Pittsburgh Jewish Day Schools – a consortium representing the Pennsylvania city’s Community Day School, Hillel Academy and the Chabad-Lubavitch run Yeshiva Schools – announced an unprecedented initiative to attract new students: Tuition for the first year’s on them.

According to the plan, each of the three schools will be providing free tuition for the next academic year to any child residing in Allegheny County that is entering grades 3 to 11 and is not currently enrolled in a Jewish school. The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, which has worked closely with all three schools over the past several years, is kicking in $1,000 per student from its Centennial Fund for a Jewish Future. (Tuition among the schools ranges between $4,675 and $14,000 per year, depending on grade level.)

While Hillel has offered free tuition to eligible students before, this marks the first time all three schools are joined together in a collective effort.

“What we wanted was to bring these three schools together and collaborate on specifically trying to promote the concept of Jewish education in a way that separately, individually, each school could not do on its own,” explained Federation chairman Zev Rudolph.

Rudolph worked in tandem with Chuck Perlow, chairman of the Pittsburgh Jewish Day School Council.

“One of the first ideas that we had together as a group was this whole concept where you throw out this really generous offer of free Jewish education if a student were to switch from another school,” continued Rudolph. “From the start, we knew that we weren’t going to judge the success of the program solely by the amount of children that come from other schools, but by the fact that the community, as a whole, is endorsing the schools in a very strong, very positive and trusting way.

“It’s an example of what can happen when you think outside the box, and it’s a huge accomplishment.”

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl recently vocalized his support of the city’s day schools, citing their religious and secular academic excellence and revering them as “important parts of the fabric that makes [the Pittsburgh] community unique.”

Students learn at Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh.
Students learn at Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh.

A School That Fits

Each of the three schools – they’re all located in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill section – offers a rigorous secular studies curriculum and represents different facets of Jewish culture. Yeshiva Schools focuses on providing students a deep understanding of Torah and its traditional study, whereas Hillel Academy stresses a love of Israel and the importance of social action. Community Day School employs a non-denominational approach.

“The specialty of the Pittsburgh community is that we work so well together,” said Yeshiva Schools dean Rabbi Yisroel Rosenfeld. “Together we are making a strong statement about the importance of Jewish education.”

For many families, the cost of a private education is too enormous a financial burden to shoulder, leaving them to believe that a Jewish education is out of reach. Not so, said Rosenfeld.

“All the schools are committed not to turn any child down,” he asserted, noting that even in the event free tuition cannot be offered after the student’s first year, scholarships will still be made widely available.

“Over 40 percent of our families qualify for financial aid,” added Avi Baran Munro, head of school at Community Day School. “As a school, we are very committed to having finances not be a barrier to their child receiving a Jewish education.”

Munro called the free tuition project a “second look” option for those who might not have considered it before. Many parents are unaware that a Jewish day school follows a curriculum on a par with the most prestigious secular private schools.

“We offer a program that is competitive with the best private schools in the area,” affirmed Munro. “We have a challenging academic program that together with the daily Hebrew and Judaic studies classes offers all the academic advantages while in a cultural and value-filled environment.”

For parents reluctant to enroll their children in a Jewish day school because of their own lack of Jewish knowledge, Rosenfeld offers them guidance and support.

“What we tell each parent is that there is a school that is right for you,” he said. “We encourage them to take a look at all three schools and then decide which one fits. We tell them that we’re not here to change them, but to educate and give them choices.”

Said Munro: “Investing in the idea of Jewish day school is one of the best gifts you can give to the Jewish world.”