Day School Investment: It Means More Than You Think

by Micah Lapidus

“They pretended to take the stuff down from the loom; they made cuts in the air with great scissors;
they sewed with needles without thread; and at last they said, “Now the clothes are ready!”
Hans Christian Anderson, The Emperor’s New Clothes

“She is clothed with strength and splendor; she looks to the future cheerfully.”
Proverbs 31:25

What does it mean to “invest” in our Jewish day schools? Don’t worry, I’m not asking you to take out your checkbook… I just want us to think seriously about the word “investment.” I hope you’ll agree that investing in our Jewish day schools is an idea that the entire community can, and should, wholeheartedly support. It’s my belief that Jewish day schools are critical institutions on the landscape of Jewish life and that Jews and non-Jews alike will receive high yields when they invest in Jewish day schools.

Here’s the punch line:

We must invest in our local Jewish day schools because they’re the real deal and we can’t afford not to.

The setup:

1. Latin Detour. The word “Investment” wasn’t always about economics. As important as financial contributions, annual funds, and capital campaigns are to the life of our Jewish day schools, thinking of investment only in these terms entails a profound distortion of what investment was originally all about. Investment comes from the Latin investire which means “to clothe, surround.” Investment means: putting on the vest.

2. Elisha and Elijah. Investing in our Jewish day schools means “taking up the mantle” (2 Kings 2:13). When Elijah’s mantle (cape-like garment) fell, Elisha literally picked it up. As a modern idiom it means something like “assuming responsibility/ taking on a leadership role.” For our purposes, “taking up the mantle” and “investing” are related concepts. We invest, not only through our dollars, but by taking up the mantle of our Jewish day schools and metaphorically clothing ourselves in them.

3. Hans Christian Anderson. What a great storyteller! And what a telling story! I don’t know about you, but I get enough junk mail in a day to last me a lifetime. I’ve shred more fake credit cards and blank checks than I can count. It seems like everywhere I look there are invitations to invest in something. It’s almost always something I don’t need. Too often it’s something fake, illusory, or misleading.

4. Eishet Chayil. Jewish day schools are the “women of valor” of Jewish institutional life. A far cry from Anderson’s in-the-buff Emperor, they are clothed with strength and splendor and we need to keep them that way. In large part because of our Jewish day schools, the Jewish people can look to the future – not as though we’re still Simon Rawidowicz’s “ever-dying people,” but rather with a sense of optimism and cheer. The next generation of Jewish leaders is singing birkat hamazon before hitting the playground right now.

5. Technicolor Culture. Not only are Jewish day schools the eishet chayil of Jewish institutional life, but they are a majestic thread in the katonet passim (Genesis 37:3), Joseph’s “ornamented coat” of Jewish institutional life. Jewish day schools celebrate Jewish diversity, pluralism, Hebrew language, sacred study, secular study, Israel and Zionism, the study and practice of tefilah, tzedakah, tikkun olam, Jewish art, music, and dance, Jewish athletics, and Jewish culture. They attract outstanding educators and motivated students. The engage children, parents, and grandparents, clothing families in the fabrics of Judaism. They can and do play a critical role in all of the communities that are fortunate enough to sustain (invest) them. Every year, The Davis Academy, where I work, sends 70 8th graders to Israel for a life-changing experience. Were it not for our Jewish day schools many young Jews would be denied this formative experience, which, by the way, includes the purchasing of hundreds of pieces of Israeli clothing.

6. DIY. We invest in our local Jewish day schools by: (1) visiting; (2) advocating; (3) supporting; (4) promoting; (5) contributing; (6) enrolling your children and grandchildren; (7) caring; (8) loving; (9) knowing; (10) sharing; (11) friending; (12) following; (13) tweeting; (14) blogging; (15) celebrating; (16) championing; (17) affiliating; (18) doing. Jewish day schools need our money. They deserve our money. But what our Jewish day schools really need is for us (punch line) to take up the mantle and invest.

Micah Lapidus is Director of Judaic and Hebrew Studies at Davis Academy in Atlanta, Georgia.
Originally posted on the PEJE Blog and cross-posted at The Rabbi’s Pen.