Morning announcements at the Solomon Schechter School of Westchester generally tread predictable terrain: schedule changes, meeting times, athletic events. But one item exasperated some teens last school year.
At several upcoming social events—a coffeehouse, the Junior Ball—upper-school students would not be permitted to bring non-Jewish dates, it was announced.
Upon hearing the policy, Karla Bertrand, a Schechter student whose father was Catholic when her parents married and whose boyfriend at the time was not Jewish, headed to the principal’s office to beg the administration to reconsider the dictate.
Worse, she said, the decree might inadvertently prove racist.
“Most people can pass as Jewish,” said Bertrand, now 18, noting that school officials would be hard pressed to determine at the door who was Jewish. “If the school was going to investigate students they suspected brought non-Jewish dates, the only red flag would be if someone was another race.”
Carol Pankin, whose two teenaged sons attend Gann Academy, a community school in Waltham, Mass., where prom policy emerged as a hot-button issue this year, opposes interfaith dating, but said parents—not schools—should be the ones making decisions about dating and proms.
“If a 17-year-old is dating someone who isn’t Jewish, I feel it’s the parents’ responsibility,” she said. “They should be the ones saying, ‘We don’t want you to do this.’”
Ultimately, Gann’s board of directors issued a written prom policy that Rabbi Lehmann called “a very strong statement about the board’s commitment to Jewish continuity as part of the mission of the school and the future of the Jewish people.”
The policy affirmed the school’s goals to promote dating and marriage within the Jewish community, and asked students to “consider these goals when inviting dates to proms and dances.”
Jeffrey Jablansky, another Schechter student, rejected the notion that the school’s policy was “segregationist” or “exclusionist” in a newspaper editorial that ran opposite the Bertrand piece.
“Face the facts or abdicate from them: We are the next generation of Jews and we cannot afford a diluted Judaism in times of mixed marriages and anti-Semitic sentiment all over the world,” he wrote. “How will we, the next generation of Jewish adults, make decisions rooted in Jewish faith without the proper guidance during high school?”
One Schechter mother, who supports the school’s prom policy, said: “We want to encourage building a Jewish life throughout the life of the student.”