HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal

From the Editor

by Barbara Davis Issue: Size Matters

“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” Mark Twain

Recently I took part in a program at my local public television station in conjunction with the showing of Simon Schama’s “The Story of the Jews.” The program was introduced by an announcer who stated that our local Jewish community was “a forgotten minority.” I was shocked. Living as I do, in a very Jewish environment, I never thought of our Jewish community as a “minority,” much less a forgotten one. But on reflection, I realized that he was right. The Jewish people, despite our tremendous influence and impact on the world, are still a very small group, often forgotten by the majority.

And size matters, although not always in the way we think it does. For example, there has been a tremendous amount of research about the benefits of small versus large schools in the United States, but not much of it is applicable to our Jewish community day school world. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance reports that “one of the most effective ways to improve student achievement and curb school violence is to reduce the size of the nation’s schools. Hundreds of studies have found that students who attend small schools outperform those in large schools on every academic measure from grades to test scores.

Small schools also build strong communities. Parents and neighbors are more likely to be actively involved in the school. The students benefit from community support and the school in turn fosters connections among neighbors and encourages civic participation.” Yet in our Jewish world, we take student achievement and parental involvement as givens and school violence is virtually nonexistent. Jewish day school size is not dependent on policymakers’ demands for the economic benefits that accrue to large schools.

In the Jewish community day school world, size must be measured by impact, not numbers. And this impact comes not only from large schools in major metropolitan areas, but from small schools scattered around the nation. Lynn Raviv, writing in eJewish Philanthropy about the N.E. Miles Jewish Day School in Birmingham, Alabama, observed that “we have been in existence for 41 years. In those 41 years, we have educated almost 1000 students, K-8. If those 1000 students had remained in Birmingham, married and raised a family, our 1200 Jewish family community would be much greater. … But that is not the case.

“Instead, many of these alumni live in other communities, mainly in the large metropolitan areas, where they are strongly impacting Jewish life. We have educated a great number of students who make extraordinary contributions to Jewish life, not only in the United States but all over the world. We are not the staid school that many think because we are small. We are a dynamic community seeding other communities. Our alumni can be counted among those who feel deeply about the continuity of our people and who are making a difference in Jewish life today.”

The people at the JCC in Overland Park, Kansas, also thought they were a forgotten minority, until faced with a horrendous catastrophe. But then they learned something about their impact. Jacob Schreiber, JCC president, spoke at an interfaith Service of Unity and Hope less than one week after the shootings. “The JCC is in the midst of celebrating its 100th anniversary,” he said, “and had asked people to send in their stories about what the JCC means to them. Until last week’s tragedy struck, the response had been underwhelming. Now, we probably have 500 stories of people here telling us what the Jewish Community Center has meant to them. I didn’t have any clue of what this meant to people as a community center. Everybody and their brother, their cousin, their friend has had somebody who has swum here, done fitness, did the singing competition, been in a play … I think this is why this has hit the community so much, because after 100 years of being open to the entire community, everybody has a connection here. It’s unbelievable.”

This issue of HaYidion will make the case that Jewish community day schools of all sizes have similar impact. They also have challenges, some in proportion to their size, others common to all. Unique to this issue is the inclusion of articles about schools outside of North America. One is a school enrolling more students than there are Jews in the country, and another that enrolls 80% of all Jewish children. There are several fascinating proposals advanced by our authors, including one that challenges funders to recognize the vibrancy and importance of small schools as a collectivity and to provide support nationally to ensure their continued vitality.

Regardless of size, however, day school leaders, both lay and professional, seek connections and networks. Luckily for all of us, RAVSAK serves as the glue that binds us, and whether you are the only school in a small city or a large school with many colleagues in a major metropolis, you need those ties. Issues related to size as well as many other challenges are more easily handled when the experience and advice of others in similar situations can be accessed. Once again, RAVSAK plays an impactful role in facilitating these connections. And as we know, impact matters much more than size in the day school world.♦

Dr. Barbara Davis is the secretary of RAVSAK’s Board of Directors, executive editor of HaYidion and head of school at the Syracuse Hebrew Day School in Dewitt, New York. bdavis74@twcyn.rr.com

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Size Matters

In the Jewish day school ecosystem, schools can range from a few dozen students to more than a thousand. How does school size impact education, school governance and administration? Articles in this issue address a range of challenges and successes found in small day schools, while looking at the issues large schools face as well.

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