One of the central tenants of Judaism is doing good in one’s community and contributing to the world at large. This is reflected in the words of Judaism’s prophets, sages, and ancient texts: there’s tzedakah (charitable giving), gemilut hasadim (acts of kindness), and one of the most widely known phrases, tikkun olam (repairing the world.) These values are especially important when it comes to fostering the next generation of Jewish changemakers.
Going beyond a focus on academics, Jewish day schools immerse students in a curriculum that nurtures and fosters community-minded engagement, around the world and right here in Washington state.
Jewish day schools creating change around the world
From providing service to the local community through volunteer work and fundraising, to international mission trips to help people in need, Jewish day school students are learning firsthand what it means to be a global citizen. This past year seniors from Northwest Yeshiva High School took their educational values and translated them into action by flying to Romania with only 10 days’ notice after receiving a call that the Jewish Ukrainian orphanage Tikva Odessa needed support, with hundreds of children displaced by the war.
The call for help came while the group was on a service trip to New Orleans with NCSY Relief, a Jewish teen relief organization. They learned there was a severe shortage of volunteers and staff to work with hundreds of children ranging in age from newborn to 16. As a grantee of the Samis Foundation, NYHS immediately reached out for support to give as many students as possible the opportunity to join the Romania mission. “We’re proud of the students for responding to this call for help and we, at Samis, were honored to play a small role in supporting the mission,” says Eli Genuaer, Samis Foundation board chair.
Teachers leading by example
At the Jewish Day School of Metropolitan Seattle, cultivating “Upstanders,” or people who will proactively stand up for good in the world, is central to their mission. Teachers at the school lead by example to demonstrate the Upstanders ethos. JDS teacher Nance Adler spent this past summer as a Scholar in Residence in Germany. After teaching a class on Jewish resistance and the rescue of Jews by non-Jews during the Holocaust, German teachers at the institution highlighted a recent case of bigotry at the school. Following Adler’s class, the call to be Upstanders was invoked in a staff meeting to encourage administration and faculty to take a united stance against expressions of hate and bigotry.
While global change is impressive, there is also plenty of work to be done right in our own backyard. And Jewish day schools are getting in on the action there, too.
Supporting the local community through acts of kindness
Emerging from the pandemic, local Jewish schools have poured countless hours into community building and providing service to ensure their students and families feel a stronger sense of connection and responsibility. Providing meaningful experiences through volunteer work is one way the schools are strengthening bonds. Working with the Seattle Parks and Recreation department, this past year students at the Seattle Jewish Community School planted hundreds of daffodil bulbs to honor the memory of children who perished in the Holocaust and to call attention to those suffering under humanitarian crises today. Students had the opportunity to aid the local wetlands in the process.
At MMSC Day School, giving back comes in the form of spreading joy. Students are routinely crafting holiday cards and gift baskets for the elderly and those in need.
Similarly, at Seattle Hebrew Academy, every year students partner with Jewish Family Services to combat food insecurity by participating in multiple food drives as part of the school’s mission to prepare future generations to lead lives of service and mitzvot in Seattle, Israel and worldwide. Sharing in this mission is Torah Day School of Seattle and Derech Emunah where, whether hosting blood or bone marrow drives, students provide service to the community.
To increase accessibility and participation in high-quality experiential Jewish education for youth in Washington state, in 2022 the Samis Foundation launched their Day School Affordability Initiative.
According to Connie Kanter, CEO at Samis, “our mission is to support Jewish continuity through the education of Jewish youth. Jewish day schools are the most impactful way for us to cultivate future Jewish community members and leaders.”
To make Jewish day schools in the Seattle area more accessible to families who are juggling important financial priorities, the program ensures that for families who earn up to $350,000, K-12 tuition will not exceed $15,000/year per child or 15% of their adjusted gross income, whichever is lower. This initiative is aimed at aiding families who don’t qualify for traditional financial aid and as a result are priced out of giving their children a day school education.
The opportunity to immerse yourself in your unique Jewish heritage, traditions and community and emerge with an education that instills the value of giving back from a local and global perspective should be available to every student. It will take a generation for today’s students to grow up and embody the principles of leadership, communal responsibility, charitable giving and the importance of doing acts of kindness in the world, but that feels like an outcome well worth waiting for.
To learn more about sending your child to Jewish day school and find out if you are eligible for a Day School Affordability Initiative grant, check out the eligibility estimator today.
This article was originally published in the Seattle Times on August 31, 2022.