Alvin Schrage knows what it means to shlep. Every weekday he gathers his three children into his Plymouth Voyager and makes the commute from their Agoura home to Emek Hebrew Academy in Sherman Oaks.
"That's my nonpaying second job," jokes Schrage, who returns from his commute to his home office and then does the whole trek again when the kids finish school.
He joined a carpool of several other Conejo Valley families but still laments, "It takes away the entire day. And if you have a child who gets sick or injured while at school, it's a problem."
Schrage knew there had to be a change. Together with other local parents, he now serves on the board of directors of the new Conejo Jewish Day School. Slated to open in September, the school will serve children in grades K-3 with a combination of secular studies, Hebrew language arts and Torah studies. The school will be held on the site used by Camp Kinneret, a former Jewish camp in Agoura now owned by Gateway Church. According to administrators, the plan is to keep class size to 10 students, with one class per grade, depending on demand; already 23 children have enrolled for the 2001-2002 academic year.
Although associated with Chabad of the Conejo, Rabbi Menachem Weiss, the school's principal, makes it clear the new school is not "a Chabad school." He points out that the school's advisory board includes a wide variety of community leaders, such as Rabbi Yaacov Vann of the Calabasas Shul; Risa Munitz Gruberger, associate director of the Whizin Institute for Jewish Family Life at the University of Judaism; and famed radio talk show host Dennis Prager.
"There are approximately 50 children from Calabasas and Agoura who commute at least 40 minutes to school. So that spurred [the board] on, coupled with the desire to create a school sensitive to the needs of families here," Weiss said.
"We want to strike a balance that on the one hand stays true to a very rigorous Torah education and at the same time serves families who want their children to get that kind of education without being made to feel 'less than' because their families are not observant," Weiss said. "We want to be welcoming and accepting of families that are not necessarily Orthodox."
To that end, Weiss is planning an adult-education series to run in tandem with the children's program.
"Once or twice a month we will offer a class in the evening that will be on topics the children are also learning in school, so we can all learn together," he said. "We really see the parents as partners in the education of their children, not just bystanders."
Prager said he was pleased to be involved with setting up the school and hopes it will attract local Jewish families who are currently sending their children to public schools.
"Today many of us parents are at war with the surrounding environment, in trying to instill good values in our children and to protect their innocence," he said. "I have spoken to hundreds of thousands of Jews in the course of 30 years in Jewish life. Not one has ever said to me that he or she regretted having a Jewish education. On the other hand, I have encountered innumerable Jews who deeply regret not having had one."
Schrage and other board members hold a similar view.
While all of Schrage's children are past the age of enrollment, he believes that establishing the school is an essential next step in the Conejo Jewish community's development.
"I firmly believe that in order for this community to survive, we need a day school," Schrage said. "Because after the day school comes the pizzeria and the kosher restaurants and so on.... Everything else will flow beautifully after this."
The Conejo Jewish Day School will hold an open house on Sunday, April 29, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call (818) 879-8255.