Wednesday, July 17, 2013

He'atid High Coming to Town

Below is an email sent out today by Gershon Distenfeld:

You are receiving this e-mail because you have a child entering 7th grade at a Yeshiva Day School in Bergen County. As we cobbled together e-mail addresses from various sources which are certainly incomplete, please forward this to others who may be interested.

Allow us to introduce ourselves. My name is Gershon Distenfeld and for the past several years, I have been heavily involved in efforts to make Yeshiva education better and more affordable. I have previously served on the executive board of the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey and am currently the chairman of the board of Yeshivat He’Atid.

Jeff Kiderman is the executive director of the Affordable Jewish Education Project (AJE), a 501c(3) organization that was started in 2011 by a group of community leaders and philanthropists to find and implement innovative and sustainable initiatives to ensure that a high-quality, affordable Jewish day school education is available to every child. You can learn more about AJE at

Jeff and I have been working together on a number of initiatives over the past couple of years but we have yet to tackle the overwhelming issues with Yeshiva High Schools from an affordability and an educational perspective.

It is well known that a Yeshiva High School education will cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $100k for 4 years in after-tax dollars. We simply need more affordable options.

At the same time, the world has changed over the past couple of decades in dramatic ways and our children are not learning many of the skills they will need to be successful in the 21st century. And on the Judaic side, too many kids graduate High School uninspired as a one size fits all curriculum just isn’t appealing to many of our youth. Simply put, we are failing to inspire a love of Yiddishkeit in the overwhelming majority of our children.

No doubt some of you reading this are happy with both the price and quality of the current crop of Yeshiva High Schools. You can stop reading this now and we wish you only hatzlacha sending your child to one of the many excellent Yeshiva High Schools in our community using traditional teaching methods.

For those willing to entertain a completely redesigned Yeshiva High School (with the added benefit of being a fraction of the price), please read on.

AJE has just completed a survey of over 600 high school children, the summary of which can be downloaded here -

General Conclusions were:

1. Students are different and want different things

2. Students are interested in learning, but they want to have a say in what they learn

3. Students want to learn actively (projects, discussions, etc.) rather than passively (lectures, textbooks, etc.)

4. Students hate tests and think they are useless

5. Students want to learn collaboratively in small groups

Is it any wonder that many of our children don’t have positive feelings towards Yeshiva High School? Should it surprise us that so many of our children can go through 12+ years of Yeshiva day school education and have little or no passion for their Yiddishkeit? Are we preparing our children for a 21st century economy where mere knowledge has been commoditized and collaboration, critical thinking, and communication skills (among others) will determine their success in life?

We could go on and on. We don’t just need to tweak the way we go about Jewish high school education – we need an overhaul. We need a program that is much more flexible, is much more student centered, gives our children the new skills that they will need to succeed in life, and fosters a love of Yiddishkeit.

These programs already exist in the secular world and have been very successful. But we believe that the opportunity to do better is even greater on the Judaic side.

We would like to start a new high school in September 2015 that will not only provide an innovative and outstanding Yeshiva education in an affordable manner, but will change the face of Jewish education and be a model to be copied throughout the country (and beyond).

We are extremely confident that a superior and more cost effective high school program can be created. Since discussing this broad idea with numerous educators both inside and outside of the community, we have been inundated with requests from professional educators to work on and/or lead this project.

But we also know that parents have opinions on what is important to them in a high school - religiously, academically, and socially. We would like to take those views into account when designing this high school, as well as the opinions of high school students themselves. We also want to gauge how much demand there would be for such a school, because something like this cannot happen unless parents like yourselves will actually be willing to consider signing up your children.
To that end, we will be hosting several focus groups over the next few weeks so that we can get a good gauge of the types of issues parents are concerned about.
Please go to to indicate your availability to attend one of these meetings. We will then reach out to you to confirm your participation in one of them. If you are not interested in attending any of these meetings, you can still sign-up to receive future updates on this initiative.

To answer one question (among many) that you probably have: At this point we are open to designing programs for just boys, just girls or co-ed and would be happy to start more than one or even all three. All will be based on the demand.

We are really excited about the opportunity to reimagine Jewish high school for the 21st century. A broad range of perspectives is critical to designing the best possible program. We look forward to hearing from you and partnering with you as we move forward on this groundbreaking endeavor.

Gershon Distenfeld
Jeff Kiderman