Beyond the walls of their synagogues, Jewish adults are creating religious meaning in new and diverse ways in a range of unconventional sites. In Back to School, authors Alex Pomson and Randal F. Schnoor argue that the Jewish day school serves as one such site by bringing adults and children together for education, meeting, study, and worship-like ceremonies. Pomson and Schnoor suggest that day school functions as a locus of Jewish identity akin to the Jewish streets or neighborhoods that existed in many major North American cities in the first half of the twentieth century.
Back to School began as an ethnographic study of the Paul Penna Downtown Jewish Day School (DJDS) in Toronto, a private, religiously pluralistic day school that balances its Jewish curriculum with general studies. Drawing on a longitudinal study at DJDS, and against the backdrop of a comparative study of two other Toronto day schools as well as four day schools from the U.S. Midwest, Pomson and Schnoor argue that when parents choose Jewish schools for their children they look for institutions that satisfy not only their children's academic and emotional needs but also their own social and personal concerns as Jewish adults. The authors found an uncommon degree of involvement and engagement on the part of the parents, as genuine friendships and camaraderie blossomed between parents, faculty, and administrators. In addition, the authors discovered that parents who considered themselves secular Jews were introduced to or reacquainted with the depth and meaning of Jewish tradition and rituals through observing or taking part in school activities.
Sitting on the cusp between the disciplines of education and the sociology of contemporary Jewish life, Back to School offers important policy implications for how Jewish day schools might begin to re-imagine their relationships with parents. Jewish parents, Jewish studies scholars, as well as researchers of educational and social trends will enjoy this evocative volume.