With the closing of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Raritan Valley in East Brunswick, the Jewish educational landscape of New Jersey has been greatly diminished. Having educated children in grades K-eight for over 30 years, the school succumbed to what one lay leader described as a “perfect storm” of factors: changing demographics, a poor economy, growing requests for tuition assistance, and competition from other schools, including the Hatikvah International Academy Hebrew-language charter school in East Brunswick.
The East Brunswick Schechter is not the only day school to struggle in recent years: Over the last 15 years, the Schechter network has been hit by 20 school closures or mergers, and Schechter schools as a whole saw enrollment drop by 25 percent between 2003 and 2008.
The Greater MetroWest community, whose array of day schools includes the Golda Och Academy, itself affiliated with the Conservative movement’s Schechter network, is fortunate to have greater resources than many smaller federated communities around the state. Facing and anticipating the affordability challenge, the community in 2007 launched the Greater MetroWest Day School Campaign, aimed at building significant long-term support for affordability and academic excellence at the area’s Jewish day schools. The campaign has strengthened all four of the local day schools, and continues to encourage donors to support the schools, create grants and scholarships for middle-income families, and enhance the educational experience in the classroom.
A strong Jewish community offers a range of options for Jewish education, from quality supplementary schools to full-time day schools. And every community is diminished should one of those options disappear. The closing of the Schechter school in Middlesex County is a blow to all of us, but also a reminder of the support we can still give to institutions dedicated to instilling Jewish identity, Jewish literacy, and a love for Jewish tradition.