May 9, 2007

by Reb Yudel
Do "Conservative Judaism" and "Solomon Schechter" mean anything? The big test (an open letter)

Is affiliating with the Conservative movement an asset or a liability for a liberal Jewish institution?

For those who answer that it is an asset -- who think that it matters to have "Conservative Judaism" rather than just non-Orthodox Judaism -- now is the chance to put your money where your heart is.

Our Schechter Regional High School in Teaneck is about to close, unless it can raise an emergency infusion of money. This comes after the failure/merger of Manhattan's New York Schechter High School. And it comes at a time when non-Schechter, community liberal Jewish high schools are thriving in places including Boston, Atlanta, and, yes, Manhattan's west side.

Identifying with a denomination certainly doesn't help with potential donors who identify as Reform Jews. Are there Conservative Jews who can step up to the plate? I don't mean Conservative Jews in our congregation, or in our community. For whatever reason, the board of our Schechter launched no fundraising drives, so our community hasn't been approached. We, the parents, have been asked to raise half a million dollars by September, and I, and the other parents, know that is possible.

But right now, the school needs more than just what should have been standard operating procedure, that is, community support for a school that serves our community. It needs support from people who really don't care about the Jews of Bergen County -- but do care about Conservative Judaism and the Conservative brand name.

If Schechter fails here, after failing in Manhattan, then the Conservative movement and the Schechter system will be seen as a hollow shell. Liberal Jews interested in providing a non-Orthodox Jewish high school education will know better than to go with the Conservative movement -- because when the going gets tough, the Conservative movement isn't there. Not in terms of guidance (movement professionals were on the board of the New York school, and failed to intervene to right the ship until almost too late) and not in terms of funds.

Is there anyone who will pay half a million dollars to keep the Schechter name on the school and the burning bush logo burning?

I say half a million dollars because, frankly, it's not enough for the school to reach the fundraising targets needed to make this coming year's budget. The school needs to start off with a bang -- to provide the excellent, phenomenal education and exciting experience that the school provided until this year, when the merged school opened in September to chaos.... and enrollment for this coming year plummeted. The school needs to open not with a good enough experience, so that we parents who have made the commitment aren't let down, but with a great experience -- great enough that the 9th graders who attend Teaneck High and SSDS-UE and Heschel and Ramaz and Frisch start clamoring to transfer in.

That's not going to happen on a business-as-usual budget. Last year the school tried to execute a merger with a business-as-usual budget, and the result, sadly through predictably, fell short of the standards of excellence Schechter Regional had previously reached.

But a major gift, coming to launch the school with a bang, from someone outside our community will provide a strong inspiration -- for parents who are questioning whether to return their kids to the school, and to donors who are wondering whether the necessary millions will make a difference in the long term.

In other words, the school needs a kick-off donation. And at stake is not the school, but really, the viability of the Conservative brand.

So that's my question: Do you know someone who can make a six-figure pledge for the cause of Conservative Jewish education, who is not in our Bergen County community? Someone in San Francisco or Cleveland or Atlanta? Someone who nobody in their right mind would approach for a donation for our local school? Because we need to find one or two or three people like that, who can be approached, right mind or not, to make the commitment.

I really believe that some white knight, brought in on behalf of the Movement from elsewhere, can at this point make all the difference between a renewed school relaunched with proper community support... and a school whose death rattles are at best prolonged another year or two because our support as a community is coming too late in the game.

If the answer is yes -- if you know someone who might be approached -- please let me know. (If you want to personally help the school, let me know also).

Thank you for your attention,

Larry Yudelson


no matter how much money someone donates, unless the Schechter can raise the number of students they have, then it will never be a success. Why cant the Schechter movement retain any of their own students? If they truly believe in the Movement, why would they ever go anywhere else? The orthodox day schools in the area are all just feeder schools to the orthodox high schools, i would say nearly 95% of the students in the MO day schools end up in an MO high school, why shouldn't it be the same for Schechter? What is it about the Movement that it cant retain its own students? That is where the problem lies, not an immediate infusion of cash.

Posted by: chai18 at May 16, 2007 6:32 PM
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