Jewish day schools get boost from S.F. endowment fund

The Jewish Community Endowment Fund is coming to the aid of local families unable to pay day school tuition during the economic downtown. The fund, part of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, last month allocated $50,000 to the Jewish Day School Scholarship Fund, which provides needed aid to families whose children are enrolled in eight local schools.

The scholarship allocation is part of a bigger package of JCEF aid. Among other grants, $70,000 went to Jewish Family and Children’s Services for emergency financial assistance for individuals and families, and $75,000 to Jewish Vocational Service to hire an additional full-time employment specialist.

As the economy continues to spiral downward, and the effects are felt in the Bay Area, families who have never before asked for help are coming forward to request scholarships for local day schools. Among them are parents “who had lost their jobs or feared their jobs would be cut,” explained Judy Bloom, director of imprint giving at the S.F.-based federation.

At each school “we called a meeting of the committee of the Jewish Day School Scholarship Fund and decided we would make emergency scholarships [available] … to help people affected by the current economic climate who were in danger of pulling kids out of day schools,” Bloom said.

Bloom noted that the schools are required to devote at least 10 percent of their total expense budgets to scholarships. After that, schools may submit to the scholarship fund applications for families that have already received scholarships but may still need help.

The JCEF’s $50,000 grant will help replenish the scholarship fund at South Peninsula Hebrew Day School, Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Day School, both campuses of Brandeis Hillel Day School, Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School, Lisa Kempner Hebrew Academy, Kehillah Jewish High School and the Jewish Community High School of the Bay.

Now in its fifth year, that fund began as a $250,000 challenge grant originally endowed by Laura Lauder, a local Jewish community activist and philanthropist. It grew to nearly $600,000 at its peak, but is now being taxed as never before.

Bloom noted that the fund donated $234,000 to local Jewish day schools in the last couple of years, helping dozens of students maintain enrollment. “That was the most we’d ever given,” she said, “but we assumed the fund would keep growing. Instead, all funds in the pool have lost money and we haven’t gotten the donations.”

Meanwhile, Bloom will keep track of day school funding in hopes of averting a bigger crisis down the road.

“We’re doing this to help the families, and because we have new day schools,” Bloom said. “A lot are not yet at full enrollment, and their financial situation is very precarious. If we have many children drop out we could lose a school.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is J.'s news editor. He can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.