a generalization such as “The vice of the Day School is that it ignores Western culture.” There is no “Day School,” but there exist “Day Schools” which are extremely varied in their emphasis and general point of view. What is the statistical basis for the charge that they ignore “Western culture?” Is Mr. Himmelfarb aware of any comparison studies which indicate the deficiency of the Day School student in terms of his and the public or private school student’s awareness of the facts of Western Culture? . . .
I commend the article for bringing to our attention the fact that Jewish federations have thus far failed to support Day Schools. . . .[But] why does Mr. Himmelfarb expect an eighth grader in a Day School to have anything other than an eighth grade conception of a subject? . . . Is he suggesting that the Day School program succeeds best when this plane of studies is pursued on the high school and college level? . . .
(Rabbi) Murray Grauer
White Plains, N. Y.
To the Editor:
I would like to congratulate Mr. Himmelfarb on his handling of the subject of the Jewish Day School. I agree with him in most of his conclusions. . . .
We have eight grandchildren all attending school at the present time, six in this country and two in England. Of the six here, three attend the regular public school, and two the Hebrew Day School; the eldest, now in the Yeshiva, is a graduate of the Day School. In “basic” ability, the children are all about equal. . . . The Hebrew Day School pupils in our family are fine children, but they are very narrow in their reactions—their feeling toward the goyim is still ghetto-like. True, their knowledge of Hebrew is ahead of the children that go to the public schools, but they are very much in the category Mr. Himmelfarb mentions of those who think themselves “Hebraists.” . . .
Our grandson who is at the English Public School (which in this country, I believe, is the equivalent of the private schools) did not have the amount of Hebrew instruction that the Hebrew Day School pupils here had. But he continued his Hebrew studies voluntarily, after his Bar Mitzvah, at the school he attends. There, during the hour set aside for Religious Instruction, the Jewish pupils of all grades have a joint session: it is voluntary on the part of the pupils as to whether they will attend or use the hour for general study, reading, etc. At first our grandson thought he would do some secular work during that period, but he soon changed his mind, and now he continues his religious training, getting a great deal of intellectual stimulus from the fact that both the older and younger boys meet on equal ground for an hour of religious instruction. So much for the system in England.
But by far the best-adjusted socially and as a citizen is our granddaughter who goes to the public school here, and to the Orthodox Sunday school [which gives her] her religious affiliations. True, the Jewish Day School grandchildren have it all over her in their knowledge of Hebrew, but not in their knowledge of the Bible; and as for what I call the “dish religion” part of her training, I believe that to get a well-rounded outlook on religion one must have it in the home. . . .
I must repeat that I agree with Mr. Himmelfarb a hundred per cent in his conclusion that the fault in the Jewish Day Schools is that they do not teach “the way of the earth.”
Jessie S. Bloom
To the Editor:
Does Western culture owe so much to Christianity as to pose an insurmountable problem for Hebrew Day School educators? Milton Himmelfarb would have us believe so. In his encompassing essay on these schools he scores them for not facing up to that which is inherent in our culture, in our architecture, music, and literature.
Some obvious examples and manifestations seem to bear him out. The Gothic cathedrals of France and Germany, for instance, and the Gregorian chant. But Sir Christopher Wren, who adopted earlier Roman forms, Louis H. Sullivan and his innovations in the field of industrial architecture, and Frank Lloyd Wright in his manifold individualistic style, owed little, if anything, to the Church, just as the ancient Greeks and Romans owed naught. And there are those who argue that the cadences, soaring and muted, of the Hebrew cantillation for the prophetic portions are more soulful, richer in body, and range wider than the limited plain-song. Indeed, many authorities trace the origin of the latter to the songs of Solomon’s Temple. Our Sephardic brethren therefore have a legitimate right to their plain-song chanting, and we also have a right to regard much of music as originating outside the province of religious Christendom. . . .
The same points can be made, and probably more forcefully, for literature and philosophy, and suggest that Western culture can, in fact, be presented in our Hebrew Day Schools without doing violence either to facts or to faith. In some respects, it is probably better presented there than in other schools. A case in point is the widely used textbook in elementary social studies, Your World and Mine (published by Ginn & Co.). Any Jewish or Gentile public school child using this book can only gather the impression that Jesus bequeathed to the world two teachings uniquely his own, two key teachings of the New Testament: to love God, and to love one’s fellow man. A day school child knows where these teachings come from, for he has seen the original texts in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. . . .
It is not the exposure of Jewish children to Western culture which is disquieting to Day School educators, but rather the problem of over-exposure in public schools to Christian culture which is not necessarily identical with Western culture. Why should, for example, social studies textbooks be written from a Christian point of view? . . .
As we look about us and see young Jewish men and women, products of our public schools, visiting with their Gentile friends at a Christmas candlelight service or Mass (for that, they explain, is “part of our cultural way of life”), but not appreciating the exalted “Ne’ilah” service of a Yom Kippur or even the “Geshem” service of a Shemini Atzaret, one feels that there is a distortion somewhere; a distortion perpetrated by texts and abetted by teachers. In contrast one can see other young men and women, graduates of the Day Schools, taking their places successfully in the general community and withal knowing how to open a prayer book or Pentateuch, remaining in communion with the best of the past and injecting new vigor, purpose, and hope into our lifestream.
Every responsible educator will agree with Mr. Himmelfarb that Day School education is incomplete when it stops at the end of the elementary period. Much of our energy is being directed toward building a network of secondary schools of which a number already exist. But for fear of not completing the good work, should it not be undertaken?
The Day Schools are constantly growing and progressing. In the process, Western history and culture are not being sacrificed, and an American education is being provided as well. It is true that we do not glorify the Middle Ages. But then we are not dealing with the education of a Henry Adams, but with that of Jewish children.
(Rabbi) Israel D. Lerner
North Shore Hebrew Academy
Great Neck, L. I.