'It's not just a flight from antisemitism'

North American Jewish schools see dramatic enrollment upturn after Oct. 7 — study

Prizmah Center for Jewish Day Schools says concerns about antisemitism and desire for Jewish environment have boosted interest in schools of all denominations

Reporter at The Times of Israel

An illustrative photo of students at a Jewish day school. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images via JTA)
An illustrative photo of students at a Jewish day school. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images via JTA)

Enrollment at Jewish day schools in North America has risen dramatically since Hamas’s October 7 onslaught on Israel, a new study shows.

According to a study by the Prizmah Center for Jewish Day Schools, transfer students from both public and independent schools have significantly increased their inquiries and enrollment at North American Jewish day schools and yeshivas between October 7 and early December 2023.

The report was collated from responses from enrollment professionals and heads of school from Jewish schools of all denominations, 99 in the United States and 11 in Canada.

Four in 10 schools reported receiving inquiries for enrollment from public school and/or independent school students following the events of October 7, with 39 percent of schools reporting inquiries or enrollment from public school students interested in transferring mid-year. The study attributed that uptick “to the desire of parents to have their children in a Jewish environment and concerns about antisemitism.”

Prizmah CEO Paul Bernstein noted that while enrollment at Jewish day schools was on the rise since day schools’ strong COVID response in 2020, the dramatic interest in midyear transfers to Jewish schools post-October 7 was “a real sign of the times.”

According to the Prizmah report, 73% of enrollment inquiries stemmed from parents of public school students wanting their children to be in a Jewish environment. Fear of antisemitism in their current school or community motivated 68% of inquiries, and the response from their current school to the war in Israel motivated 32% of inquiries.

Illustrative: Children watch through the window of a school bus as demonstrators attend a rally in solidarity with Israel on October 10, 2023, in Los Angeles, California. (Ethan Swope/Getty Images North America/Getty Images via AFP)

“It isn’t simply a flight from antisemitism: it’s the desire to be in the Jewish community,” Bernstein said of the responses. “That is what I would hope, as we go through and, please God, beyond this crisis — that it really does awaken in people a desire to be more actively part of Jewish life and Jewish community.”

“The best thing that we can possibly do to fight antisemitism is to empower, educate and embrace our community, and give our children the best Jewish education that we can,” he added.

Gisela Bendersky, a parent of a New Jersey public high school student, said she wouldn’t switch her own child to a Jewish school at the present time.

“That being said, I would consider switching my kids to a Jewish school only if things get worse globally and we as Jews become threatened at a much bigger scale,” Bendersky said.

Marina Kirshenbaum, another New Jersey public school parent, said she’d already been considering Jewish day school for her child — who applied to the Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School for next year — before October 7. Kirshenbaum emphasized, however, that October 7 and its aftermath have only solidified her conviction that her child should attend Jewish school.

Illustrative: A class at the Lippman School, a Jewish day school in Akron, Ohio, in August 2014. (Uriel Heilman)

The devastating October 7 attack by Hamas-led terrorists killed over 1,200 people in Israel, mostly civilians. Terrorists also abducted at least 240 people of all ages, many of whom are still being held captive in Gaza. Israel responded with a military campaign, which is now entering its fourth month, to destroy Hamas, remove it from power in Gaza, and free the hostages.

“I really need her to grow up in a strong Jewish environment where she knows who she is — not only about her Jewish roots, but also how important the state of Israel is to us, and I hope she becomes just as zealous of a Zionist as I am,” Kirshenbaum said of her daughter, Hannah.

“I need my daughter to be stronger and more confident in who she is, and that’s what I think a private Jewish school can accomplish,” Kirshenbaum said. “It will teach her not only how to combat antisemitism, but also to be a proud Jew.”

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