A National Model

Hershorin Schiff Community Day is the future of Jewish education and day schools. It breaks down walls and encourages tolerance and inclusivity and the Jewish spirit ... I am confident this will be a model for others around the country.

Rabbi Meir Azari , The Daniel Centers for Progressive Judaism

In our first four years of existence, Community Day has garnered international acclaim for its unique approach to Jewish education and has become one of the fastest-growing Jewish day schools in the United States. We are proud to have been approached by foundations and civic leaders in Seattle, Dayton and Tampa/St.Pete to serve as a national model for revitalizing communities through Jewish education.

A Unique Jewish Day School

What makes Hershorin Schiff Community Day School a Jewish day school?

Hershorin Schiff Community Day School is a Jewish day school that showcases inclusivity in action. Enrolled at Community Day School are students of all religions (at least 10 religions have been self-identified by our families), all races and ethnicities, families of all nationalities (more than 35 countries are represented in our student body), students with diverse abilities, families who are LGBT, and families from all socioeconomic backgrounds. The student body is majority Jewish, with approximately 75 percent of those children’s families unaffiliated with a synagogue.

Those who worry that we may be taking an unconventional path for a Jewish school might be surprised to learn that day schools in numerous communities with smaller Jewish populations and fewer gateways to Jewish affiliation - like Sarasota - are making the move to pluralistic student bodies. Our hope is that Community Day School can serve as a gateway to Jewish connections and be a touchpoint for unaffiliated families to connect with Judaism.

Is there a strong Judaics curriculum at Community Day School?

Led by a Board of Trustees that requires Rabbinical representation, Jewish values are woven through every aspect of the school's program and curriculum. From writing exercises and work in the organic garden and outdoor classroom to an interactive history presentation or a playwriting exercise, teachers weave the Jewish values of limud (academic excellence), tzedek (integrity) and tikkun olam (a desire to improve the world) through every aspect of the Community Day program.

With regard to formal religious instruction, Community Day is committed to providing all students with an understanding and appreciation of all religions while respecting religious and cultural diversity. Beginning in preschool, all students receive classes throughout the week in both Hebrew and Cultural Jewish Studies. In upper elementary students may elect either Intensive Jewish Studies or Comparative Religion. Intensive Jewish Studies provides an in-depth study of Judaism with a focus on the diversity that exists within our Jewish community. Comparative World Religion investigates common themes in major religions of the world through holidays, traditions, life cycles, as well various religious texts and philosophies. This class is team-taught by Jewish Studies educators to ensure that every topic is approached from an informed Jewish perspective as well as an alternative religious perspective with a focus on universal commonality.

New in the 2019-2020 school year, Community Day will debut a pilot program of a new offering, the Torah Academy. This program - from a concept created by head of school Dan Ceaser and Chabad of Sarasota's Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz - will offer a special track within the school that includes core curriculum classes in the morning and intensive Torah study, daily prayer, and lessons that will address Jewish holidays, Hebrew reading and writing, and the study of history for periods encompassing earliest Jewish record through the Spanish Inquisition, the Holocaust and Jews in America today. The Torah Academy will debut as a pilot program for grades 1-4 its first year and grow in future years. The Torah Academy is just one more way that we are working to meet Jewish families of all levels of observance where they are: from cultural Judaism through highly observant.

Does non-Jewish diversity detract from the Jewishness of the school?

The short and emphatic answer to this question is "no." At Community Day, ongoing emphasis is placed on being part of a community (kehillah), finding connections between generations (l’dor vador), strengthening ties to Israel (klal Yisrael), enjoying a love of learning (simchat limmudim), caring for our earth (shmirat ha-adamah), acting justly (tzedek), positively impacting our world (tikkun olam) and promoting peace (shalom). It is these as well as many other Jewish teachings that are at the heart of everything we do.

Every student participates in Shabbat services every Friday. We introduce all of our children to the idea of tzedakah, reflect on weekly Torah lessons and share in the Jewish rituals that surround Shabbat. As a component of our Tikkun Olam curriculum, all classes participate in age-appropriate community service projects, including food drives, community clean-up efforts, and mitzvah projects for area social service organizations. Every student learns about and participates in the celebration of Jewish holidays throughout the school year. Students learn about seminal events throughout Jewish history. Families are taught to respect Jewish dietary guidelines and follow them while on school grounds. Our students learn to better understand the Holocaust through the Community Remember Me Holocaust Organic Fruit Tree Orchard. Students select children from the database of Lost Children and plant trees in their honor; this activity is in partnership with Temple Beth Sholom and Yad Vashem. Rabbis throughout the community are engaged and consulted on numerous matters relevant to our school, curriculum and associated programs.

Why is pluralism so critical to the school's mission?

Commitment to diversity is core to our philosophy and the benefits of a diverse student population are many. We believe one of the most effective strategies to foster a greater compassion for Jewish lives, in our country and around the globe, is to establish educational opportunities that bring Jewish and non-Jewish people together – starting at a young age – in order to build bridges of mutual understanding and respect. By welcoming and exposing others to our Jewish heritage, we can create lifelong friendships that cross cultural and religious boundaries.

One of our namesake patrons, Herbert Schiff, was a lifelong Jewish philanthropist and respected community leader who believed that exposing other faiths to Judaism – especially while they were young – demystified our religion and discouraged the spread of anti-Semitism.

Those who think that opening our doors to non-Jews is an unconventional path for a Jewish day school might be surprised to learn that the concept has moved into the mainstream. While Jewish values guide all that we do at Community Day, our student population is comprised of students who are Jewish, non-Jewish and mixed faith. By operating as a Jewish community day school that welcomes Jews of all levels of observance and affiliation as well as non-Jews of all faiths and cultures, we get to expose non-Jewish students to our beautiful heritage and traditions. Inspired by a curriculum that promotes social justice and embraces diversity, our graduates will become leaders in combating intolerance and anti-Semitism in high school, college and beyond.

Additionally, by fostering an appreciation for those who are different from themselves, Community Day works to create global citizens who can work cooperatively and who have empathy for and an understanding of people who may be very different from themselves. This will be crucial for achieving success in the global workplace of tomorrow.

Is Hebrew taught at Community Day School?

Yes! Every child is taught Hebrew (and Spanish) beginning in preschool. Students learn to communicate in Hebrew according to their ability, developing skills in reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Performances in Hebrew, skits, games, engaging literature and newspapers engage our students in the Hebrew language. By upper-elementary, students elect intensive language study in either Hebrew, Spanish or both on a daily proficiency track of study. Students ultimately have the option of applying their conversational Hebrew skills in Israel as part of our subsidized student exchange week with our sister school in Tel Mond, Israel.

What is the relationship of Community Day School to Israel?

As a Jewish day school, we want our students of all faiths to understand and appreciate the rich history and beautiful culture of Israel. Through travel and technology, students, their families, and the community at large are benefiting from the educational and cultural opportunities afforded through the international interaction.

Two years ago, Community Day School hosted 15 Israeli students from Sarasota's Sister City of Tel Mond, preceded by months of interaction through Google Classroom. Last year, Community Day middle schoolers traveled to Tel Mond as well as visited renowned historical and cultural locations. We are also working toward becoming a “sister school” with a school in Tel Mond, Israel, so that our students and their families can develop a greater understanding of the lives and challenges of Israel and her people.

Last year, the school's seventh and eighth graders participated in the World ORT Kadima Mada Global Collaborative Problem-Solving program, through which they worked asynchronously with students from Israel to solve a real-world sustainability problem.

In Israel, the Hand in Hand schools are working to build a shared society, “one school, one community at a time.” Hand in Hand operates integrated schools and communities in five locations, with Jewish and Arab staff members working together, 1,100 Jewish and Arab students living and learning together, and more than 3,000 total community members. The purpose is to enable Jews and Arabs to break the cycle of negative stereotypes and learn to relate to one another with mutual understanding and respect. We are proud to be a program partner of Hand in Hand, so that our families can benefit from the interfaith model the organization has developed.

Thanks to grants from The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee, Community Day enjoyed the presence of Young Schlichim from the Jewish Agency for Israel. Oded Israely served in the role two years ago; last year, Maor Ben-Arie offered a contemporary Israeli perspective on numerous subject areas, in addition to performing significant community outreach.

Finally, with the support of the Israeli American Council, we have hosted numerous holiday programs for Israeli-Americans at the school. We have been pleased to offer a safe, Jewish space for Israeli Americans to stay connected to their homeland and each other.

Will the school serve as a model for other Jewish communities?

Absolutely! Community Day School holds weekly tours and monthly Lunch & Learns where we share the intricacies of our model and explore the factors that have attributed to our growth and student success. In addition, our leadership has accepted invitations to present at national conferences and we are exploring grant opportunities to serve as a training site for Leadership Fellows from across the country.

For more information, please contact Dan Ceaser, Head of School