Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Will a Change in Schechter Policy Pull Students from Other Schools?

December 8, 2006
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

If Solomon Schechter day schools begin to admit children of non-Jewish mothers, will that draw students away from Reform or community day schools? The Conservative movement’s Schechter day schools will consider changing their bylaws to admit the children of non-Jewish mothers at a gathering of the schools beginning Sunday in Florida.

The 76 Schechter schools in the United States and Canada now officially only admit children who are Jewish according to the Conservative movement’s interpretation of Jewish law, which means children born to a Jewish mother or those who have converted.

Reform and community day schools, which include students across the denominational spectrum, already admit patrilineal Jews.

Rabbi Carnie Rose of B’nai Amoona, a large Conservative congregation in St. Louis, doesn’t anticipate a major influx from his city’s Reform day school, but believes some children will make the switch. He’s quick to add that the city’s 12 Conservative rabbis “will work closely with our Reform colleagues” to ensure the transition happens smoothly.

“Most of these people have been told they’re Jewish,” he said of any prospective new students. Asking them to go through conversion “will take some care and concern,” he said.

Zena Sulkes, day school specialist for the Union of Reform Judaism, said she does not anticipate an exodus from the 19 schools affiliated with the Progressive Association of Reform Day Schools.

Since Schechter schools already quietly admit non-halachically Jewish children, those families looking for a Schechter education are already going there, she suggested. Others won’t be tempted.

Marc Kramer, executive director of Ravsak, the Jewish community day school network, also believes that the focus of community and Conservative day schools are different enough so that merely opening up Schechter’s admissions policy won’t cause many families to switch.

“The Schechter schools will continue to be by and for the Conservative movement, while community day schools focus on peoplehood and lifelong learners, and are open to all Jewish children,” Kramer said, adding that he is Orthodox and sends his own children to a community day school.

Not everyone agrees. Lena Romanoff, an interfaith specialist, has been running support groups for interfaith families in the Philadelphia suburbs for 20 years. She said she knows intermarried couples who would be glad to send their children to a Schechter school if the admissions policy were loosened.

“I’m happy they’re making the statement, an outward, verbal declaration that you are welcome in a Schechter school,” she said. “You’ll absolutely have more people; I’m 100 percent certain.”

At any rate, Kramer said, Jewish day schools are growing so fast — 30,000 children are enrolled in his network’s 120 schools alone — that there’s room for everyone.

If Schechter wants to open its doors to more children, he said, “It’s more people marching in the same parade.”

Recommended from JTA