“Heartbreaking.” In our coverage of Tehiyah Day School’s shutdown last week, that is the sentiment repeatedly expressed by parents, administrators and board members to describe their feelings.
The news is indeed heartbreaking.
As one of three East Bay Jewish day schools, Tehiyah has had an incalculable impact on the community, and its loss will not soon be forgotten.
Founded nearly 40 years ago, the El Cerrito school provided a first-class Jewish education to several generations of students. Some current Tehiyah parents were themselves students there once upon a time. With its progressive Zionist credo, it was a natural home and safe haven for the community.
Sadly, over time inexorable financial and demographic pressures — from declining enrollment to increased need for financial aid — squeezed the school to the breaking point. The board and the school’s donors made a valiant effort to save Tehiyah. Some of the ideas that were floated seemed drastic, notably selling the property and relocating the school elsewhere.
That didn’t happen, but it was a leading indicator of Tehiyah’s dire circumstances.
Alas, the school was unable to fix its financial problems. Were it to proceed with the 2018-2019 school year, the risk of running out of money midyear was too high, and thus the board made the decision to close. At that point, it was the responsible choice.
To their credit, other area Jewish day schools rushed in to help as best they could. Oakland Hebrew Day School, Brandeis Marin and Contra Costa Jewish Day School in Lafayette, the three schools closest to Tehiyah, have presented to parents their institutions as alternatives for Tehiyah kids, offering access to their shuttle vans and dedicated AC Transit buses to help with the commute. Many families have already applied to those schools, and the application process is being expedited.
Sadly, there are few options for Tehiyah’s staff and faculty, who now must find other jobs.
Whose fault is it? Fingers are being pointed in anger and in pain, and more will become known as time passes, but for now, the entire Jewish community must offer its love and support.
As the initial shock and sorrow wear off, we hope Tehiyah students, parents, faculty, administrators and alumni will focus less on the loss and more on the good that came out of the school’s 39 years of existence.
As Tehiyah’s longtime Rabbi Tsipi Gabai writes in her moving essay, the Tehiyah community members should keep their “heads held high [with] pride in our Jewishness, pride in our heritage, pride in our immense contribution to the community and pride in all we have achieved.”