Adapted from the original Hebrew article by Tzuri Hason –
When the crisis began, it appeared as if Jewish schools around the world would suffer a severe, if not fatal, blow. Even before the crisis began, the high registration fees, reaching tens of thousands of dollars per student (as compared to free public education), served as a barrier for recruitment. The economic crises caused by Covid coupled with the restriction on the many public activities that occur at these schools and the fact that shaliachs from Israel are not coming in means that one would expect these schools to see a drop in enrollment.
In an article from Makor Rishon, the picture is exactly the opposite. Instead of Jewish schools being destroyed by the crisis, many have flourished. The demand for enrolled has risen to levels unseen for years. Some schools have reached enrollment numbers over their capacity, and are even unable to enroll additional students.
In the article, the writers spoke with Jewish educators from around the world, who suggested various reasons for this phenomenon. The main reasons they highlight are that these schools provide small classes, are already accustomed to using technology, and have introduced strict COVID procedures that allow them to remain open to frontal learning. These innovations attract parents to these schools while the public schools have remained online-only in many places.
While these reasons may indeed be correct, I would like to suggest one other reason why Jewish parents around the world are now eager to send their children to Jewish schools, despite the high costs and economic uncertainty. With the closure of synagogues and various community centers and isolation from extended family members, especially the elderly, parents are realizing they need to find a Jewish anchor to lean upon. The schools are proving that they can be that anchor. Despite the health crisis and its challenges, these schools did not close their gates and leave their students inactive and disconnected from Judaism. Instead, they used the tools at their disposal wisely and managed to maintain themselves as a place where students could receive both education and Judaism with a personal, close, and safe connection.
This does not mean that I believe those schools are able to rest on their laurels. This high enrollment brings a great opportunity. Those children who would not have come to Jewish schools under other circumstances are now full-fledged students. These schools are being given a unique opportunity to influence their Jewish future. They need their content to these new students. On one hand, they must consider the lack of background Jewish studies they have. On the other, they must make sure the content fits their age level. The most important thing is for these schools to plan for how they will engage these students and parents so that they will continue to enroll in the coming years. They need to ensure that this does not become a passing event, a last recourse while the other schools are closed.
The current crisis brought with it many things, it has changed our perceptions, and has caused a lot of pain and sorrow. Yet, it has also brought with it the opportunity to change for the better. One of these changes is the increased demand for Jewish schools. When it comes to strengthening the connection between Jews and their religion, the most effective place can be the school. I sincerely hope that out of all these many and bitter challenges we are facing, we can also bring out some sweet fruits.