The closing of six out of seven Gratz Jewish Community High School branches raises anew the question of how to Jewishly engage post-Bar and Bat Mitzvah teens.
News that the Gratz Jewish Community High School is closing down six of its seven branches will hit hard in some sectors of our community.
All that is slated to remain of the once-iconic Philadelphia institution is the Mandell campus program in Melrose Park, which Gratz officials hope will attract a critical mass of motivated students from throughout the region.
The development leaves many questions for synagogues, rabbis, educators, parents and, perhaps most importantly, the students who were committed enough to participate in the program in the first place.
A precipitous 60 percent decline in enrollment in the past eight years, has left the program “no longer financially sustainable” in its current form, according to Gratz College president Joy Goldstein.
This was, no doubt, a difficult decision for the Gratz College board. Without being privy to the numbers and the process which led to the decision, we cannot determine whether it was the right or wrong one.
What we can do is caution against hasty conclusions, and suggest that all parties with a stake in the outcome find a way to work together to pick up the pieces and to focus on the common goal of figuring out how best to reach our teenagers.
Indeed, how to Jewishly engage post-Bar and Bat Mitzvah teens is one of the greatest challenges facing the Jewish community. Nationally and locally, our institutions and philanthropists have invested significant time and resources in programs for younger children, college students and young adults.
But we’re still floundering with what is most effective for the teens who stand on the brink of independence but whose experiences in high school could help determine their Jewish choices as they go off to college and to work.
There is palpable anger at the Gratz branches that are being closed, in part for the abrupt and impersonal way they were notified and, more importantly, as one rabbi put it, because of the timing, which has left them scrambling to figure out what to do with their teenagers come September. It is important to remember that as more of our institutions make dramatic changes — be it out of innovation and/or necessity — the way these decisions are handled can be as critical as the outcomes they hope to produce.
For all its difficulties, the Gratz high school, with its branches at synagogues throughout the area, provided an important model of collaboration. We wish Gratz College luck as it tries to forge ahead with its new circumstances and use the change as an opportunity to create something new and meaningful.