Guest Column: Best of Both Worlds and Our Future
Maddie was a state champion in debate; Seth was an AIPAC intern; and Hannah works for Microsoft while Yoni is at Google. Laurenne recently completed her service in the IDF as a Lone Soldier; Robert was elected ninth-grade class president at Cranbrook; Lily’s poem on school shootings was published nationally last year when she was in 10th grade; and Connor spent the summer as a college intern at the internationally renowned Institut Pasteur in Paris.
Maya just started ninth grade, and her parents report she is taking all honors classes at her local public high school and is doing very well, while Jacob was one of 10 national DECA students (tens of thousands) recognized for his excellence in math during 10th grade. Emma helped establish UMatter, and Elan serves on the Jewish Fund Teen Board. Jeremy, a college sophomore, recently had an opinion piece published in the Jewish News about Israel, and he serves as an Israel21 Ambassador on his college campus, while Jonah was selected as one of 52 Kleiner Perkins Fellows in engineering from more than 3,000 applicants.
What do all these young people have in common? They all graduated from Hillel Day School over the last 10 years. And they all have gone on to pursue purposeful activities, grounded in who they are as Jews.
It has long been understood that families who choose schools like Hillel want the “best of both worlds” — a strong general education coupled with a meaningful Jewish education. Hillel provides both, and our dedicated professional staff relentlessly works to ensure an excellent learning experience for each child.
As a parent, and as head of school, I know that you want your children to be prepared not only for the world they will inherit; you certainly also want that world to be filled with compassionate people who live meaningful lives surrounded by family and community.
In this century, strong families and communities will only remain intact if we make deliberate efforts to ensure it is so. There is much data available that gives us clues about what kind of future may await our children. As with any data, we can ring the alarms or see opportunities.
The recently released Detroit Jewish population study notes that 48 percent of school-age children are enrolled in Jewish day schools, with the vast majority of them in Orthodox day schools; only 12 percent are in “liberal” day schools. That means 52 percent of eligible students could still be in a day school, most of them “liberal.” This is a huge opportunity for us as a school and for the future of the Detroit Jewish community.
Why does it matter that we get as many of these children as possible into day schools? Because most recent studies still support what previous studies of the past decades have reported — Jewish day school graduates are disproportionately engaged in all things Jewish as adults, from synagogue life to philanthropy to agency support in whatever community in which they reside. This kind of engagement matters more than ever as fewer Americans, particularly young Americans, are interested in government and civic life. This correlates to a decline in religious affiliation and a decline in marriage and birth rates.
A Jewish day school prepares our children for a future that matters beyond themselves. A school such as Hillel provides students with the tools they need to succeed in the larger world and also the desire to participate in community in a way that brings meaning to their own lives, as well as to help and serve others. This is how a society not only survives, but flourishes.
We should not underestimate the power of a school like Hillel to transform the lives of our children in priceless ways. Decades of data provide assurances that the leap of faith parents take today to enroll their children here will have a positive impact on our children and the community when they are adults.
We need voices to reach out to the families of the other 52 percent. Share the bigger reasons why day school matters. We can make a big difference and do our part to safeguard a strong future for our children and the Jewish people.
Steve Freedman is head of school of Hillel Day School of Metropolitan Detroit.