Photo Credit: UJA
Moderator Chavie N. Khan, Director of School Strategy and Policy at UJA, is in the top left during a UJA-Federation of New York hosted panel on Zoom.

Last week, the UJA-Federation of New York (UJA) hosted a panel event to discuss ongoing challenges and the potential opportunities facing Jewish day schools during COVID. Three panelists spoke with a UJA moderator and 134 participants via Zoom. “Since the pandemic hit, UJA has awarded over 3 million dollars in scholarship funds…” said event host Arlene Kleinberg, UJA Westchester Campaign Chair, “and 2.1 million to safely reopen and operate nearly 50 New York day schools and yeshivot serving 35,000 students.”

“This is a school year like no other,” said moderator Chavie N. Khan, Director of School Strategy and Policy at UJA. She asked the panelists to discuss some of the successes the schools have experienced so far. “School feels like school,” said panelist Dr. Michael A. Kay, Head of The Leffell School in Hartsdale. “It doesn’t (just) feel like a public health experiment with some learning going on here and there.” Kay said that while all of his students and faculty maintain strict safety standards, such as wearing masks and standing six feet apart, “we were able to return their lives to some form of normalcy.”


When Khan asked the panel to discuss some of the challenges the schools are facing, panelists spoke with honesty. “In the beginning it was very inspiring and moving,” said panelist Dr. Rivka Press Schwartz, associate principal at SAR High School in Riverdale. “But that was then, and you know what? Now it just feels like a really long grind. We have to get a bunch of teachers [and families] to stay committed.”

“Educators are reinventing themselves,” said panelist Rabbi Joshua Lookstein of Westchester Day School in Mamaroneck. “Working so hard to keep it together and to sort of innovate but hoping this [period of uncertainty] doesn’t really last.”

Other topics discussed included the financial impact on school budgets, mental health care for students and staff, and parent and community engagement. Kay suggested in the end it comes down to the students. “We owe it to them to give every ounce of creativity that we have,” he said. “Part of being a great school is feeling a part of a great community. Even during the pandemic we’re finding ways to help human beings feel connected to one another.”


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Baruch Lytle is a Jewish Press staff writer.