February 28, 2008
L.A.‘s Jewish high schools are all over the map
(Page 3 - Previous Page)In the last five years, both the girls and boys campuses have been rebuilt.
Glass, who studied in yeshiva and at Harvard, says he is working to further strengthen both the secular and Judaic academic programs, while creating an atmosphere of holiness of time, place, and people -- a triad he brings up regularly when he interacts with the boys and rabbis.
He is also making some subtle changes, such as sanctioning participation in coed youth groups and helping the rabbis appreciate the world the boys live in.
Alan Gindi, president of the girls school, said negotiations are in the final stages with a new principal, who looks forward to building an educational and philosophical vision together with Glass.
Gindi says the new principal, whose name has not yet been publicized, will continue to implement cutting-edge educational opportunities for the girls, building on the strong school spirit fostered by Rabbi Yosef Furman, who is leaving this year.
On the right edge of the centrist Orthodox spectrum, Valley Torah High School attracts a Modern Orthodox community with its college-prep curriculum, but does not define itself as "modern," according to principal Rabbi Avrohom Sutlburger.
The school opened in 1986 with 20 boys and is now up to 170 boys, and 85 girls study on a separate campus. The boys school has already outgrown the Valley Village campus it built six years ago and there are plans for another expansion.
About 40 percent of the students come from the city, attracted by the intimacy of the school and the care teachers and administrators give to the entire student, Stulberger says.
"We see our objective and mission much beyond being a college preparatory high school," Stulberger said. "It's much more about calling the kids to get inspired to a lifelong commitment to Torah."
Even in the most conservative portion of the Orthodox community, new schools have increased competition by filling in the spaces -- religious, academic, social -- between well-established schools.
Three new schools broke long-held barriers by setting up strictly Orthodox, college-prep curricula that have pulled students from both ultra-Orthodox and centrist Orthodox middle schools.
Seven years ago, Stulberger created another branch of Valley Torah, Ner Aryeh, to serve families who wanted their boys to be able to become lawyers or businessmen but also wanted a serious yeshiva atmosphere.
Schools that call themselves "yeshivish," black hat or ultra-Orthodox are distinguished by the longer hours spent on Judaic studies, usually including regular late-night study, and the mandated dress code of jackets and black hats for boys and long sleeves, long skirts and stockings for girls. Schools are open on American holidays and are generally not Zionist. Behavior in and out of school is strictly regulated -- no mingling with the opposite sex is sanctioned, even after school.
For a time, students looking for that atmosphere had to sacrifice a college-prep course.
Rabbi Shalom Tendler, former head of YULA, founded Mesivta Birkas Yitzchok in 2006 with 12 boys in the ninth grade. This year, he has 31 in the ninth and 10th grade and already has more than 15 applications for next year. In a small rented building on Pico and Crescent Heights boulevards, the boys spend long hours on Talmud study in addition to four hours a day on secular subjects.
"We have succeeded in creating an atmosphere of happiness and joy in the school without compromising a strong structure and a sense of discipline," Tendler said.
A similar philosophy governs Bnos Devorah, which opened in a Beverly Boulevard synagogue this year with nine girls. Head of school and founder Shulamith May says the school is meeting its goal of providing a warm environment, college-prep secular classes, serious Torah study and an emphasis on character development.
The atmosphere is slightly different at Bais Yaakov School for Girls, which has been the main girls high school serving the ultra-Orthodox for the past 41 years. There, while secular studies are strong, graduates are encouraged to consult with a rabbi to determine if college is an appropriate choice following post-high school seminary in Israel or New York. Behavior outside of school is strictly monitored, from what girls wear to whom they hang out with.
The school puts a premium on chesed, charitable deeds. High-spirited warmth is central to the culture of the school.
Over the past few years, Bais Yaakov has been on a steady trajectory of growth, from 220 girls eight years ago to 300 today, during which time the school moved from its small building on La Brea into the large building on Beverly Boulevard that used to house Yavneh Hebrew Academy.
Families who send their daughters to Bais Yaakov are most likely to send their sons to Yeshiva Gedolah, which has about 100 boys. That school is currently expanding its campus on Olympic Boulevard and Cochran Avenue to include a parking garage, dining room, science lab and classrooms to accommodate a new post-high school program.
The hours are long for the boys -- Sunday through Wednesday, 7:30 a.m. to 9:15 p.m., with an hour off for dinner. Thursday they're at school until 10:15 p.m., and they get out early on Friday to prepare for Shabbat.
Yeshiva Gedolah has grown over the last few years, mainly because as the school improved, parents opted not to send their boys away to yeshivas in Denver, Chicago or on the East Coast.