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The Day School Question

There’s a lot to think about when choosing schools for your kids: private or public, religious or secular, co-ed or single sex. Parents try to make the best choice for their child and for their family with the resources they have. It’s impossible for a parent to know what the best fit will be for their four or five-year-old for the next 13 years, so ultimately they just have to choose a school and hope for the best.

I live in Pittsburgh, where there are numerous schools from which to choose. In my neighborhood there are two public schools plus a dozen or so private and charter schools. There’s a Jewish day school, a lab school, and an all-girls school. When I was four and about to start kindergarten, my parents chose the public school that’s right around the corner from our house. With a good reputation, good teachers, proximity to our house, and of course, the price (free), it seemed like a good choice.

At my synagogue, there were, and still are, a lot of kids who go to the Jewish day school: Community Day (CDS). While my siblings and I weren’t the only kids in the congregation who went to another school, we were certainly in the minority. When I was younger I couldn’t figure out why I too didn’t go to CDS. Being Jewish was important to my parents, right? They wanted Judaism to be important to me too, right? So why didn’t they send me to the Jewish school? I was also annoyed with my parents because their decision to send me to public school meant I had to spend my Sunday mornings, and Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, at Hebrew school. To add insult to injury, when everyone talked about what had happened the day before at school, or about their teachers, I couldn’t relate and therefore felt excluded. During youth services the kids from CDS always knew more of the prayers than I did, and their Hebrew was better.

I had gone to a Jewish preschool, I spent my summers at Jewish summer camp, and I went to synagogue regularly, but I still felt inferior to the CDS students. At a synagogue meeting a rabbi said in passing that “in an ideal world all Jewish kids would go to day school,” or something along those lines. I found that comment unsettling. If a rabbi had said that all Jewish kids should go to day school, where did that leave me?

With Rabbis being as important and influential in their communities as they are, to have a rabbi say this was really upsetting. It felt like the thoughts I had about not fully belonging, or about being less-than in my congregation were being confirmed, and that I was right to feel that way. Although the comment really upset me at the time, now it just annoys me. My public school education was one that exposed me to a diverse community with many different cultures and languages represented. Although the curriculum wasn’t especially challenging, the lessons I learned outside the classroom helped shape me into the person I am today. I love learning and value the importance of education, but I also think that besides learning how to read, children need to learn how to live in the world. While I’m not saying that day school isn’t the right choice for some students, I think it’s unfair to view a public school education as inferior; day school offers some things that you can’t get in public school, but the opposite is also true.

I think I would’ve been happy if I had attended CDS, but my parents chose public school, and I was really happy there too. Choosing schools is hard and depends on so many factors. I don’t think Jewish day school is a bad choice, but there were real and legitimate reasons that led my parents to decide that it wasn’t the best choice for me. When I’m a parent I might send my kids to day school, or I might not. Either way my kids will be raised Jewish, and I hope that no matter where they go to school, they feel fully welcome in their Jewish community.

This article is also published on Fresh Ink for Teens.

This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.

1 Comment
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I totally relate to this, Daniella! Good work

How to cite this page

Shear, Daniella. "The Day School Question." 4 June 2018. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on August 23, 2019) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/day-school-question>.

2017-2018 Rising Voices Fellow Daniella Shear, as an elementary school student, standing outside of her school.

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