Here is a topic that I will try not to offend people when discussing, but I am wondering -where are the Jews at our school? ( full disclosure if you haven’t already guessed, we are Jewish).  Our school catchment area encompasses Pico-Robertson and Carthay Center and South Carthay Center neighborhoods as well as ours a little further east. From living in L.A. for 15 years now, I know that there are a lot of Jewish people living in these neighborhoods. You don’t have to read demographic statistics on these neighborhoods to know it. Just drive around – Kosher restauarants, bakeries and markets can be found up and down Pico Blvd.  See all the Jewish people of various sects and observance levels walking around on Friday evenings and Saturdays, the palm leaf-covered wooden huts that go up in October, and the dearth of Christmas-lit homes during the L.A. “winter.”  It wasn’t like that in the city I grew up in Orange County, where you wouldn’t expect there to be many Jewish kids at the local school.  But why has my 8-year-old often been the only Jewish kid in her class at our school?

Where are the other Jewish kids that I know live among us? A good chunk of them go to private Jewish schools sometimes called ” day schools” and there are plenty of choices for those as well to fit your family’s religious observance level or ideal from Reform to Black-hat Orthodox and everything in between. We can’t compete with ultra-Orthodox schools. They want their children to be immersed in Jewishness all day long and probably don’t feel the need to have their children mix it up with children not like themselves.   But what about the children from the more progressive, less strictly observant, or purely cultural Jewish homes (we could discuss culture vs. religion for a week without coming up with real answers about Jewishness, so I kind of throw these terms around lightly here)?  There are the Israeli families fresh off the plane that want their children to keep up their Hebrew. I totally get that.  And the Jewish families who want their children to have Hebrew immersion for the sake of their children’s brain development because children soak up foreign language when they are young, and it might as well be Hebrew. I get that too!  Then there are the families whose parents are not that knowledgeable for one reason or another about the religion, yet they want to give this legacy to their children so providing them with a full-time Jewish education is their way. Also nice and understandable.  There are the families who can afford private school and if that is the case, might as well send them to Jewish school, especially if there is one so close.  I guess I get that too.  But, there have to be other Jewish families that live in our neighborhood, kind of like ours, who may belong to a synagogue or celebrate the major holidays or at least feel culturally Jewish and are public school people either because they can’t afford private school, like the idea of public school or were not satisfied with something at the private Jewish school for some reason.  Where are those kids?   Many of the ones we know are at Canfield. From what I hear about Canfield, the classroom population is 50-70% Jewish (I have no real statistics, this is just by word of mouth).  The potlucks always boast a kosher table and allegedly kosher meals are available from the cafeteria (is this a myth??).  Some people are honest and say this is the reason why; they want their children to have Jewish friends in their class.  As someone who grew up in very un-Jewish Orange County, I get that. I do.

But, maybe it is not because it is so heavily Jewish that it is attractive to people, but just that it has a better reputation.  “We made the right choice for us,” says a mom of a our 5-year-old’s preschool friend when explaining why they took the opportunity to enroll their daughter at this school when offered a last minute permit instead of at ours, which was merely their “back up school.”  Their school is ranked higher by scores that are public on greatschools.org.  I saw it listed in a handbook for parents on how to get your kids into good schools in L.A. ( a handbook that doesn’t mention our school, by the way).  Besides the families we know who are lucky enough to be in this school’s catchment area, many of our friends apply for permits to send their kids to this school that is not far away in L.A. standards (about 2 miles), but to me seems far away from them when our school is around the corner or even across the street.  I try not to take it personally, but it does sometimes feel like a slap in the face.  And they are not just the Jewish kids that we know that are permitting into this school instead of going to ours.  An African-American mother I just ran into and recognized from our preschool who lives in our school zone permitted her son into Canfield. She just wanted a more diverse school, she said. “Wow!”  I answered, and dared to ask, “what does that word mean to you, because I thought that was a euphemism for “too Black!!”  “Oh no,” she said, I thought your school was more heavily Latino than Black.”  I think she is wrong about that, and wondered what would be wrong with that anyway, but didn’t push it as I was merely interested in her perceptions.   I continued the conversation – “does your school feel more diverse to you even though it is so heavily Jewish?” ” Yes, I guess it does.”  This was food for thought. I can’t lump all of these parents together that chose not to send their kids to our school even though it is their home school. Some may do it for cultural reasons (they feel comfortable with the high Jewish concentration, without having to isolate their kids in an expensive private Jewish school), some do it for purely academic aspirations (they think the school must be better at educating kids if their standardized test scores are higher), and some do it to have their child in a more “diverse” environment, even though this term seems to be in the eye of the beholder…

Advertisements