From Morah Yehudis Fishman
The children at Boulder Jewish Day School may be small in size and number, but the closing of the school after seventeen continuous years is not a small thing. The beautiful pre-school girls and boys I remember teaching when I first moved here after 9/11 are now beautiful teens, many actively involved in their congregations. But where will the future members of their respective congregations come from, if there is no daily Jewish education? Where now will the children learn daily Hebrew immersion, Tefillah, parsha, and live with Jewish rhythms to the cadence of the Hebrew Calendar?
Of course, there are several dedicated and valuable after school and Sunday school programs in Boulder. However in a city that prides itself in having multiple options and choices for all kinds of worthwhile experiences and learning, it is tragic to lose the option of a local Jewish day school education. Will more families shuttle their children to Denver, which several are already doing? Will some present families relocate, as one very communally involved family is already doing? Will some future families opt out of relocating because there is no day school here now?
The Jewish community is doing an amazing job in raising millions for a magnificent new JCC complex. But even more complex seems to be the issue of a Jewish day school in Boulder. While there may understandably be disagreements over practical issues such as finances and enrollment, personality clashes and different priorities, the sweet children who no longer have a daily communal venue for prayer and study of sacred texts, are the ones to incur the greatest losses. Apparently, for all the years of its existence, many parents and community supporters did see the vital role that the day school played in Boulder. However, they sadly were not able to find a sustainable model for its continuance.
Teaching Judaism to children of all ages for almost fifty years has helped me to see that day school students, even those who attend for only a few years, usually become the most involved and committed members of their congregations and organizations throughout their lives. The most successful community, inter-congregational events I have seen in Boulder, involved Jewish children, in particular those who attended the day school. From the Jewish festival to the Menorah lighting to the Purim carnival and the Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration, as well as special JCC programs, students of BJDS were among the most active and enthusiastic participants.
If you think about it, like Hebrew High, a community elementary school can provide a non-denominational place where Jewish children from different congregations and backgrounds can come together to learn Judaism in a loving and dedicated environment. Aside from the immersive education that a day school provides, they can make lifelong friends and create trans-congregational bridges between families- bridges for which Boulder Jews are known as models. This interaction benefits the idea and ideal of K’lal Yisrael, and our inter-dependence on each other, and could serve as an inspiring example to other cities.
What would it take? Obviously, finances are a big challenge. But first and foremost, we have to recognize the importance of a community Jewish school. Without that recognition- where will the economic impetus come from? Most if not all day schools operate on a deficit budget. They continue to struggle- and yet manage to thrive, almost miraculously. I am reminded of how the sages teach us: ‘Everything a person earns is decided on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, EXCEPT what one spends for Shabbat and holidays, AND FOR JEWISH EDUCATION. With regard to these exceptions, it is an open account. The more one spends, the more one gets back.’ It is as if G-d provides us with matching funds for these expenditures.
The people of Boulder came together to support a new JCC building; they can also come together to create a new day school. All the adults in the Jewish community, lay people and rabbis alike would have to get behind this UN-common vision. If it takes a village to raise a child, then that Jewish village has to realize that the education of the Jewish children in a city is the privilege and responsibility of the entire Jewish population of that community.
The Talmud tells us that whoever raises a Jewish child is considered to have given birth to that child. This principle applies both materially and spiritually. Each member of the Jewish community can find some creative and personal way to be involved in our children’s education- for they are all our children.
The Jewish holidays that we enjoy so much and share so inter-communally here in Boulder, all revolve around Jewish children. Besides Chanukah and Purim, we have two of the most important Jewish holidays coming up. Both revolve around, and depend on the literacy, of Jewish children. On Passover, everything is ordered around the children.
I often cite the story in Tales of the Holocaust about the Bluzever Rebbe and his wife in the Ghetto. They did not have enough matzah to go around for everyone, and the Rebbe had decided that the adults have priority, since they are the ones with the Biblical obligation to eat matzah. However, the Rebbetzin insisted that the children have ‘first dibs.’ They are the future and need to experience the taste of freedom, if Jews are to survive. Her husband conceded to her reasoning.
Fifty days later, on Shavuot, we celebrate standing at Sinai to receive the Torah. The sages teach that when the Torah was given, G-d asked for ‘security’ that would guarantee Jewish continuity, and the only satisfactory security that G-d would accept was the nation’s promise to bring Torah to the children.
Finally, even when the holy Temple was being built in Jerusalem, the sages declared that everyone should participate in the building except for the young students in the houses of Torah study. The world rests, the Talmud insists, on the pure, sacred breath of young children learning Torah. The most important structure in the physical world cannot override the need for children’s religious education.
How, when, and where daily Jewish education will again fill the airways and reach to the heavens in Boulder, remains to be seen. But one thing I am sure of- we all need to recognize the vacuum until that time. I beg all concerned people to come to the closing event this Sunday and also visit the Boulder Jewish Day School, if you have not already done so, while it is still open through May.
Then you will understand why I grieve its closing so intensely.
Words alone cannot convey the love and connection these young children feel and live, as naturally as the air they breathe. See, Love, and Pray that their voices will once again create a miniature sanctuary here in Boulder. Remember, Judaism is hereditary; you can get it from your children.
I am saddened by a Jewish institution in our community having to close its doors. I hope that the new JCC can be of service and inspiration to the hopes and dreams of all of Boulder's Jewish agencies.
May your hopes and your influence help this vital cause.
I don't know much about Boulder Jewish Day School, but the community Jewish day school in suburban Kansas City, where I previously taught, is housed within the JCC there. With your community raising millions for a new JCC complex, could housing the day school within the new JCC be a solution to some of the financial questions around the sustainability of a day school in your community?
It is truly sad that the Day School had to close. Surely the recession was a factor, but I wonder if there were other issues. As you stated, the greater Boulder Jewish community probably can sustain a Jewish Day School and having such a school is a critical element in assuring the development of confident, committed, and proud Jewish youth. It should be a priority. Unfortunately, I believe the closing of the school goes beyond simple economics or community commitment. We sent our daughter there for one year and we were, frankly, not happy. And we know that we were not alone. We would have made the economic sacrifice to continue to send our daughter there (we paid full tuition and did not seek or receive any scholarships/assistance) had we felt our voice and concerns were being listened to, if not addressed. Surprisingly, with a now four-year old, there was never any outreach on what could be done differently to encourage us sending our four-year old. I don’t want to bring up bad feelings and certainly do not want to point fingers. But, should the day school reopen, then I hope that lessons will be learned in terms of better administration and better community relations. The greater-Boulder Jewish community is more than capable of sustaining a Jewish Day School, but, like everything else, the “product” has to be good, particularly when you are competing with an excellent public school system…. I am afraid that what was being offered at BJDS fell short of core education and community needs. This is not an indictment of the teaching staff, all great, but certainly the oversight and management of the school did not enable its sustenance and long-term success.
I hope for a renewing of purpose, focus and infrastructural support for a Boulder County Jewish Day School. I know the commitment of the families, teachers, staff and students has been constant – may the future hold much more sustainability and long term health for the next stage of the school.