I was disappointed by Leyna Krow’s recent article about the Seattle Orthodox Day Schools (“Learning curve,” Feb. 8). While I applaud her for writing an article that openly discusses an issue that has remained in whispered corners of the Orthodox community, her article completely overlooked a significant factor in this complex situation.
Ms. Krow virtually ignored the presence of the Menachem Mendel Seattle Cheder. She insulted MMSC while completely writing them off. Her article opens with the statement that for years Seattle families have had only one choice for an Orthodox Day School. Then in the following paragraph she states that MMSC has been in Seattle since 1973! Thirty years is quite a long time to provide an alternate choice for the Seattle Orthodox community. During these 30 years, MMSC and Seattle Hebrew Academy have maintained a respectful and positive relationship.
Ms. Krow states a majority of families she interviewed started the Torah Day School (a name which, ironically, the Seattle Cheder went by briefly a number of years ago), in order to obtain separate gender classes, “blended” classes, uniforms, and a strong emphasis on the “Torah Judaism” that she speaks of. These are all things which the Cheder has provided for years.
Given this, I believe that the greater implication of the creation of TDS is not its more public rift within the Seward Park community, but the more insidious statement and implications that it has on the “other” Orthodox community. For most of the TDS parents, MMSC was not given even a brief consideration, despite their continued successes as a school. With the hiring of principal Rabbi Charytan, the school has made tremendous gains despite great challenges, and most parents are very happy with the results. It has always prided itself in being open to all Jewish children from any background and certainly the families that make up the student body of MMSC reflect this belief. Its location is only a few minutes further than SHA from the Seward Park community, and for years MMSC provided a bus service for those families coming up from Seward Park. As for the school’s emphasis on Chassidic or Lubavitch teachings, while the school was founded under the direction of the Lubavitch Rebbe for whom it’s named, it has always been willing to structure its Judaic curriculum to meet the needs of its pupils. Unfortunately, no discussions on a possible non-Chassidic curriculum tract were ever broached because MMSC was never approached prior to the creation of TDS because, again, it was not even considered by most of these families.
This dismissal of the Lubavitch Orthodox school in Seattle is highlighted in the story of the Sha’arei Binah Girls High School. Ms. Krow does not even mention the fact that MMSC has maintained a very successful, if small, all-girl high school. Its graduates have gone on to many different schools of higher education, including seminaries and universities, and excelled in every one. Its biggest difficulty has been the small student body, but, despite this, members of the Seward Park community decided to start a brand new high school, rather than collaborate with the one already established. This slight was felt clearly and distinctly by the MMSC community and was not helped when members of the Sha’arei Binah school asked MMSC to suspend its high school and instead send its students to Sha’arei Binah when it was clear that the school was struggling financially. Today, despite the failure of Sha’arei Binah, MMSC still has a high school and it remains a viable option for parents in the Seattle area who do not wish to send their girls to another state but want a single-gendered Jewish school for their daughter.
The real debate in this issue is not whether the small pool of funds and families available to Orthodox schools is big enough to support both SHA and TDS, but rather can they support both MMSC and TDS? The presence of two very small, ultra-Orthodox day schools in Seattle ultimately limits the potential success of each one, to the detriment of its students. The MMSC has demonstrated a financial responsibility that is astounding given its limited resources. It has managed to both maintain high standards for its students as well as slowly decrease its debt. It has demonstrable success academically in both standardized tests as well as student progress. To ignore this school is a grievous mistake, and it is a shame that the families that created TDS did not first seek out to start a dialog with MMSC to see if a viable collaboration could be formed. Instead, the creation of TDS not only deepened a rift within the Seward Park community, it also undermined and seriously threatened MMSC as it actively courted many of the Seward Park families that had previously sent their kids to MMSC. Perhaps the real story lies in the unspoken bias against Chabad within the greater Orthodox community, which plays into this complete disregard for MMSC both by the TDS families as well as Ms. Krow.