Memory in Admissions: Living by Our Founders’ Vision
Almost 30 years ago, after their daughter Karen graduated from Harvard, Drs. Jean and Jerry Friedman had a vision. They felt the need for a coeducational Modern Orthodox school in the Los Angeles area based upon the teachings of Harvard psychology Professor Lawrence Kohlberg. Dr. Kohlberg believed that his theory of moral development could be realized in a school setting and help to develop students able to use moral and ethical reasoning as a path to a well-rounded education. Being an observant Jewish family, the Friedmans researched Jewish day schools. They discovered that one area in which Jewish day schools were falling short was mentschlichkeit—guiding students who not only had stellar Jewish and secular educations but also the ability to go into this world as respectable moral and ethical human beings.
When Dr. Kohlberg started to try to persuade Dr. Friedman to start a school, he felt that, as a real estate developer, he and his wife had no qualifications to do so. Yet from their passion and further education in their late 50s and early 60s, earning doctorates in education, Shalhevet was born: a Modern Orthodox educational institution that taught boys and girls the same curriculum, integrated and valued alike Judaic and secular studies, and was committed to developing the girls as leaders.
“Shalhevet” means flame. Just like the Ner Tamid in the synagogue is always watching over our precious Torah, our “flame” will never burn out, watching over, teaching, and enriching the lives of Modern Orthodox students. To me, holding steadfast in our mission to uphold our school’s original premise is essential in our past, current, and future success.
A successful organization never forgets how it started and where it came from. That memory is an integral part of carrying out the mission set forth for Shalhevet. No doubt, staff and faculty will change, new and modern ideas will come to the forefront of decisions being made about curriculum. But at the core of Shalhevet, we will always recollect the basis upon which the Friedmans started this school.
As we attempted to apply Kohlberg’s teachings, our school asked: How do you teach a student to be a moral and ethical part of everyday society? Is it a class that can be taught? Is it taught every year of high school or just one semester? In developing this idea, the school’s leaders developed a concept of the school as a Just Community.
Each week, the entire student body, faculty, and staff get together to discuss important issues in a town hall. Town hall, just as the Friedmans envisioned, is run by students, and facilitated by faculty. The agenda chairs bring ideas to be discussed to the faculty, and we teach the students how to have good and strong conversations in a safe environment. The topics range from vaccine mandates to political parties, religious freedom to school rules. To live the life of a moral and ethical member of society, we strongly believe that students need to learn to exercise their beliefs from a young age. Just Community sets us apart from other Modern Orthodox educational institutions and is truly an enormous component of our curriculum.
Students who are interested in our school come from five feeder schools in the Los Angeles area. We take about 60 students each year and turn away close to half the applicants. Our top priority is to accept students who understand our mission, embrace it and will thrive here. Our admissions committee looks at all the documentation we have on our applicants, recalls our meetings with them and does our best to ensure that the applicants are aligned with the mission of our school and would thrive in the special environment of communal conversation that is essential to our culture.
We hold a town hall for our prospective students to give them a flavor from the very beginning of this central school experience. We want them to know that it is a sacred time—without cellphones and individual chatter—for collective thought. It is a time for young men and women to share their ideas with one another, to challenge each other and the faculty. It is a time to carry out the mission envisioned by the Friedmans so many years ago, the centerpiece of an incredible education for 30 years.
It was also exceedingly important to our founders that acceptance to Shalhevet never be based on the ability of families to pay the full tuition. We pride ourselves on accepting students solely on their ability to succeed with our rigorous dual curriculum, their values matching those of the school, and their desire to be a part of the community. Today, our annual campaign raises funds to help award over $2 million each year toward tuition assistance.
Each step we take in the school evokes the centrality of the founders’ vision and is a fundamental part of every admission decision we make. Just as so much of Judaism is built on remembering where we come from, so too at our school, we always remember.