Maintaining Jewish Identity in Public Schools


An Advocate for Jewish Interests in L.A.’s Diverse Public Schools

What’s the place of Jewish life in the multiethnic mixing bowl of the Los Angeles public schools? It’s a complex question in a district where young people from Mexican, Central American, African American, Armenian, Persian, Korean, Chinese, Japanese and Syrian homes, among others, bring their traditions, religions, sensitivities and prejudices to the classroom and school yard.

I hadn’t given it much thought until I talked to Elizabeth J. Abramowitz, president of the Association of Jewish Educators and principal of Fairburn Elementary School. She made a good point: “If the Jewish kids are coming back to the public schools, we need them to be aware of their culture and be proud of it.”

The association is composed of Jewish teachers, administrators, psychologists, nurses, clerical workers and other Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) workers. It’s just one of several such ethnically oriented groups…

… Most important, the association is strengthening a Jewish voice on campuses by encouraging formation of Jewish student clubs. “We can’t afford for them to go through the system and learn about every culture but their own,” Abramowitz said. These clubs may be the only contact with Jewish life for some of the students. The Jewish clubs also try to make non-Jews aware of the Jewish life. Young Jews, she said, must be prepared to carry their values into a non-Jewish world.