In the past decade, while the Schechter movement has contracted, the 25-year-old nondenominational RAVSAK network has expanded.
With 120 community/pluralistic Jewish day schools enrolling approximately 30,000 children throughout North America, RAVSAK is more than twice Schechter’s size and is the largest network of non-Orthodox schools.
(In metropolitan New York, Schechter schools still outnumber community ones, however.)
RAVSAK’s director, Marc Kramer, attributes his network’s growth to the fact that the “Jewish community is more diverse” and community day schools are places where “diversity is a point of strength.”
It is not just appreciation for pluralism and diversity that has fueled their growth, however. Often, a community school represents a more pragmatic approach when a community lacks enough students or donors to support more than one school, or at least more than one non-Orthodox school.
Rabbi Jim Rogozen, president of the Schechter Day School Network and a founding board member of RAVSAK, said that community schools tend to be newer than Schechter ones and in smaller markets.
“They are compromises in that they’re the only school a federation or donors will allow to be built. It’s seen as a strategic safe bet,” Rabbi Rogozen said.
Some of the newest members of RAVSAK, however, are Schechter schools switching their affiliation from Conservative to community, sometimes in hopes of being able to appeal to a wider swath of the Jewish population, sometimes because they felt RAVSAK offered more services to its members.
Rabbi Rogozen, who is headmaster of Gross Schechter Day School in Cleveland and former head of two community schools in California, said, “I don’t know of a school that’s turned things around by switching from Schechter to community.”
Indeed, several schools that have switched, including Hillel Day School of Metropolitan Detroit and the Jewish Community School of Providence, have seen their enrollment continue to decline, rather than increase.
Rabbi Jason Miller, a graduate of the Detroit school who currently has children enrolled there (and who writes the “Jewish Techs” blog for this newspaper), said in an e-mail interview that the changed affiliation has not helped the school to attract more Reform Jews, nor has it led the school to “liberalize” its curriculum or to add Reform approaches to prayer.
“In fact, I’ve noticed more placating toward the dozen or so Modern Orthodox families that send their children to the school,” he added.
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“Overall, I don’t think the school changed much aside from the label.”
RAVSAK’s Kramer emphasized that the two networks are not in competition with each other, and that they have collaborated increasingly in recent years — coming together with Orthodox day schools for an annual conference.
“Schechter day schools should be in communities that can support one,” he said, adding that “day school choice is important, and they’re a good choice.”