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Apr 17 2012

Riding the Diversity Ticket All the Way to Jewish Day School

By at 12:12 pm

My daughter passed the grueling tests, and got into kindergarten!Last fall, I wrote about the hoops NYC parents jump through to get their children into kindergarten. We’re talking IQ tests, essays, interviews, applications, lotteries for applications, and then more IQ tests, because God forbid they should all accept the same IQ test.

The entire process lasts from approximately September of the year before your son or daughter would enter kindergarten through to the following spring, when private and public schools announce who’s been accepted–and who has been “shut out.”

My two sons attend an Upper East Side private school that is traditional and rigorous–and boys only. Which means, no matter how generous their sibling policy is, my daughter was out of luck.

Going into our third school process, my husband and I were determined to find her a school equally as wonderful. To that end, we looked at single sex Upper East Side girls’ schools (“You know how I love all things WASP,” my African-American husband reminded me), co-ed Upper West Side schools (“You know how I love not having a long commute,” I reminded him in turn), and Jewish schools.

At the orientation meeting for one of them, the Director asked about 150 parents (in case you’re wondering, the school had maybe 10 open kindergarten spots–and this was only their first of a dozen orientation meetings), “How many of you ever imagined you would consider sending your children to a Jewish day school?”

My husband’s hand remained down.

It’s not that he was necessarily opposed to the idea. He did marry a Jewish woman. He did agree to have his children raised Jewish. He comes to temple with us on Shabbat and the High Holidays. And Purim. He loves Purim. After his first Megillah reading, he called a friend to gush, “You’re not going to believe this! They serve shots! In church!”

It’s just that the idea of a Jewish day school was foreign to him. And, in New York City, unlike in the suburbs where, as a friend told me, “You just send your kids to the Jewish school,” you have multiple options.

Our first stop was a Modern Orthodox school, where the academics were traditional and rigorous, exactly like we wanted. The Admissions person took one look at us and demurred, “It’s not that you would be a bad fit for our school. It’s that I think we would be a bad fit for you.” (How she knew that at first glance, I have no idea. Oh, wait, yes, I do. My mother and husband encouraged us to apply anyway. “Make them reject you. Put them on the spot.” But, I have better things to do with my time and money. Application fees? From $75 to $150 dollars a pop.)

Our next stop was the local Conservative school, where my husband, the math and science teacher, decreed their academics not up to his standards. He felt the same way about the non-denominational Jewish school, where their stated goal was to make mentsches, not mathematicians. We respected their clarity of vision, but it wasn’t for us.

We both loved the Reform Jewish school we visited, and agreed it was our first choice for our daughter. Now the only thing left was to get in. (Because they also have a nursery division, number of places available for kindergarten: Six. And if you assume half will go to boys: Three.) Oh, and to receive enough financial aid to afford it. My husband is a teacher. I am a writer. We’re in competition with investment bankers. Even in a down economy, guess who makes a more attractive candidate?

The one thing we had going for us is that, in New York City schools, one of the big buzzwords is: Diversity. At least we can do that. (Although, as I told my husband, “If an Ethiopian Jewish family who can pay full price walks through the door, we’re toast.” Fortunately, I don’t think they did.)

Our daughter did get in, and we’re thrilled. (As is our daughter. She told me she can’t wait to learn to “read Jewish.”) Our joy stems from a multitude of reasons, not the least of which is because, unlike her brothers, she won’t have to do two hours of Hebrew School on top of an already grueling academic day.

She won’t even be the only African-American student. Of all the Jewish schools we toured, this one did seem the most “diverse,” which was another criterion of ours.

My husband is on board. Having attended a selective New York City public high school followed by college at MIT, he is comfortable being in a heavily Jewish environment–to a point. I suspect, in the next few years, we may get to find out precisely where that point lies. Whether we want to or not.


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