by Claudia Sherman, Friedel Jewish Academy
Eleven years ago, enrollment at Friedel Jewish Academy was 18 students. Today, there are 49 eager kindergarten through sixth graders studying everything from history, math, and reading as well as participating in band, orchestra, physical education, art, and library. They also learn about Israel and how to speak Hebrew through an internationally acclaimed, total-immersion program.
“It’s not yesterday’s Friedel,” said Debbie Denenberg, chair of the school’s annual campaign which is now in progress. With a goal of $150,000, Denenberg, a Friedel Board member for approximately eight years, pointed out that national studies conclude that being Jewish is “very important” to 64 percent of day school students, seven to twelve years old. That’s 13 to 28 percent higher than for other Jewish children who represent all three of Omaha’s synagogues. They also come from unaffiliated families and from Lincoln. They speak a variety of languages including Dutch, Spanish, and Hebrew at home.
“As the institution most dedicated to growing future knowledgeable Jews, Friedel can best ensure a next generation commitment to Jewish heritage. Friedel benefits every Jewish institution from the synagogues to Federation to the JCC,” according to Denenberg, “because Friedel students have the greatest chance of growing up to become Jewish leaders, volunteers and contributors to Jewish organizations.”
In addition, she noted that “Friedel attracts and retains Jewish professionals,” including rabbis with young children, to Omaha. “Friedel is an anchor to a vibrant Jewish community,” said Denenberg.
Tuition of about $6,500 per student covers about half the expense of educating each child. “That’s true for private schools everywhere,” Denenberg explained. “We really need the support of the entire Jewish community,” she emphasized, “and we promise to give it back in many ways. Every dollar raised is an investment in identified, joyous, knowledgeable Jewish children.”
As Jewish Press Editor Annette Van De Kamp-Wright wrote in a recent editorial, day schools are among community institutions we should give to “because it is a need, rather than a choice.”
Endowment funds, grants, and the Jewish Federation also help meet the cost of running the school. “The biggest expense is staff compensation,” said Pam Cohn, now in her second year as principal of Friedel. A veteran of 17 years at Omaha Public Schools’ R. M. Marrs Magnet Center, Cohn remarked that the Friedel teachers are “the most dedicated staff I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with.”
A Friedel Board member for about eight years, Denenberg, mother of a Friedel fifth grader, described how her own upbringing exposed her to Holocaust survivors and was somewhat of an “osmosis to the Old Country. This generation doesn’t have the same anchors I did. We are the People of the Book, and we need to be literate in that Book in order to lead a meaningful Jewish life.”
Harry Berman, serving his second year as president of the Friedel Board of Directors, said, “When we see the studies that come out, they indicate that children who are immersed in Jewish education are much more likely to stay involved later in life as adult leaders and volunteers.” Father of a fourth grader and a sixth grader at Friedel, Berman described the school “as a place where kids are really happy to be. We have a chance when they’re really young to give them a positive experience.”
Cohn added that children who will be entering kindergarten in 2014 and their parents are invited to attend a Meet & Greet Fall Fest at Whole Foods in Regency on Sunday, Oct. 27 from 1-3 p.m.
Parents choose Friedel for their children because it nurtures the values and identity they seek through daily living, Jewish concepts such as tikun olam (repairing the world) and gemilut hasadim (acts of loving kindness), as well as small class sizes, dedicated teachers, and the dual language program. The children participate in activities and converse with residents of the Rose Blumkin Jewish Home from time to time as well.
Friedel students consistently rank in the top percentiles in reading and math as tested yearly by the national TerraNova Achievement Tests. Denise Bennett, fifth and sixth grade teacher, has consistently prepared her students to score high in the Woodmen of America speech contest against much larger schools that have enrollments through eighth grade. Friedel fourth graders took second place in a citywide math tournament last year. “A robust art program,” led by Julie Phillips, instrumental music taught by Nestor Herzbaum and Jim Misner, who both played with major symphony orchestras, and drama taught by Fran Sillau who also teaches youth at the JFK Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., attract parents’ attention, too.
In addition to Denenberg, others helping on the primarily telephone solicitation annual campaign are Jerry Gordman, Friedel Board treasurer; Lloyd Roitstein, immediate past Board president; most Board members and others.
Gordman, who has served on the Board for at least 25 years, said, “Fundraising is a very critical thing. Just like the synagogues and the Federation, we raise funds. We have a Jewish community that has people who are engaged — involved in the community,” commented Gordman who “fell in love with the kids at Friedel years ago” when he blew the shofar at the school. “Being around these kids is enough to let you fall in love all over again!” he insisted.
Principal Cohn said donors need not wait to be solicited. They can send a check to the school (335 South 132 Street, Omaha, NE 68154), and then no one will call on them.
Denenberg suggested that Friedel is a good destination for donation checks in honor of simchas. She invited people to call her for a tour of the school where they will see children say The Pledge of Allegiance and then sing Hatikvah. She can be reached at 402.614.2213 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You’ll see, she assures, “Friedel makes Judaism second nature, instead of second best.”