Sunday, December 12, 2004

Camps and day schools - do you love your mother or your father more?

A recent survey reported in the NY Jewish Week by Marvin Schick shows an 11% increase in the Day School population over the last 5 years, including a 7% increase in the number of "non-Orthodox" students. (I wanted to wait until I had the full text of the survey to write about it - I still may - but it apparently will not be released for another few days, and, in the author's words, it's not clear how much longer it will take to get to Canada...... It's also not clear to me whether this latest survey includes the northern neighbour or not).
However, 68% of all day school students are in the NY area, of whom 97% are in Orthodox schools; overall, 80% of all students everywhere are in Orthodox schools, although that doesn't necessarily mean that they themselves, or their families, are Orthodox in practice.
The area in which I have a certain interest -- Community High Schools - is not specifically delineated in the JW article, but it reports that the total number of students in such schools (which are categorized as 'Non-Orthodox High Schools", presumably including a few Solomon Schechter High Schools) has increased from "1,500 in 1992 to 2,200 five years ago to 4,100 this year". Well, CHAT in Toronto has (as of Friday end of school!) 1,402 G9-G12 High School students, which means that we are doing pretty well compared to the whole of the USA. In every Canadian city (and in Australia, South Africa and, increasingly, the UK) there is a strong tradition of day school commitment by non-orthodox families that seems never to have existed in the USA.
While it is true that a good day school leaves an indelible Jewish imprint on its graduates, Jerry Silverman, the Director of the Federation of Jewish Camping, writes a paean of (deserved) praise for the Jewish Camping movement for the Jerusalem Post.
The answer is - both. The Day School provides an irreplaceable depth of knowledge, but it must perforce do so - and can only do so - in a school setting. The Camp is experiential, and complements, not rivals, the school. Interestingly, the AviChai Foundation (only lately rivalled by PEJE as discerning, focussed and effective agencies helping schools) has for some years funded a Shabbaton initiative, which encourages schools to run experiential programmes themselves. At CHAT the Shabbaton programmme has been phenomenally successful.
Objectively, the whole picture shows how for families who use them, Day Schools, Camps and perhaps other agencies are replacing the synagogue as the main institution of Jewish family affiliation ......

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