By: Deena Fuchs and Susan Kardos
Debra Nussbaum Cohen in the Forward claims mixed results for PEJE’s efforts over the last 14 years. In developing her story, she interviewed a number of the original PEJE partners who are no longer funding the national organization. Unfortunately, she did not speak with anyone from AVI CHAI, a PEJE partner from its inception and a current funder of its endowment building work for day schools.
So, let’s imagine she had asked us “why do you continue to support PEJE?” We would have answered, “You see, we believe in day schools, and we believe in what PEJE is doing for them. And, there is a whole group of current PEJE partners who believe the same. You might want to ask them too.”
Day schools provide the intensive and immersive educational experience from which the “energizing nucleus” of young people who will lead the Jewish people in the 21st century will emerge. As Rabbi Greenberg is quoted in the article, “… in the long run there is no serious alternative.”
Those original PEJE partners quoted in the article have left PEJE and gone on to develop creative programs to broadly solidify the next generation of Jewish connection. Kol Hakavod for that! We – and PEJE’s other current partners – look at things a bit differently: we believe that connection is not enough to generate a thriving Jewish future. The products of those programs – connected Jews – need connectors. They need leaders who are Jewishly literate, purposeful about their Jewish living and committed to the Jewish people. And, day schools are the best poised vehicle to deliver that. Cleary, not all day school graduates will become Jewish leaders. But, if you look at the data from Dr. Jack Wertheimer’s study on young Jewish leaders, day school graduates are Jewish community leaders to a very disproportionate extent.
Yes, day schools are expensive. But again, there is no serious alternative to a childhood / young adulthood filled with serious Jewish content, role models and atmosphere. No matter how useful and powerful 10 days in Israel are for a young Jews visiting Israel for the first time, in our view it just doesn’t compare to the depth of the experience at a Jewish day school. Advocating for day schools does not mean ignoring the challenges of day school affordability and finance. At AVI CHAI, we are so completely committed to working on the day school affordability issue that we have recently hired a senior staff member whose sole responsibility is just that.
PEJE recognizes all of this. Its leadership perceived the changes in the economy, the marketplace and the philanthropic landscape. As nimble and adaptive leaders, Rabbi Elkin and now Amy Katz have refocused the organization to serve the day school field by offering knowledge and resources to foster financial sustainability and affordability.
But more important, PEJE leadership – both professional and lay – recognize that Jewish day schools are precious communal assets that we as a community need to support if we are truly committed to a thriving Jewish future.