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Special to the JTA Dire Consequences Seen for Communal Life in Jewish Schools Enrollment Drop. Birth

November 9, 1976
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Enrollment in Jewish elementary and secondary schools in the United States declined II percent from 1971 to 1975 to an estimated 400,000 students, according to a nationwide study released this week by the American Association for Jewish Education. The study revealed, however, that this downward trend–In evidence since 1962 and most acute during the late 1960s–appears to be tapering off. Furthermore, it showed that students in Jewish schools are now receiving a more intensive Jewish education, as indicated by a 36 percent rise since 1967 in pupil-hours per school year.

The AAJE based its findings on extensive enrollment data gathered for the 1974-75 school year from 55 major communities representing 84.4 percent of the total estimated American Jewish population. They were compiled and analyzed by the Department of Statistical Research and Information of the AAJE, national coordinating agency for Jewish education in the United States.

These findings, together with those from comprehensive community studies conducted throughout the country by the AAJE over the past few years, “strongly indicate that the enrollment decline is largely attributable to at least a parallel, and perhaps an even greater, drop in the Jewish birthrate.” said Robert H. Arnow. AAJE president.

When added to the “erosive effects” of a rising intermarriage rate and the breakup of families by divorce, “the phenomenon of a lower nationwide incidence of Jewish birth raises profound implications not only for Jewish education but for all Jewish communal activity in the next generation,” Arnow said.


Turning first to Jewish education, he said that the decline if not reversed, “will affect the cost of schooling, professional positions, school structure–In fact, the viability of the Jewish school as we know it today.” In addition, Arnow continued, “synagogues already encountering membership difficulties may face an even more pronounced loss, resulting in memberships that are both smaller and older. Jewish centers with wide-ranging programming may find there are not enough young people to utilize their facilities. Jewish camps and related youth activities may also experience similar dropoffs.”

The AAJE president called on Jewish community planners “to study more quickly and more carefully the matters of Jewish demography, intermarriage and family structure, in order to prepare properly for Jewish educational and communal life in the upcoming decades.” Should their findings verify existing evidence that the Jewish birthrate is declining, he said, “they will have to establish new priorities in community services to meet more adequately the requirements of a smaller and older Jewish population.”


The AAJE’s enrollment study, the fifth it has conducted on such a nationwide scale since 1958, was coordinated by Dr. Murray Rockowitz and Dr. Gerhard Lang, director and consultant, respectively, of the agency’s Statistical Research Department. Among its major findings are:

The 11 percent enrollment decline from 450.000 in 1971 to 400,000 in 1975 is considerably smaller than the 18 percent drop of 100,000 for the previous four-year period.

A positive sign counteracting this decline is the increase in overall pupil-hours per school year from 182 in 1967 to 248 in 1975. This is attributed to the continuing growth of the population in all-day Jewish schools and an increase in supplementary afternoon schools, while enrollment fell in 1-day-a-week schools.

The day school growth pattern is particularly significant. The estimated 80,000 students in such schools now account for about 20 percent of total Jewish school enrollment, compared to 12 percent in 1967. This increase took place at the same time supplementary Jewish schools–by definition, those which students attend in addition to public or private schools–experienced an overall drop of 33 percent.

While the actual number of students in 2-to-5-day-a-week schools declined, there was an important increase in the percentage of enrollment in Conservative-sponsored schools of this type from 50 percent in 1967 to 60 percent in 1975.

The accelerating enrollment decline in 1-day-a-week schools is also noteworthy. In the Orthodox community, this type of school has virtually disappeared. The estimated number of students in Conservative-sponsored schools of this type is 6000–one-eighth the amount in 1967. Only in Reform-sponsored schools does 1-day-a-week programming remain prevalent, accounting for three-fourths of the 106,000 students estimated to be enrolled; at the same time, however, there are relative increases in the population of Reform-sponsored day and 2-to-5-day-a-week schools.

Statistics for the Greater New York area–comprising New York City, Long Island and Westchester County–reveal that the number of children of school age enrolled in Jewish schools is more consistent with the national average than it was eight years previously. In 1967, 31.4 percent of eligible children were enrolled in New York Jewish schools, compared to 43.3 percent of eligible children nationwide. In 1975, the percentage of eligible children enrolled in New York schools was 37.7, while the percentage of eligible children enrolled in schools across the country was 41.3.

(Tomorrow: Part Two)

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