Why I Sent My Kids to a Jewish School


Purim at the Gratz Jewish Community High School.

— by Shelley Szwalbenest

A first grader’s major school project is a leprechaun trap, while the hallways in his school are a sea of St. Patrick green. Meanwhile, his kindergartner sibling is learning that St. Patrick cured Ireland of its snakes, their second-grade sibling is receiving only Christmas homework, and the only seventh-grade trip of their other sibling is to see A Christmas Carol, which the principal defends as part of the school’s “culture,” and the Superintendent of Schools insists is not Christian.  

All of these happened to my children in the Bucks County public school system.

We are proud to be Americans. We thrive in our multicultural society. Our challenge is raising caring, committed and connected Jews.

More after the jump.
Now my children are all teens. Their bar and bat mitzvahs have passed. All of the memorizing and necessary, though not necessarily inspiring, learning of religious school is over.

Now, their education at the Gratz Jewish Community High School provides them with the gift of discussion, arguing a point, tackling the thorny moral issues of the day, and learning how to think.

Recently, one of my children received applause from his classmates while discussing a point in The Pit and the Pendulum. He has honed this skill not in a public school, which is busy getting through the curriculum preparing for standardized tests, but through his experiences at Gratz, where spirited discussion is encouraged and nurtured.

Though youth group activities are fine, is it not better to have your children meet other Jewish kids in a learning environment, that both expands their skills and is fun?

Yes, I hope that colleges will look upon my children’s Gratz experience favorably, but that is not the reason I have sent them there.

We are Jewish parents, raising children in a world where they may experience being the only Jew in their class or camp group, or at a social event. It is our job to empower them, to make them feel good about themselves, and to give them the tools to navigate the world. For me, their Gratz experience is doing just that.