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New Organization Formed to Serve Modern Orthodox Day Schools’ Needs

The letterhead for the newly formed Association of Modern Orthodox Day Schools and Yeshiva High Schools lists three words under its name: Torah, Maddah, Medinah.

The three — translated loosely as religious learning, secular learning and the state of Israel — comprise the mission of this Zionist and relatively liberal branch of Orthodox Judaism.

It is a mission many fear has been weakened in recent years as Orthodoxy has shifted to the right, a trend noted extensively at a conference last March with the motto: the courage to be modern and Orthodox.

That shift to the right has been especially pronounced at day schools, which – – facing a shortage of like-minded teachers — often hire haredi, or fervently Orthodox, instructors who teach from their own religious perspective and do not promote Zionism.

The new association, under the auspices of Yeshiva University’s division of Jewish communal service, is in part a response to this trend. It will convene a founders’ conference in New York for lay and professional heads of schools at the end of October.

Until now, the more fervently Orthodox Torah Umesorah, The National Society for Hebrew Day Schools, was the only networking organization for Orthodox schools, but many modern Orthodox schools believed it did not address their specific needs.

Asked to comment on the new association, Torah Umesorah’s executive vice president and president faxed the following statement: “Any effort that will result in an increase in the number of children who study Torah-true Judaism is a positive development in Jewish life.”

According to Rabbi David Shluker, the new association’s director, the purpose of the new group is to address those concerns unique to modern Orthodox institutions, such as “recruiting Jewish studies teachers who teach in accord with the philosophy of their schools.”

Rabbi Samuel Levine, head of the Fuchs Mizrachi School in suburban Cleveland, said he welcomed the new association.

“Our school has benefited from the wonderful work Torah Umesorah has done in the past, but at the current time the services we’re looking for can best be provided by an organization with a narrower focus,” he said.

Levine, who plans to attend the October conference, said that in addition to addressing the teacher shortage, he hopes the new association will help develop standards, tests and curricula for “like-minded schools” and build a sense of collegiality among the schools.

Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, principal of Ramaz, a day school in Manhattan, said he was pleased to see the new group forming and hoped it would address issues like “having the day school be more sensitive to the changing needs of Orthodox women today,” Zionist education and training students to speak fluently modern Hebrew.

“Until now, each school has been doing its own thing,” Lookstein said. “There have been some efforts at creating organizations before but nothing has really taken hold.”

Shluker estimates that of the 660 Orthodox day schools in North America, somewhere between 75 and 100 identify as modern Orthodox.

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