November 2020 -- Cheshvan-Kislev 5781,  Volume 26, Issue 11

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UJA Presents Panel Discussion, Day Schools: Challenges and Opportunities in Age of COVID

By Stephen E. Lipken


UJA Federation New York presented a Panel Discussion, “Day Schools: Challenges and Opportunities in the Age of COVID” on Wednesday, November 11th with Leffell School Head Dr. Michael A. Kay; Westchester Day School Head Rabbi Joshua Lookstein and SAR High School Associate Principal, General Studies Dr. Rivka Press Schwartz, moderated by UJA’s Chavie N. Kahn.


“Earlier in the pandemic, recognizing the financial strain on families suffering job loss or business reversals, UJA created a new $2 million COVID scholarship fund to supplement the $1 million UJA already distributes for day school tuition assistance. Then in late August, as day schools prepared to open for in-person learning, they faced unbudgeted expenses related to health and safety guidelines.  To offset these costs, UJA allocated an additional $2.1 million to 47 Jewish day schools, serving 34,000 students,” according to UJA Federation of New York Communications Executive Shari Harel.


Kahn asked Kay, “What are the successes that you have experienced so far as the COVID pandemic unfolds?”  “There are three general areas,” Kay replied.  “The first, is that school feels like school despite constructing new walls and using hand sanitizers.  Second, ‘Hakarat HaTov,’ ‘recognizing the good.’ People have tremendous ability to inspire one another.  Finally, a real bell weather is people expressing interest in Jewish education that was not there before.”


“While we are not taking away 100 people to a hotel for a ‘Shabbaton,’ there is still creativity and ingenuity with psychologists supporting emotional health to engage, play and have meaningful religious experiences even as we stay 6 feet apart with our masks and hand sanitizers,” Schwartz said.


Lookstein humorously observed that despite the pandemic, Second Graders are thriving, asking for more recess and “Phys Ed.”