Your Daily Phil: The changing face of Jewish day schools + Should N.J. students keep wearing masks?

Good Tuesday morning!

The dozens of Jewish schools in New Jersey now face a consequential choice: Should their students keep wearing masks?

On Monday, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, announced that he plans to lift the state’s mask mandate for schools, effective March 7. “Balancing public health with getting back to some semblance of normalcy is not easy,” he tweeted on Monday along with an article on the change. “But we can responsibly take this step due to declining COVID numbers and growth in vaccinations,” which became available to children ages 5 and older last fall.

The mask mandate covered all schools in New Jersey, private and public. Now, Jewish day schools will have to address the increasingly contentious question of whether kids should still wear masks as the pandemic continues into its third year. Some Jewish schools in Florida, which does not have a mask mandate, have continued requiring their students to wear masks.

At least one school, the Modern Orthodox Moriah School in Englewood, in northern New Jersey’s Bergen County, told eJewishPhilanthropy that its students would be able to take off their masks as soon as Murphy allows it. “We are presently following the governor’s mandate and will continue to follow the lead of the governor — removing a school mask mandate when the governor does so,” Rabbi Daniel Alter, the head of school, told eJP.

Others have yet to make a decision. “We currently require masks. We have not yet convened to discuss the governor’s announcement so I don’t have anything to add,” Rabbi Daniel Nevins, head of the Conservative Golda Och Academy in West Orange, told eJP. Steve Freedman, head of school at the Solomon Schechter of Bergen County, told eJP that he hopes to relax mask-wearing after March 7 should case rates continue to fall, and added, “We want to be respectful of everyone’s comfort level as we adjust to the next phase of dealing with COVID.”

New Jersey has one of the largest Jewish populations of any state in the country and Prizmah, an umbrella network for Jewish schools, has 29 member schools in the Garden State, one of the group’s largest contingents. Prizmah CEO Paul Bernstein told eJP that schools are generally guided in public health decisions by a “combination of safety and community” — but that continuing a mask mandate past March 7 could split parents and teachers.

One of the things I’m hearing from schools is that some teachers are concerned about health,” Bernstein said. “So often, the schools are balancing the views of parents who will want to relax masking policies because they know the effects [of COVID-19] on children are less severe, and the teachers who have to be in the classroom all day, every day.”

Bernstein isn’t sure how schools will react as policies change in New Jersey and nationwide. But if case rates continue to fall, he said, he expects that schools will “start moving toward whatever the new normal looks like.”


Kids at the center: How two experts say Jewish day schools have been transformed

Rear view of schoolchildren running

Getty Images

More focus on students’ experiences. More experimentation. And, of course, rising tuition costs. Those are the trends that have characterized the evolution of Jewish day schools as they’ve moved from the 20th century into the first decades of the 21st, Alex Pomson and Jack Wertheimer, authors of a new book on Jewish day schools, told eJewishPhilanthropy’s Ben Sales.

Spotlight on students: The book, Inside Jewish Day Schools: Leadership, Learning and Community, examines the evolution of Jewish day schools. The biggest takeaway, the authors agree, is that the experience and well-being of students is now schools’ highest priority, as opposed to inculcating its students with Jewish knowledge and culture. 

The ‘guide on the side’: The model of the teacher as the “sage on the stage” lecturing to students, Wertheimer told eJP, has been replaced by a “guide on the side” to assist them. He added, “The pedagogy is much more learner-centered, [such as] providing students with opportunities to work on projects alone or with other students and therefore arrive at some of their own answers. This is nothing new in the world of general education, but what’s dramatic is the extent to which it has been incorporated by Jewish day schools.”

Teaching parents: One Orthodox school the pair studied holds not just parent-teacher but student-teacher conferences. A Conservative school has a specialist on staff solely dedicated to helping parents assist their children with school. “They have built up faculty who are qualified to address the learning needs of kids, their emotional needs,” Pomson told eJP. “They’ve also built up an infrastructure that enables parents to support their children in the ways that they develop… It’s less about the culture and the content.”

A ‘nonstop treadmill’: Offering more services and a larger faculty often leads to tuition hikes, the authors said. Pomson said there’s no obvious solution to the day school affordability crisis, but schools tend to be handling it well. “It’s a nonstop treadmill of trying to raise money from the families and the extended families of the kids who attend the school,” he said. “It’s unending, and it’s absolutely integral to, and an inevitable consequence of, the improvement in services that schools have provided for kids today.”

Read the full story here.


The Jewish education of today’s Jewish leadership


“What is the overall contribution of Jewish education to the vitality of the American Jewish community? How were today’s Jewish leaders educated in their childhood and adolescent years? How do the patterns differ by denomination, political identity, age, leadership sector and marital status?” asks Ezra Kopelowitz, CEO of Research Success Technologies Ltd., in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

The survey: “From January through May 2021, 2,079 respondents took an opt-in web-based survey. These are leaders of American Jewish organizations of all sorts, or have served in such lay or professional capacities, or whose social profiles closely approximate communal leaders. They lead schools, congregations, camps, federations, advocacy groups, women organizations, academic bodies in Jewish studies, social service agencies and others as well.”

Jewish education is vital: “Jewish education in childhood, teen and college years is a central part of the life-trajectory of almost all of those who choose to become professional and lay leaders in the Jewish community. Significantly, the role of education is increasing. Younger leaders are far more likely to report more intensive and wide-ranging Jewish educational experiences than older leaders, indicating that Jewish education today is more important than in the past for leading an individual to engage in an intensive manner in Jewish life. Moreover, the Jewish leaders are providing their children higher levels of Jewish education than they themselves received.”

Larger trends: “This research speaks to larger trends. Jews who want to lead a life of Jewish commitment have been turning to several modalities of Jewish education to enrich their own lives and to improve the chances that their children will lead committed Jewish lives as well.”

Read the full piece here.


Holocaust education and remembrance through a different lens

Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

“Last month, diverse voices came together to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a commemoration designated by the United Nations in November 2005 that marks the date of the liberation of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Also last month, the world watched as a man fueled by vile antisemitic conspiracy theories took hostages in a daylong standoff at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas,” writes podcaster and author Ari Mittleman, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Hate spewed forth: “Islamist extremists in the United States, Great Britain and beyond praised the actions and motives of the hostage-taker… Similarly, white supremacists almost immediately expressed Holocaust-denying bigotry on platforms such as Telegram and 4chan… Most concerning were references by both types of extremists to the tragedy in Pittsburgh – when 11 innocent Jewish worshippers were massacred in October 2018. Online posts wished for other attacks on American synagogues.”

Positive items: “While our community grapples with the attack in Texas and increased antisemitic attacks and hate speech, we should not overlook positive items from recent months. On a recent Monday morning, the 14.8 million Twitter followers of the United Nations official account were greeted with an important message: ‘When Holocaust distortion is left unchallenged, it can lead to Holocaust denial, antisemitism, conspiracy myths and dangerous forms of nationalism. We can all do our part to #ProtectTheFacts about the Holocaust.’”

Even the U.N. condems Holocaust denial: “Indeed, last month the United Nations General Assembly approved an Israeli-sponsored resolution condemning any denial of the Holocaust and urging all nations of the world and multinational social media companies ‘to take active measures to combat antisemitism and Holocaust denial or distortion.’ The 193 members approved the resolution by consensus – with just the bang of a gavel – by the Assembly President Abdulla Shahid, who is Muslim. Alas, Iran was the one nation to raise concerns and formally ‘disassociated’ itself from the resolution.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Fresh Start: In The Circuit, Rebecca Anne Proctor spotlights the rescue of Rodoba Noori, a 20-year-old Afghan refugee — now bound for university in New York — who was first taken to Tajikistan before landing at a refugee camp in the UAE, where she will stay until she is reunited with her family in Canada. “Noori’s harrowing evacuation from Herat in August and planned move to Canada are due to the efforts of IsraAID, an international non-governmental humanitarian aid organization based in Israel, and Noori’s friend Danna Harman, a former journalist, activist and now staff member at IsraAID… Harman and Noori became close friends, and it was Harman whom Noori called when she was seeking to flee Afghanistan. Harman called IsraAID and the organization, through an arduous and nail-biting process that involved passing numerous Taliban checkpoints, helped Noori and her brother, along with dozens of others that included women’s rights activists and female athletes, flee Afghanistan to Tajikistan and then to Abu Dhabi, where they now await their papers to immigrate to Canada.” [TheCircuit]

Culture Convo:
 Any business can cultivate a philanthropic culture by getting employees to come together with a common goal: making the lives of others better through inclusion, empowerment, collaboration and celebration, writesKristi Spurgeon in Portland Business Journal. “If you want philanthropy to become a part of your company’s culture, take time to discuss opportunities, encourage participation, and praise everyone’s efforts on an ongoing basis. The benefits of promoting a culture of philanthropy will come back to you many times over. There is a good chance your staff wholeheartedly wants to make a difference. The actions taken now by your entire organization can be extremely rewarding while benefiting your staff, deserving charitable causes, and the community.” [PortlandBusinessJournal]

Tech Teaching: Writing in NonProfitPRO, Cathexis Partners founder Mark Becker suggests factors for organizations to consider when looking to upgrade their technology. “While technology decisions might be challenging, your choice of technology is too important to your nonprofit’s future to make a rushed decision. You might work with a nonprofit technology consultant or go through an internal process to establish a technology plan and make software selections. Either way, be sure to take the time and effort needed to sort through your options and make a solid decision that will work for your organization’s specific needs.” [NonProfitPRO]

Community Comms

Be featured: Email us to inform the eJP readership of your upcoming event, job opening, or other communication.

Word on the Street

The kashrut division of the London Beth Din has added 830 new items to the new Really Jewish Food Guide 2022, bringing to over 8,000 the number of approved items…

Netflix is sponsoring a new project with the Jerusalem-based Sam Spiegel Film and Television School in a bid to nurture creators of the next hit Israeli series…

Disney+ ordered a National Geographic limited series about Miep Gies, the Dutch woman who risked her life to shelter Anne Frank’s family from the Nazis for more than two years and then preserved Anne’s diary…

James Huntsman, the brother of former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, filed an appeal with the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints used donations the church solicited for charity for commercial purposes. A federal judge in California dismissed Huntsman’s complaint against the church in September…

Case Western Reserve University received a commitment of more than $20 million from alumnus Joel Roth to establish a leadership institute designed to prepare students to address the world’s increasingly complex challenges. Andrea Hauser has been selected as the institute’s founding director…

Eli Lilly and Company announced a four-year, $14.4 million commitment to UNICEF to help improve health outcomes for 10 million children and adolescents living with chronic, non-communicable diseases…

Writer and professor Todd Gitlin, who was active in the social justice movements of the 1960s, died at 79…

Pic of the Day

LImmud FSU

The Melbourne team of Limmud FSU Australia met in person for the first time since the start of the pandemic to plan the upcoming Limmud FSU Festival.


Scott Legato/Getty Images

Canadian jazz-pop singer-songwriter, Nicole “Nikki” Rachel Yanofsky… 

Boston attorney and author, his 2013 book on Jews and baseball was turned into the 2016 play “Swing, Schmendrick, Swing,” Larry Ruttman… Broadcast journalist, best known as the anchor of ABC’s “Nightline” from its inception in 1980 until his retirement in 2005, Ted Koppel… Stand-up comedian, singer and actor, Robert Klein… Chair of the Morris A. Hazan Family Foundation, Lovee Arum… Therapist and life coach based in Wake County, N.C., Sheila Kay… Columbus, Ohio-born attorney and president of Schottenstein Legal Services, James M. Schottenstein… Former CEO of the Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York (Albany), now an executive coach and nonprofit consultant in Venice, Fla., Rodney Margolis… Town and village justice in Red Hook, N.Y., Judge Jonah Triebwasser… CEO of NYC-based Cohen Brothers Realty Corporation, Charles S. Cohen… Investor and business operator, Marc Lauren Abramowitz… President of BlackRock and a past chair of UJA-Federation of New York, Robert S. Kapito… Chief rabbi of the IDF, Brig. Gen. Eyal Moshe Karim… Senior director of synagogue affiliations and operations for United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Barry S. Mael… Chairman of the board of trustees of the Hudson Institute, Sarah May Stern… British businessman and chairman of the Premier League’s Tottenham Hotspur since 2001, Daniel Levy... Former member of the Knesset for the Jewish Home and New Right parties, Shulamit “Shuli” Mualem-Rafaeli… Chairman of Andell Inc. and former owner of Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire, Andrew Hauptman… Attorney, rabbi and New Jersey political consultant, Benjamin G. Kelsen… Popular Israeli musician, singer-songwriter, Eviatar Banai… Member of the Knesset for the Labor party until 2021, he is now director-general of the Israeli office of the UJA-Federation of New York, Itzik Shmuli… Founder of DC-based JTR Strategies, she is the former head of aviation and international affairs at the Department of Transportation under President Obama, Jenny Thalheimer Rosenberg… Deputy general counsel for investigations for the inspector general at USAID, Adam Kaplan… Partner at Sidley Austin, he was previously chief of staff to then-Attorney General Bill Barr, William Ranney Levi.. Retired professional ice hockey center, Trevor Smith… Staff attorney at Public Justice, Alexandra Brodsky… Director of government relations at Small Business Investor Alliance, Celia Glassman… Pitcher in the Miami Marlins organization, he was on Team Israel for the 2020 Olympics, Jake Layton Fishman… J.D. candidate in the class of 2023 at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Samantha Grosinger… Director of global brand and marketing at Olami, Michal Nordmann

Email to have your birthday included.