The Altshuler Akiva Academy, our Jewish day school, began teaching students in kindergarten and first grade in 1985. In 1986, the school added grades two and three, and each subsequent year added one more grade, until the school was a full complement of grades kindergarten through six. Akiva was first housed on the second floor of the Jewish Community Center before moving into its current location in the late 1980’s. During the early days of Akiva, the maximum number of students attending totaled 130, with almost all of the children being Jewish. The curriculum has always, and still does, include 90 minutes daily of Hebrew/Judaic instruction.
Today, enrollment has grown to over 150 students with the addition of grades seven and eight several years ago. However, with the declining Jewish population regionally, the great majority of our children are not Jewish. The recently completed 2020/21 school year included 20 Jewish children and 134 children from non-Jewish households. So, you might ask, why do we still have a Jewish Day School? There are many reasons why we do, including Federation’s commitment to formal and informal Jewish education, however, I will leave this for a future column. But one fact is undeniable: national studies clearly point to the fact that a day school education has the greatest impact on building Jewish identity. For the Jewish families in our community who send their children to Akiva, a Jewish Day School education is a priority!
Speech and Debate team members earned awards this year
Most non-Orthodox Jewish Day Schools admit non-Jewish students today. At Akiva, once enrolled, non-Jewish students are part of the “family.” There is no special treatment and all students receive Hebrew/Judaic instruction for 90 minutes each day. More important than having their children learn Hebrew, the parents of non-Jewish students send their kids to Akiva for the moral and values-based education. Against a backdrop of increasing antisemitism, with record numbers of hate crimes reported over the last few years, Akiva is proud of its diversity and message of tolerance. The education and ethical foundations of Jewish culture are attractive to diverse families, and there are non-Jewish students for whom this is a good fit. If you teach non-Jewish children about the Jewish faith, Jewish values, and Israel, they are likely to have a positive attitude later in life. At Akiva, among the non-Jews are Christians, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and children of no faith. Our teachers, administrators, and other staff are equally diverse.
Visiting the Maltz Museum
As this most recent school year ended, I attended the National Junior High Honor Society Induction and graduation of 11 students who are moving on to high school. I heard countless stories from students and parents and want to share a few comments. One parent said “I love the Jewish content, and every child is learning about humanity and core values. And at the end of the day, what I hear my daughter talking about is G-d. When it comes down to it, she is learning about being a wonderful human being.” Another parent said that “Judaism is rich in culture and values and what I want for my kids is a value-based education which is built into everything at Akiva.” Families like the spiritual nature of faith-based schools, even if it’s not their own faith.
Jewish Day Schools around the country, like Akiva, have opened their doors to non-Jews for many different reasons, including declining enrollment, as well as a desire to share Jewish learning with the community at-large. At Akiva, I could not be more proud of our teachers, administrators, and other staff who bent over backwards to help our children learn since the onset of COVID-19 in March 2020, including some students who studied remotely the entire time. Parents stated that Akiva goes beyond what is required to help the students, and how wonderful it is that there is a strong partnership between their home and the school.
Our graduates state that many of their fondest memories of Akiva are Jewish holiday celebrations. Some parents in fact have remarked about discovering their own Jewish ancestry through their children being at Akiva.
I am pleased to see Akiva reaching out to social service agencies in the community, as well as Federation agencies, to give our students additional experiences outside the classroom. If you or someone you know may be interested in attending Akiva, please contact our principal Kathy Mioni at email@example.com.
Working with Jewish Family Services to collect pajamas for children in foster care
Best wishes for a safe and wonderful summer.
Youngstown Area Jewish Federation CEO