July 15, 2024
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July 15, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The first serious study of Jewish day schools in America was published by Professor Alvin Schiff, a”h, in 1966. He was a pioneer in this field. At that time day schools were first beginning to experience success and growth. The Avi Chai Foundation, which has made day school education the centerpiece of its philanthropic activity in North America, began to publish a census of Jewish day schools every five years starting in 1998. The first four studies were designed and conducted by the late Dr. Marvin Schick. The current survey was conducted by Rabbi Mordecai Besser, former principal of Manhattan Day School and now executive school consultant at Torah Umesorah.

The current fact-filled survey provides a picture of the major trends in the day school world. The information in this report was provided by 906 Jewish day schools, reflecting the participation of every known Jewish day school in the U.S. This report notes two leading challenges confronting day schools: the challenge of addressing the long-term trend of a decline in Jewish day school enrollment in some sections of the country, and the challenge of whether there will be sufficient communal resources to tackle the growing costs and declining affordability of a quality day school education.

There are many charts and statistics in this study. We will try to summarize the most salient results overall, and especially those that affect our immediate geographic area, i.e., New York and New Jersey. In the 2018-2019 school year, a total of 292,172 students were enrolled in Jewish elementary and secondary schools in the U.S. This represents an increase of 37,423 students (14.7%) in the five-year period since 2013-2014 and a 58.5% increase since 1998.

Over the 20-year span covered by these surveys, day school enrollment has grown by 107,839 students. This is an impressive rate of growth, yet the vast majority of it is attributable to increased enrollment in the chasidic and yeshivish schools, which currently comprise more than 65% of all day school enrollment. Other categories, such as community and Modern Orthodox, have experienced modest growth, while a number have shrunk, notably Solomon Schechter/Conservative and Reform day schools.

There are currently Jewish day schools in 37 states and the District of Columbia. Aside from New York and New Jersey, in most states with major cities with a significant Jewish population, the study found that enrollment has held up and has usually increased. This is true of California, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas.

A total of 26 states had enrollment increases in the past five years, although in several cases, the number of students was quite small to begin with. In six states, total enrollment is under 50, in two other states, enrollment is below 100. In 18 states, enrollment declined from the 1998-1999 survey.

New York and New Jersey have experienced spectacular growth in day school enrollment. Between 1998 and 2018, enrollment in New York day schools grew by more than 66,611, a 64.1% increase. In New Jersey, the number grew by 31,839, a 177.3% increase. Total enrollment in U.S. day schools has grown by almost 108,000 over the 20-year survey period, with nearly all of this growth attributable to New York and New Jersey. However, nearly all of the growth in these two states is attributable to increased enrollment in chasidic and yeshivish schools, although enrollment in New York City non-Orthodox schools has increased in every study. In addition, during the 20-year survey period, Modern Orthodox day school enrollment has increased 21.5% in the New York City and suburban New York City region.

Centrist and Modern Orthodox schools constitute 17% of the total day school population. Since 1998, this category has grown 5% despite experiencing a decrease of 14 schools (partially due to school mergers).

In raw numbers, New York and New Jersey had 220,313 day school students in 2018. The financial challenges facing these geographic communities and also the religious communities that sustain these institutions is enormous, and the challenge is made even greater by the necessity to create additional facilities to accommodate this significant growth. Nearly all of the additional enrollment is due to the sensational growth of yeshivas and day schools in Lakewood. This relatively small town is home to Beth Medrash Govoha, the largest advanced yeshiva in the world, with an enrollment of 7,000 students.

In raw numbers, New York and New Jersey had 220,313 day schoolers in 2018. The financial challenges facing these communities and also the religious communities that sustain these schools is enormous, and the challenge is made even greater by the necessity to create additional facilities to accommodate this growth.

In the 2018 school year, the Jewish elementary schools and high schools in Lakewood enrolled more students than all those enrolled in all of the Jewish day schools in Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan and Ohio combined. These are states with major cities and suburban areas that are home to large Jewish communities and a significant Orthodox Jewish presence.

What emerges from this report’s findings is that there are two enormous challenges confronting our most vital educational institutions. The first challenge is addressing the long-term trend of a decline in Jewish day school enrollment in large sections of the Jewish community. The second challenge is whether there will be sufficient communal resources to tackle the growing costs and declining affordability of quality day school education throughout the entire Jewish day school community, especially given the continuing growth in enrollment in the yeshivish and chasidic sectors.


Rabbi Dr. Wallace Greene has had a distinguished career as a Jewish day school educator.

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