Grappling with the fact that the American Jewish population is not only assimilating but shrinking, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's Center for Jewish Life and Learning's Task Force on Day Schools is taking steps to alter this pattern.
Since children are the Jewish future, the task force is strengthening an area that has proven effective in helping them become committed to Judaism for years to come - a Jewish day-school education.
To promote excellence and expand the number of families who can afford day schools, Federation is bringing together community leaders to broaden the scope of support for these educational Jewish institutions and improve their quality.
Fred Fox, chair of the task force, understands from firsthand experience how day schools benefit families.
"One of the goals is to make parents aware that the kids coming out of these schools are well-educated, well-adjusted, motivated and self-confident," says Fox, whose own two children, ages 11 and 6, are enrolled at the Melrose Park and Wynnewood locations, respectively, of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman Jewish Day School. "The learning environment is extraordinarily nurturing; teachers love what they're doing and are committed. The children are receiving a very special, unique product."
Fox is also concerned with the local and global ramifications of Jewish demographics, and how that translates into support for Israel. "With declining demographics comes declining influence," says Fox, pointing to an intermarriage rate of about 50 percent. "Day schools are the best tool we have to effect change."
Fox's statements are supported by the 2000 National Jewish Population Survey, which found day-school graduates to be more strongly identified Jewish adults. Those attending for seven or more years were more likely than their peers to marry other Jews, belong to synagogues and engage in Jewish observances.
Yet of the roughly 30,000 Jewish kids in kindergarten through grade 12 in the five-county region, just 2,000 attend the six, Federation-funded day schools: Akiba Hebrew Academy in Merion; Abrams Hebrew Academy in Yardley; Stern Hebrew High School in the Northeast; Perelman Jewish Day School, with campuses in Wynnewood, Melrose Park and Richboro; Politz Hebrew Academy, also in the Northeast; and the Torah Academy of Greater Philadelphia in Ardmore.
"We need to expand the scope of day-school recruitment," explains Brian Mono, task force planning associate. "There is a market of parents that haven't even thought about day-school education for their children. We aim to engage them, raise awareness and enter them into a conversation about the high quality of education, both Judaic and secular, within these schools. We want them to know that they can have the best of both worlds."
The task force has commissioned a market-research study to survey parents about their feelings on school options to determine which segments of the population need to be contacted.
With day schools being financially out of reach for so many families, the task force is recommending the creation of a multimillion dollar endowment to provide scholarships and/or tuition vouchers.
Such an endowment, assures Fox, "will help to guarantee that we'll have a Jewish community in the future."
To learn more, call 215-832-0831.