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When their Jewish day schools closed, these teens had to learn to adjust

This article was produced as part of JTA’s Teen Journalism Fellowship, a program that works with Jewish teens around the world to report on issues that affect their lives.

(JTA) — There had been hints of money trouble: no ink in the printers, no supplies in the maker space, teacher complaints. But Sion Cohen never imagined that her high school, The Idea School in Tenafly, New Jersey, would be closing mere months before the start of her senior year.

Almost immediately after she heard the news, Cohen, 17, began making plans to graduate early. She enrolled in online classes and reached out to her school’s guidance department to ensure she had enough credits to graduate. If she couldn’t spend her senior year at her beloved school, she didn’t want to spend it anywhere.

Mia Eskin, 13, was on the phone with her friends when a long email popped up on her cellphone. This is how she found out Gerrard Berman Day School, where she had attended for seven years, would be closing. Before she could hang up the call, she thought of all the things she would miss: the highly anticipated eighth grade Israel trip, spending every day with her friends that she had known since first grade and attending a school she considered home.

Cohen and Eskin are only two of over 130 students impacted by the recent closing of Jewish day schools in northern New Jersey. In 2021, Gerrard Berman Day School, a small K-8 community school in Oakland formerly affiliated with the Conservative movement, announced it would be closing after three decades. A year later, The Idea School, a project-based, queer-friendly Modern Orthodox school 25 miles away in Tenafly, also announced it would cease operations.

These closings left students with a difficult choice, forced to decide where and how to continue their Jewish and secular education.

This sudden change proved difficult for many students. Charlotte Barbach, 15, a freshman at Kinnelon High School, said that the closing took a toll on her mental health.

“I just broke down,” she said. “I was so sad. I started bawling in the car. It was really hard because I had been going to that school for like 10 years.”

Barbach took the closing as a chance to try something new and chose to attend public school. She said the transition was difficult at first, but she now considers her new school home.

Leo Milch and their friends at an ice cream truck at The Idea School on the last day before it closed. (Courtesy)

“The first day was a little rough,” Barbach said. “But once I made a good group of friends, it was pretty good.”

Both of the schools cited decreasing enrollment and money concerns as the main reasons for not returning the following school year.

​​Paul Bernstein, the CEO of Prizmah, an organization that provides resources for day schools, did not have specific information about these closings but said in general, most day schools close for similar reasons.

“The primary underlying cause tends to be when the local Jewish community is shrinking or relocating to new neighborhoods, and it reaches a point where it can no longer sustain its existing infrastructure,” Bernstein said.

A national survey of Jewish day schools by Prizmah in December 2022 found that two-thirds of enrollments have either grown or remained stable over the previous year. Most of the thriving schools are in the northeast and southwest, according to Prizmah. However, that leaves 34% of schools surveyed that reported a decrease in enrollment last year.

A census of day schools by the Avi Chai Foundation, completed in 2019, found that the vast majority of day school students are enrolled in Orthodox schools — including 68 percent enrolled in haredi, or fervently Orthodox, schools. The survey also showed that student enrollment in non-Orthodox schools declined by 16.6 percent over the previous 20 years and fell 9 percent in the previous five years alone.

“Jewish day schools are a fundamental part of a Jewish community,” Bernstein said. “When a day school closes, the whole community ecosystem is impacted.”

Many students from the closed schools now attend Golda Och Academy, 30 miles away from Gerrard Berman Day School and close to an hour from The Idea School. The school, with roots in the Conservative movement, welcomed 15 former Gerrard Berman Day School students and 14 Idea School students in the 2022 and 2023 school years respectively, according to Sari Allen, Golda Och admissions director. Other students attend area Jewish day schools including The Frisch School, Solomon Schecter of New Milford, Yeshivat Noam, Gottesman Academy or their respective public schools.

Especially for students from The Idea School, the transitions were slightly more difficult because of the schools’ unique collaborative model and small class size.

Yahkir Scholsberg, a junior at Golda Och, said the unique outlook on Judaism, with much space for conversation and ability to discuss doubts and struggles freely, is something he loved about the Idea School.

“I’ve had some of the most fascinating discussions about Judaism [at The Idea School],” he said.

He said he has had some similar conversations at his new school, but The Idea School model allowed for more frequent and open conversation.

Scholsberg also had to adapt to the new curriculum at his new school. Golda Och, a school with more than 30 students in each grade, cannot personalize learning to each student the way that The Idea School, with around 15 students in each grade, was able to. He said that now is waiting until college for that level of customization and ability to focus specifically on the subjects he is passionate about.

Some students are discovering the benefits of their new school. Leo Milch, a first-year student when The Idea School closed, said Golda Och’s larger size provides them with more opportunities to learn from other students.

Sion Cohen, top left, with her class at The Idea School, a small, project-based Jewish day school that closed in 2022. (Courtesy)

“I feel like it just kind of opened me up to different ideas and different sides of how people think,” they said.

Milch said the welcoming culture at The Idea School caused them to be very open about any problems they were facing, but keep more to themselves at their new school.

“Last year I was more open,” they said. “I have definitely toned down certain aspects of myself to fit in.”

For Cohen, who graduated early after The Idea School closed and now attends Kean University, the path to finding a new home after the Jewish day school closed was difficult. She took extra classes on her own to fulfill requirements and spoke weekly with the college’s admissions office. While this was not the path she originally imagined, she said it made her realize the value of education, over a university’s name recognition or image.

“The hardest part about graduating early and having my options limited was realizing that it doesn’t matter where you go,” she said. “It matters that you get a good education and that you’re happy.”

Eliana Nahomove, now a 9th grader at The Frisch School, said that starting a new school at the start of her high school career gave her a sense of closure.

“You can’t go back, you just have to move forward,” she said.


The post When their Jewish day schools closed, these teens had to learn to adjust appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Montreal’s Jewish Public Library moves books by local children’s author Elise Gravel to closed stacks in response to her series of illustrated messages criticizing Israel

Montreal’s Jewish Public Library has relocated renowned Montreal children’s author Elise Gravel’s books to the closed stacks after Jewish advocacy groups singled out some of her social media posts as antisemitic. Gravel is “one of Quebec’s most beloved children’s book authors. Her work is vibrant, thoughtful, funny, and educational,” said a statement from the Jewish […]

The post Montreal’s Jewish Public Library moves books by local children’s author Elise Gravel to closed stacks in response to her series of illustrated messages criticizing Israel appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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‘I’m Speaking Up Against Evil’: Israeli Columbia University Professor Addresses Smear Campaign

Anti-Israel students protest at Columbia University in New York City. Photo: Reuters/Jeenah Moon

Columbia University professor Shai Davidai, a Jewish Israeli, defended his right to condemn Hamas’ atrocities on Thursday after learning that an anonymous group of graduate students has accused him of anti-Palestinian racism and demanded a professional association of which he is a member to publicly censure him.

Anti-Zionist TikTok influencer Jessica Burbank first reported the accusations the graduate students lodged in a letter to the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP), an organization founded in 1974 to promote the social psychology field and its usefulness to society. Comprising over 7,500 student and faculty members, it provides invaluable funding and networking opportunities.

Accusing Davidai of “targeting individuals — especially Palestinians and students of color,” the students’ letter describes his efforts to hold pro-Hamas student groups accountable for harassing Jewish students and defending terror as “decolonization” as “blatant dereliction of duty with respect to his responsibilities and ethical standards as a professor and faculty member of SPSP.” The students additionally accused him of promoting “doxxing” and “misrepresenting” the views of pro-Hamas groups, all of whom have defended Hamas’ atrocities on Oct. 7 while calling for a ceasefire, a strategy they have employed to portray themselves as a pro-peace movement.

On Thursday, Professor Davidai told The Algemeiner that the man depicted in the letter is not someone his community, students, and peers would recognize, and he accepts that enduring assaults on his character is a consequence of defending the Jewish people wherever they are, be it Israel or New York City.

“Look, I’m speaking up against evil, and against the support of evil,” he said. “I’m willing to take the reputational hits because people that won’t like me for saying what I’m saying — I don’t need them to like me. This isn’t about the performative virtue signaling that is en vogue right now. This is about having a moral compass and standing up for what’s right.”

Davidai went on to express concern that his colleagues in the field have not defended him, a silence which suggests that criminating pro-Israel activists with baseless accusations will not be denounced or resisted even by moderates holding nuanced views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israel’s war against Hamas.

“If I have to pay the price, I’ll pay the price. Thousands and thousands of Jews and non-Jews contact me to say that calling out pro-Hamas support on US college campuses is the right thing to do,” he continued. “And the irony is that I won’t be silenced. They might take away my reputation. They might take away my job and my career. But I’m not the kind of person who will be quiet now that there’s a personal cost for telling the truth. They’re just proving my point.”

Davidai first achieved national notoriety after delivering a thunderous speech before a crowd of students and others gathered on campus in which he called the school’s president a “coward” for refusing to condemn Hamas apologists and anti-Zionist demonstrations on campus.

“I’m talking to you as a dad, and I want you to know we cannot protect your children from pro-terror student organizations, because the president of Columbia University will not speak out,” Davidai said to the students, whom he asked to film and send the remarks to their parents. “Citizens of the US are right now kidnapped in Gaza, and yet the president of the university is allowing — is giving — her support to pro-terror student organizations.”

In many ways, becoming a public figure has been a detriment, Davidai said. His email is flooded daily with notes from antisemites accusing him of being an “Elder of Zion” and a “genocidal baby killer.”

His colleagues, furious that his exposing antisemitism and left-wing radicalism at Columbia University has caused important donors to pull their support from the school, have never commented on the hate mail even though they are always copied as recipients of it, he alleged.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

The post ‘I’m Speaking Up Against Evil’: Israeli Columbia University Professor Addresses Smear Campaign first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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‘We Have Lost All Confidence’: Bipartisan Letter Urges Blinken to Demand Top UN Officials Resign

View of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) building in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib / Flash90.

A bipartisan group of 12 US legislators sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier this week urging him to demand that United Nations Secretary General António Guterres and the head of UNRWA — the UN agency dedicated to Palestinian refugees — Philippe Lazzarini resign over the recent revelation that UNRWA employees were involved in Hamas’ October 7 terrorist attack.

“We have lost all confidence in Secretary-General António Guterres’ ability to ensure that the U.N. is not actively supporting terrorism or giving refuge to known terrorists. Therefore, we ask you to demand that Secretary-General Guterres and UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini immediately resign from their posts,” the letter states. 

The signatories were Democratic Representatives Josh Gottheimer, Don Davis, Jared Moskowitz, Brad Schneider, Haley Stevens, and Ritchie Torres — along with Republican Representatives Don Bacon, Anthony D’Esposito, Brian Mast, Max Miller, Michelle Steel, and Claudia Tenney.

The letter laments what the legislators say was an inappropriate response to October 7 by the UN, pointing out that “While innocent blood was still fresh on the ground, the UN’s first response to these atrocities was to draw a moral equivalency between the Hamas terrorists and Israel, who acted in her own self-defense and the defense of innocent civilians, including Americans.”

“UN Women,” the letter continued, “also failed to condemn the heinous attacks on women in a timely manner — even after widespread, well-documented cases of sexual assaults, rape, and genital mutilation.”

It then turned its attention to UNRWA, the UN agency dedicated solely to Palestinian refugees. Recent reports have revealed that at least twelve UNRWA employees — including teachers — took part in Hamas’s October 7 attack. Seven infiltrated Israel itself along with Hamas terrorists, others helped to kidnap Israelis and provide ammunition.

Not only that, but the Israeli ground offensive in Gaza has exposed that “Hamas has stored weapons in UNRWA buildings, used UNRWA resources for terrorist activities, and built tunnels under UNRWA facilities,” the letter says. The reps ask: “How long before we acknowledge the truth and label UNRWA as a tool for Hamas and others to recruit and train?”

A recent Wall Street Journal report estimates that around 10% of UNRWA employees are terrorist-linked — about 1,200 of the 12,000 UNRWA employees in Gaza.

Blinken has not yet responded to the letter. But after the initial allegations against UNRWA were made, he wrote in a statement that The United States is extremely troubled” by them and that “The Department of State has temporarily paused additional funding for UNRWA while we review these allegations and the steps the United Nations is taking to address them.”

The reports, based on evidence gathered and shared by Israel, caused more than a dozen countries to pause funding to the agency.

However, the statement also noted that “UNRWA plays a critical role in providing lifesaving assistance to Palestinians, including essential food, medicine, shelter, and other vital humanitarian support.  Their work has saved lives, and it is important that UNRWA address these allegations and take any appropriate corrective measures, including reviewing its existing policies and procedures.”

The post ‘We Have Lost All Confidence’: Bipartisan Letter Urges Blinken to Demand Top UN Officials Resign first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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