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Jewish Day Schools Offer Students Many Ways to Make an Impact on Their Communities

Jewish day school students are creating change at home and around the world

Published on: September 19, 2022

A student from Northwest Yeshiva High School walks hand in hand with a young Ukrainian girl
Photo:
Students at Northwest Yeshiva High School traveled to Neptun, Romania, to work with Ukrainian orphan and refugee children.

Editor's note: This article was sponsored by the Samis Foundation. The Samis Foundation supports K–12 Jewish education in Washington state and initiatives in Israel.

One of the central tenets of Judaism is doing good in one’s community and in the world at large. Such acts of contribution are reflected in the words of Judaism’s prophets, sages and ancient texts: There’s tzedakah (charitable giving), gemilut hasadim (acts of kindness) and one of the most widely known phrases, tikkun olam (repairing the world). These values are especially important when it comes to fostering the next generation of Jewish changemakers.

Going beyond a focus on academics, Jewish day schools immerse students in a curriculum that nurtures and fosters community-minded engagement, around the world and right here at home in Washington state.

Jewish day schools creating change around the world

From providing service to the local community through volunteer work and fundraising to international mission trips to help people in need, Jewish day school students are learning firsthand what it means to be a global citizen. This past year, after receiving a call from the Jewish Ukrainian orphanage Tikva Children’s Home in Odessa, seniors from Northwest Yeshiva High School took their educational values and translated them into action by flying to Romania with only 10 days’ notice. Their purpose was to support hundreds of children who had been displaced by the war in Ukraine.

The call for help came while the group was on a service trip to New Orleans with NCSY Relief Missions, a Jewish teen relief organization. The organization learned that there was a severe shortage of volunteers and staff to work with hundreds of children ranging in age from newborn to 16 years. As a grantee of the Samis Foundation, Northwest Yeshiva High School immediately reached out to extend an offer of support by sending as many student volunteers as possible on the Romania mission.

“We’re proud of the students for responding to this call for help, and we, at Samis, were honored to play a small role in supporting the mission,” says Eli Genauer, Samis Foundation board chair.

Teachers leading by example

At the Jewish Day School of Metropolitan Seattle, cultivating “upstanders,” or people who will proactively stand up for good in the world, is central to its mission. Teachers at the school lead by example to demonstrate the upstander ethos. JDS teacher Nance Adler spent this past summer as a scholar in residence in Germany. After Adler taught a class on Jewish resistance and the rescue of Jews by non-Jews during the Holocaust, German teachers at the institution highlighted a recent instance of bigotry at the school. Following Adler’s class, the call to be upstanders was invoked in a staff meeting to encourage administration and faculty to take a united stand against expressions of hate and bigotry.

While global change is impressive, there is also plenty of work to be done right in our own backyard. And Jewish day schools are getting in on the action there, too.

Supporting the local community through acts of kindness

Emerging from the pandemic, local Jewish schools have poured countless hours into building community and offering services to ensure their students and families feel a stronger sense of connection and responsibility. Providing meaningful experiences through volunteer work is one way the schools are strengthening bonds.

Jewish day school students plant daffodils to honor victims of the Holocaust and current humanitarian crises today.
Students from the Seattle Jewish Community School plant daffodils to honor victims of the Holocaust and current humanitarian crises around the world.

Working with the Seattle Parks and Recreation department this past year, students at the Seattle Jewish Community School planted hundreds of daffodil bulbs to honor the memory of children who perished in the Holocaust and to call attention to those suffering in humanitarian crises today. Students had the opportunity to aid local wetlands in the process.

At MMSC Day School, giving back comes in the form of spreading joy. Students routinely craft holiday cards and gift baskets for the elderly and those in need.

Similarly, at Seattle Hebrew Academy, every year students partner with Jewish Family Service to combat food insecurity by participating in multiple food drives as part of the school’s mission to prepare future generations to lead lives of service and fulfill mitzvot (commandments) in Seattle, Israel and worldwide. Sharing in this mission is Torah Day School of Seattle and Derech Emunah, where students provide service to the community by hosting blood and bone marrow drives.

Increasing access

To increase accessibility and participation in high-quality experiential Jewish education for youths in Washington state, the Samis Foundation launched its Day School Affordability Initiative in 2022.

According to foundation CEO Connie Kanter, “Our mission is to support Jewish continuity through the education of Jewish youth. Jewish day schools are the most impactful way for us to cultivate future Jewish community members and leaders.”

To make Jewish day schools in the Seattle area more accessible to families that are juggling important financial priorities, the program ensures that for families earning up to $350,000, K–12 tuition will not exceed $15,000 per year per child or 15 percent of the family’s adjusted gross income, whichever is lower. This initiative is aimed at aiding families that don’t qualify for traditional financial aid and as a result, are priced out of giving their children a day-school education.

The opportunity to immerse themselves in their unique Jewish heritage, traditions and community, and emerging with an education that instills the value of giving back from both a local and global perspective, should be available to every student. Ultimately, this is what the Day School Affordability grant program is all about. While it will take a generation for today’s students to grow up and embody the principles of leadership, communal responsibility, charitable giving and the importance of doing acts of kindness in the world, that feels like an outcome well worth waiting for.

To learn more about sending your child to Jewish day school and to find out if your family is eligible to receive a Day School Affordability Initiative grant, visit the Samis Foundation website.

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