Thursday, June 16, 2011

I am so sad ...

I am so sad ….

Disclaimer: I know that there are many thriving and healthy Jewish institutions all around but …

I just recently heard that a wonderful Jewish Day School (Rambam) in Baltimore is closing the end of this year. In recent years, other day schools (including two others I have been aware of most recently) have been closing, in more than a few cases, schools with which I had worked as a consultant some years ago. Other schools are having their backs broken by the mortgage on their show place buildings and administrators who are getting the types of salaries that we find in the private sector business world while the teachers are still earning way too little for doing increasingly more and more work. I am sad about this.

I also just read that a well loved Modern Orthodox Rabbi in Baltimore is leaving his congregation because he feels that he cannot grow the community any more as he explains that finding Modern Orthodox Jews in the increasingly black hat Greater Baltimore area is like looking for a needle in a haystack. This is certainly a dynamic felt in more than a few communities, thus widening the rift between the very observant and the not-so-much ritualistically observant though involved in so many other ways groupings. Those of us in this widening center of Modern Orthodox – Observant Conservative – Committed within any denomination Jews are finding ourselves out in the cold even with the coming summer. I am sad about this too.

We, that is our family, belong to a shul that we joined almost eleven years ago when we felt a bit like being “run out of town” from our former community (though we maintain many warm and caring friendships there, with people we truly love) and were assured that “we will never be a black hat shul.” Yet, many people in our present community are concerned about just that. I, in fact, was recently informed by a self identified “Modern Orthodox” leader in this shul community that it is against Halacha for a woman to speak in public giving announcements, a Dvar Torah or read Tefillah L’Medinat Yisrael (not even read anyway here, another problem for another time) during services. Imagine that, after all these years, this is totally new to me in my non-Yeshivish observant and committed Jewish upbringing and world. I am sad about this too.

I am most probably shortly leaving the world of Jewish Education (or at least many aspect of it) because I feel ethically compromised by too much of what I see. We have lost our barometer of who we are. We are not the fancy and exclusive private schools but when our Jewish Day Schools see themselves as being such, well… that is why our fourth child is not in Jewish Day School but in our amazing public school with my continued home schooling in Limudei Kodesh. So, now, I fear that after all these years, are we going backwards about 40 years to when it was Orthodox Yeshiva or something else (that is public or private school), without the Jewish Day School phenomenon as we know it? We blame the economy, which is clearly a factor, but let’s be honest – this is way too easy and there is something much more insidious going on here. We have lost our way. We are not doing values based education in these schools in some instances and kids are not even feeling safe physically; and this is not to even discuss what is (or is not) happening academically in too many, though thankfully not all, cases. I am sad about this too.

I am told by a very good friend and others that Jewish Day Schools are booming in the south and the west. I have not heard about these closing and this is a good thing. I know many Modern Orthodox Rabbis that are doing quite well in places in which new communities are sprouting up. Rabbi Avi Weiss’ Yeshivat Chovevei Torah is putting out a new brand of Orthodox Rabbi. Funny, this new brand is what I REMEMBER SO WELL from my youth. This new brand is not unlike Rabbi Landau who will be taking leave of his congregation in Baltimore. Yet, these Rabbis who are this “new brand” do not find positions so easily.

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz once said at a lecture I attended some years ago as he opened his presentation: Congratulations American Jewry, you are catching up to Israel. You are becoming more black or white and this is not the way to go.

I fear he may be right about our larger Jewish community in too many ways and this too makes me sad!


  1. While there is a lot to be sad about on an institutional level, there are many exciting new things happening to combat this polarization. There is a do it yourself Jewish culture that is certainly gaining power in lots of different Jewish context. This has taken form in independent minyanim, new serious learning spaces made accessible to Jews of all backgrounds and an upsurge of grassroots organizations dealing with lots of issues (most of the ones I've seen are related to various social justice endeavors).

    There is as much to celebrate as there is to be sad about. We just have to recognize our own power as individuals and smaller communities. If we are able to empower ourselves and each other, we can create the experiences we seek.

  2. Posted by: Rachel Kriger, Acupuncturist and Hebrew Day school graduate (for tips on staying well in the summer, see

    I hear ya. And, you are right in line with the seasons, elementally.
    The solstice, next week, is considered to be the peak of summer in the Chinese calendar. The emotions of summertime are joy and sadness.
    It is important to let ourselves feel sad, as you expressed. And then, even more important to know that this sadness is coming from a place of love.

    When something is showing up as missing, we feel sad. It seems that through your sadness, you have expressed your love for a values based Jewish education that is valued by many communities. And, as Rachie mentioned, this does still exist and thrive.

  3. Thank you for sharing your views on this; it is sad when day schools close. At the same time, there are changes happening. I recently read an article about R' Avi Weiss' shul in Riverdale, NY (which I attended on a shabbos)where he used the term "Open Orthodox" to describe the Rabbinical school (YCT) and shul. There are 65 future Rabbis enrolled this year alone. Those graduates will hopefully effect change. I think we need to be optimistic that despite some real challenges, there will be opportunities as well.