Town Hall reveals differences in day school debate

Parents, clergy and community leaders interested in establishing a new Jewish day school in Louisville aired the issues upon which they agree – and disagree – at a recent town hall meeting.
The most significant difference appears to be whether the religious instruction at the school would be Orthodox or pluralistic. The two Orthodox rabbis spearheading the project, Zach Blaustein and Yitzy Mandel of the Kentucky Institute for Torah Education (KITE), said the school must have an Orthodox religious curriculum and faculty.
“Judaic studies would be taught by Orthodox rabbis,” Blaustein said.
That irked Rabbi Michael Wolk, a Conservative Jew. While he supports the effort, Wolk made clear that an “Orthodox baseline” was a non-starter for him.
Meanwhile, Rabbi Shmully Litvin, reminded the organizers of the meeting that the process was moving ahead, even though the Louisville Jewish Day School, of which he is an administrator, has been open for 20 years and is currently educating 17 pupils in grades K-6.
His wife, Duby Litvin, asked, “Why do you want to reinvent the wheel?”
Rabbi Litvin later said he would like to sit down with the KITE rabbis to discuss what they want to see in a new or existing school.
“Bottom line,” Litvin said via email, “work together for the best option for the community.”
The March 22 town hall, held in the J’s Patio Gallery, was the third such meeting in the process and the first one open to the public.
In a new development, Blaustein and Mandel announced that they have engaged the New York City-based Consortium of Jewish Day Schools (CoJDS), a consulting group that works primarily with Orthodox day schools, to assist in the Louisville project. Rabbi Hillel Adler, CoJDS marketing and recruitment consultant, was at the town hall and answered questions.
Sara Klein Wagner, Jewish Community of Louisville president and CEO, made a brief welcoming statement, expressing her desire for an “open, honest conversation of what people need.”
Blaustein and Mandel, both founders of KITE, then took over the session highlighting steps already taken. They have previously stated that the process of starting a day school is separate from KITE.
Blaustein identified three issues the process must address: a strong general studies component, financial stability and culture of the school.
Mandel said his “vision” for the school includes accreditation, though he noted that could take a couple years to achieve.
And he warned the crowd that the school would not be profit-making enterprise.
“Jewish day schools cost a lot of money,” Mandel said. “They’re not money makers; they’re money losers, but we know they can be done.”
As for the culture, Blaustein told the 35-plus people in attendance a story about two school boys, “Moishy and Mikey” – one Orthodox, one not – who could be friends despite the different ways they worshipped.
He used that story as a metaphor for the proposed school, which would be open to kids from all streams of Judaism.
He emphasized the need for a solid religious education for Jewish kids.
“The first time a boy looks at a Torah shouldn’t be at his bar mitzvah,” he said, adding that the same goes for girls.
But he also said Orthodox parents would not be “comfortable” with non-Orthodox teachers. On the other hand, he claimed, non-Orthodox parents don’t have the same concern about Orthodox teachers.
“Orthodox families would not be comfortable with it,” Blaustein said.
Wolk, however, said there are not enough Orthodox parents in Louisville to warrant such a baseline.
“That would be acceptable if there were a critical mass of Orthodox families,” he said, “but we’re a community where that is not the case.”
Adler later told Community he doesn’t believe a pluralistic day school model, which would accommodate the positions and teachers of all movements, could work. He said such schools around the country are losing students.
“I believe if you want to build a school, that you need to build a strong Orthodox base,” he said. “Even if it’s not filled with Orthodox kids you need that Orthodox base to make it happen.”
None of Louisville’s Reform rabbis attended the town hall.
Adler said CoJDS has been retained to help with all aspects of the school’s development.
“They’re really in need of a lot of help to get this project off the ground,” Adler said, “from forming a board, curriculum, creating a budget, financing, everything that goes into forming a school.”

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