By Dr. Mark Rosen

             With more “bobbe meises” flying around than cold hard facts about what is happening today in Jewish education and day schools, Dr. Mark Rosen, a member of the Jewish Federation board of directors in Long Beach decided to find out for himself and put the information before our community. Here are his findings.

            Two years ago this month I did something very unusual. I let an eight year old decide where she was to receive her education.

            My wife and I had done our homework. We were well aware of all the demographic studies documenting the alarming rate of assimilation of American Jews. Intermarriage is the rule, not the exception, especially in Southern California with its whopping 65 percent rate of intermarriage.

            The studies also show that in these families most of the children end up as non- Jews. My family was already knowledgeable of the now famous Tobin studies revealing how a day school Jewish education, Jewish camp experiences and traveling to Israel are the only consistently identifiable factors able to alter the rate of assimilation in to the majority religion.

            Further studies elucidate that of these three items, the most powerful one is a Jewish day school education, which reduces the rate of assimilation from 65 percent to only 10 percent. So with my wife’s brother and my cousin already married to non-Jewish women and another relative baptizing their daughter, why was my daughter, Beth, not one of the approximately 300 students attending the Hebrew Academy in Huntington Beach, the only Jewish day school in the immediate area?

            My wife and I looked at the school twice but decided not to enroll her. After all, we lived in Los Alamitos, which has a superb school system. Yet, my daughter wanted to go to the Hebrew Academy claiming that the after school Torah school was “not like real school. No one learns a lot and no one takes it seriously. I want to learn to read Hebrew and understand it. I want more than we get at Torah school.”

            How could a parent refuse that? Despite our misgivings about the Hebrew Academy, we decided to try it. It was an experiment that could easily be reversed, if our concerns were justified. 

            I would like to report my conclusions of this experiment because I feel many parents in this community choose not to send their children to the Hebrew Academy for similar, albeit unwarranted, concerns. Many unfortunate myths have evolved over the years and I would like to dispel a few:


            Myth No. 1. The Hebrew Academy is only for the orthodox.

            Fact: This is simply incorrect. The student body consists mainly of reform and conservative Jews accounting for approximately 55 percent of the students.


            Myth No. 2. All of the teachers are orthodox, specifically Lubavitch.

            Fact: About one half of the teachers are not Jewish.


            Myth No. 3. The Jewish studies are taught with an eye toward indoctrination of the students in to the Lubavitch movement. This will create horrible conflicts within our home.

            Fact: The teachers go out of their way to an incredible degree to prevent this from occurring. Our family has never had any serious conflicts, nor have I heard of any conflicts at the homes of my reform and conservative friends. Homes that had non-Kosher foods still seem to do the same.

            Some things have changed like celebrating Shabbat with the family, for example. At times, discussions ensue as to how and why our family does not have identical traditions to those of other classmates. But similar discussions occurred when Beth went to public school in Los Alamitos with her Christian counterparts.


            Myth No. 4. They probably spend too much time on Jewish studies to the detriment of math, science, reading, etc.

            Fact: Contrasted to the Los Alamitos school district, my daughter’s secular instruction is simply superior. The Hebrew Academy’s testing scores bear out their record of excellence. Most people are typically unaware of the Math Fair, new math program, computer classes, etc.


            Myth No. 5.  The kids aren’t allowed to be real kids; they don’t encourage independent thought. The school is isolated from the real world.

            Fact:    Children at the Hebrew Academy during recess play handball, basketball and other sports. The school is about to break ground for a new swimming pool. The last birthday party my son went to was for one of the rabbi’s children — it was at Discovery Zone. The last school trip was to Knott’s Berry Farm.

            The children are simply real, live children; they are just very educated. The children do not live in a vacuum. They are aware of the Christian holidays when they occur. American society is so chock full of signs of Christmas, for example, of course they are aware.


            Myth No. 6.  I cannot send my son to school where the boys wear “tsitsis.”

            Fact: I had the same concern. Interestingly enough this appears to be an issue for parents only. When my son enrolled this year, I observed that when the younger children see the older boys wearing tsitsis, the younger kids actually want to wear it. They feel it’s part of getting older. (Just like when my kids wanted to have glasses because mom and dad both wore them.) In fact, this is no different than wearing a tallis or yarmulke in synagogue. Most non-orthodox children do not insist on wearing them once they leave the shul. Yet they have no problem donning a yarmulke for after school Torah school.


            Myth No. 7. I can teach them all that they need to know about Judaism.

            Fact:    Most parents are just like me — ill-equipped to each Judaism. How many of us are fluent in Hebrew, know the Torah well enough to discuss its nuances, are learned in ancient and modern Jewish history and hold teaching credentials?

            Most of what I thought I knew about the Hebrew Academy, I later learned was incorrect. Additionally, the school offers a great secular and Jewish education, with the benefits of a safe, loving environment, free of drugs and major discipline problems. My children are secure in their knowledge and pride of Judaism. They are happy normal kids who love the school.

            Don’t be afraid your children will learn things that are so foreign to your family. When a Jewish day school education becomes foreign, but Christmas parties at work and a public secular education are not, our Jewish community really should have concerns about assimilation.

Take the advice an eight year old daughter gave our family two years ago. Try a Jewish day school education and call 562.596.1681 or 714.898.0051.


Update: The Hebrew Academy student body consists mainly of unaffiliated, reform and conservative Jews accounting for approximately 60 percent of the students. Academically, the Hebrew Academy is the only school in Southern California to receive two Presidential Blue Ribbons in the last award cycle.  The Jr. Olympic-size pool that was breaking ground 11 years ago is currently enjoyed by over 1,000 students from the Hebrew Academy and the community at large, as well as Silver Gan Israel campers.

Beth Rosen is now a graduate of the Ivy League University of Pennsylvania.

This article was written a few years back and we appreciate Dr Rosen allowing the Hebrew Academy to use it on our website.