50 Years and Counting: Perelman Day School to Celebrate a Milestone

Over the years, the Raymond and Ruth Perelman Jewish Day School has grown from a small basement school offering one or two grade levels to the current institution, which, on its two campuses, accommodates hundreds of students, ranging from kindergarten through eighth grade. During the course of those five decades, it held classes in nearly a dozen different locations around the Philadelphia area.

This year, the Solomon Schechter-affiliated school looks back on all these changes – and its future – as it celebrates its 50th anniversary.

"Fifty years gives us an edge and indicates success. You can't stay in business unless you are successful," said Jay Leberman, head of school. "Our kids are imbued with a sense of who they are, and they take that forward."

The school, one of the first in the country counted as part of the Conservative-aligned Solomon Schechter movement, held its first classes in 1956 in the basement of Har Zion Temple, then located in Wynnefield, and was known as the Solomon Schech-ter Day School of Philadelphia.

It moved often, from Har Zion to Main Line Reform Temple in Wynnewood, from the Kaiserman Branch of the JCC to the Bala School, where it was named the Stern Center, and finally came to rest at the former Sacred Heart School, also in Wynnewood.

Meanwhile, in the early 1970s, Rabbi Aaron Landes of Beth Sholom Congregation decided he would open his own Solomon Schechter school – to be called the Forman Hebrew Day School – which would share space with his synagogue's Hebrew school in Elkins Park.

At the same time, the original Schechter school also chose to open a branch in the city's northern suburbs. For 11 years, classes for Schechter's northern branch were held in four different synagogues and an elementary school. In 1985, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia bought the former Grey Nuns school property on Old York Road in Melrose Park to house the entity.

"With Federation as a catalyst, the northern branch merged with the Forman Hebrew Day School and moved onto the current Mandell Education Campus," said Susan Marks, Perelman's director of development. "The Western branch was also growing and looking for space."

Federation stepped in again in 1997, and gave the Stern Center a building on the Convent of the Sacred Heart campus – which had already been renamed the Robert Saligman campus – at Haverford and City Line avenues. The space, adjacent to the Kaiserman JCC, was once occupied by the Catholic school, but was in need of substantial refurbishing.

According to Marks, the educational institution raised close to $12 million for renovations of the Main Line building; some of the funds were used for the Forman Center in Melrose Park. The lead gift came from longtime local philanthropists Raymond and Ruth Perelman, and the school was renamed in their honor.

'Teach and Live Values'

About five years ago, Perelman opened a middle school on the Mandell Education Campus, which serves students from both the northern and western suburbs. It also started an additional branch, kindergarten through fifth grade, at Congregation Ohev Shalom in Richboro.

In March, as widely reported, the school decided to close the Bucks County branch. Some families have already decided to re-enter the Perelman system via other branches.

Today, Perelman educates 640 students, who divide their day into a schedule devoted to 60 percent general studies and 40 percent Judaic studies. Leberman noted that while the majority of the kids are Conservative Jews, the student body is socially and economically diverse.

"We teach and live Jewish values the whole day, not just during the Jewish classes," attested longtime teacher Lisa Richman. "It's very much like a family."

Perelman will kick off its 50th year with a day of field events on Wednesday, May 31, and will also try to gain entry into the 2007 Guinness Book of Records for the world's largest dance class.

"I think what we've shown is we can offer as much – if not more – than any other public or top private school in the greater Philadelphia area," stated Leberman. "We integrate traditional subjects with Bible and rabbinics, but it speaks to the kids and keeps them in touch – not just with their past, but how their past impacts their present and future."



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