Closing of American Hebrew Academy marks end of Jewish boarding school experiment

Religion News Service | 6/13/2019 | Staff
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(RNS) — News that the American Jewish Academy was closing sent shock waves through the nation’s Jewish community this week. Not only did the decision send students and teachers scrambling for alternatives, but it signaled the end as well of the country’s experiment with Jewish boarding schools.

The terse message from the school’s CEO and board chair landed in email boxes at 10:50 a.m. on Tuesday (June 11), with the subject line “End of the Academy Era.”

Email - School - End

According to the email, the school’s end was effective immediately.

“Due to insufficient growth in enrollment and our inability to secure adequate funding to cover future school expenses, the American Hebrew Academy is regretfully announcing that classes for the 2019-2020 academic year have been canceled,” the email read.

History - School - Verdant - Campus - Greensboro

But in its 18-year history, the school, located on a verdant, 100-acre campus in Greensboro, N.C., was always an outlier.

“They were a unique institution in that they were trying to have a Jewish day school model combined with a boarding school,” said Rabbi Mitchel Malkus, head of school at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Washington, D.C. “That may be a challenge, especially in a community that values families staying together.”

School - Sept - Thanks - Donation - Businessman

The school opened on Sept. 10, 2001, thanks to an estimated $100 million donation from businessman and philanthropist Maurice “Chico” Sabbah. It included an $11.6 million athletic center and pool as well as dorms and residences for teachers and administrators, built with Jerusalem-like limestone facades.

The school catered to all Jewish families, from modern Orthodox to Reform. The academics were rigorous, with secular subjects as well as a range of classes on Jewish themes such as Hebrew, Talmud, Jewish philosophy and Holocaust studies. Graduates had their pick of colleges and universities.

Sabbah - Millions - Running - School

But Sabbah, who had pledged millions more toward the running of the school, got entangled in a billion-dollar...
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