Perelman Jewish Day School has celebrated a milestone birthday all year long, because to Head of School Judy Groner, it’s a pretty significant number.
“Sixty years is a good, healthy number of years for a Jewish day school to be in existence, and it really means that generations have been or are involved in the school,” she said.
In fact, she added, at a celebratory event on May 24, there will be three and four generations of Jewish Philadelphians who have been involved with the school.
“Sixty is half of 120, and you know how everybody says ad me’ah v’esrim — that we may live to 120,” she said, referencing the phrase often used as a birthday wish for a long life. “Of course, we want to live long beyond that, [so] we’re looking not only back but looking to a very bright future ahead.”
The celebration at Har Zion Temple at 6:30 p.m. will also be a chance to honor Judy and David Wachs, a couple whose family history is intertwined with that of Perelman itself.
Judy Wachs’ parents — Fannie and Abe Birnbaum — were founders of the school, which was then called Solomon Schechter Day School. Classes were held at Har Zion’s first location in Wynnefield.
Since then, the Wachses have sent their children and grandchildren to the school and helped it grow.
“My husband and I have been involved with Perelman because we think it’s very necessary that Jewish day schools exist,” Judy Wachs said.
In honor of the milestone, the couple pledged to match the first $1 million the school fundraises. Groner hopes to be able to announce successfully raising that sum at the event.
“The only thing that’s important is it raises more money for the school,” David Wachs said, “and therefore can allow the school to operate more efficiently and to give more scholarships for Jewish kids. … What we’re hoping for is the cause — the Perelman Jewish community and school — becomes more important to the Jewish community than it already is. It is important, but we hope to grow it even further.”
Family legacy and involvement are factors that Groner said makes Perelman, which houses 352 students from kindergarten through fifth grade across two campuses in Wynnewood and Melrose Park, unique. Groner also emphasized the school’s outstanding education.
She’s seen Perelman’s continuity firsthand. When she was 23, she began working at the school as a sixth-grade teacher. With a hint of nostalgia, she noted her last sixth-graders are graduating their children from the school in the next year or two.
“It’s so unusual to have a school where one can teach parents and children,” she said, “and we have many, many teachers here who have been able to do that. It really creates — now we call it looping, if you loop from grade to grade — but the fact that we can loop from generation to generation, it lends a depth that is truly unique.
“It’s such an innovative place now — the best of tradition and that Jewish core, but on the other hand, an extremely innovative type of education,” she added.
Groner is looking forward to the launch of a full-day Hebrew immersion pre-K program next fall. She pointed, as well, to the enhanced math and science curricula at Perelman as emblematic of its commitment to both Jewish and secular education.
“When I taught here early in my career, we didn’t offer engineering and architecture and robotics on both campuses, and now we have all that, as well as all the technological devices that one needs to work with students, even on an elementary school level,” she said.
“It is really a school that welcomes the entirety of the Jewish community,” she said. “It makes a wonderful melting pot of the Jewish world on both of our campuses. That really adds a tremendous amount to the educational and social experience that not only our children have, but certainly our faculty and administration and our parents have, because we’re all part of this community. It’s not just about the students; it’s family-oriented.”
Parents have noticed the same.
Daniel Eisenstadt has kindergartener, Ariella, and a third-grader, Rachel, at Perelman’s Stern Center in Wynnewood. A third, Elena, has already graduated and is in eighth grade at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy.
When Eisenstadt, who as a child attended a Jewish day school, and his wife, Sharon, who did not, were first looking at schools after moving to Center City from New York, Perelman stood out.
“After we really looked at Perelman and [Sharon] got to see that Perelman represented an excellent education and also the sense of Jewish values and the sense of family and that there was no compromising in any way on the education,” he recalled, “it was a pretty easy decision.”
Of the anniversary, Eisenstadt marveled at the community’s generations-long commitment.
“There’s been a commitment over many years by people like the Wachs family over generations to improve the school to make sure it was a top-tier education,” he said. “It also is a school that has been really literally built around communicating Jewish values to our kids, both in what’s taught and in how it’s taught.”
The school constantly re-evaluates itself for improvement, noted Leona Goldshaw, a Jenkintown resident whose children, Ezra and Miriam, are in third and first grade, respectively, at the Forman Center in Melrose Park. Her oldest daughter, Maya, graduated from Perelman and now is in eighth grade at Abington Junior High School.
“There’s constantly new stuff happening, so it’s adapting to the cutting edge educational piece and also adapting to the community’s needs, and that’s why it’s lasted this long,” Goldshaw said. “But also at its core, it’s just a vital and vibrant way of continuing Jewish education in a way that no one else does.”
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