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Jewish boarding school will be a first

NEW YORK, April 18 (JTA) — In most North American Jewish day schools, fund raising is a major source of concern — and the halls are lined with plaques honoring large donors.

But at a Jewish high school slated to open in 2001 in North Carolina, all the bills have already been paid by a small group of donors who have taken Maimonides’ principles to heart: They are giving anonymously.

The American Hebrew Academy’s unusual financial situation is not the only thing that will distinguish it from other Jewish schools.

Located on 100 wooded acres in the donors’ small Jewish community of Greensboro, N.C., the academy will be North America’s first non-Orthodox Jewish boarding school.

The mission of this co-educational institution, which describes itself as “liberal” and “pluralistic,” is to “produce young adults whose strength of character and Jewish identity become lifelong resources for personal growth, commitment to the creative continuity of the Jewish people and the improvement of the world in which we live.”

Rabbi Alvin Mars, the American Hebrew Academy’s headmaster, said the school — which expects to draw students both from North America and overseas — will be “the ultimate day high school — an all-day, all-week, all- school-year school.”

Mars, whose 30-year career in Jewish education includes years as a headmaster of a Conservative day school in Philadelphia and director of the Conservative movement’s Camp Ramah in California, said the academy’s Judaic and secular curriculum will be similar to those at many other new pluralistic day high schools proliferating around the country.

However, it will be distinctive in its “total education” environment, he said. The school community will celebrate Shabbat together and faculty members will live on campus.

While funding is set, the school is very much in the beginning stages.

Campus construction — the first phase of which will cost $40-$50 million — has just started, no teachers have been hired yet and recruitment efforts are just starting, although the school has an extensive Web site (www.americanhebrewacademy.org).

Tuition has not been determined, but Mars says scholarships will be available so that “meritorious students will not be precluded from attending because of financial need.”

The original impetus for creating the school came less out of a desire for a boarding school, and more the need for a high school option for students in Greensboro’s pluralistic elementary day school, said Mars.

That school, B’nai Shalom Day School, enrolls 190 children through eighth grade — too few students to sustain a high school.

Living in a city with only 1,200 Jewish families and two synagogues city — one Conservative, one Reform — leaders in Greensboro’s Jewish community say they are looking forward to the influx of more Jews, both faculty and students, that the new school promises.

Susan Cook, the head of B’nai Shalom, said there has been “a buzz” in the community about the American Hebrew Academy and that families enrolling children in the younger grades of her school now are “very excited” about the prospect of having a place to continue studying after eighth grade.

Marilyn Forman-Chandler, executive director of the Greensboro Jewish Federation, said she is “thrilled” to see the school come to the community and hopes it will bring committed Jewish families to Greensboro.

Forman-Chandler said she is familiar with the school’s primary donor, who does not contribute to the federation, but has supported — also anonymously — most of the other local Jewish institutions.

Rabbi Daniel Lehmann, the president of a recently formed national association of pluralistic day high schools and the headmaster of the New Jewish High School of Greater Boston, said the American Hebrew Academy is an “interesting idea.”

“The concept of a Jewish high school that creates a total living environment like at camps is a very powerful model and needs to be explored and refined,” said Lehmann. “This is a great opportunity to do that.”

However, Lehmann noted that “there are all kinds of problems in running boarding schools.”

Among families who opt to send their children away to boarding school there is “always a percentage of those kids and families who are in some kind of crisis,” Lehmann said, adding, “That’s going to be a challenge. But a lot of non- Jewish boarding schools deal with those challenges successfully.”

Lehmann also suggested that, with day schools around the country facing a shortage of educators, it may be difficult to attract faculty willing to live on campus and in a relatively small Jewish community.

Dismissing that concern, Mars said the project, due to its innovative nature and opportunity for educators to create a campus community together, would be a “magnet” for educators.

“This is one of the most exciting things that I think has happened in the Jewish education world in a long time,” he said.

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