One of the attractions to my young family when I was looking for a rabbinic position in 1987 was the availability of Jewish day school education. Gesher, then still very much a fledgling endeavor, was meeting in the Agudas Achim school wing.
The location was for good reason. Years before, Rabbi Sheldon and Dr. Shulamith Elster had been instrumental (along with a few others) in creating the only Jewish day school in Northern Virginia. They recruited students and teachers and persuaded a somewhat reluctant synagogue board that the building could be made available for the young students. There is a good deal more to the story, but the rest is history. More than 25 years later, Gesher is thriving in its own state of the art facility in western Fairfax County.
While our synagogue continues to support the day school with enthusiasm and contributions, the enrollment of Agudas Achim students in Gesher has plummeted. We can come up with a handful of good reasons why that is – including the excellence of the Religious School program under Scott Littky’s administration – but no reason seems more prevalent than the length of time it takes students to travel to the new site. Thirty to forty-five minutes is not an unreasonable ride for most kids (two of my children rode the bus to and from Rockville every school day for six years each), but for a five- or six-year-old it is a deal-breaker.
Believe me, I have discussed the problem with my friends at Gesher from the time the property was identified up to the day I sat down to write this column. There is no solution to the distance dilemma. Gesher, which was founded to address the long commute from Alexandria to Rockville, is now the same commute to Fairfax County.
But an intriguing possibility is in the very first stages of discussion. What if the earliest grades of Jewish day school were available at a satellite campus closer to Agudas Achim? What if Gesher made its program available in the Alexandria-Arlington community, not as an independent feeder school, but as an integrated alternative to its Fairfax County campus?
There are a dozen challenges to overcome in considering this possibility, but the first two are the most critical. So I ask you to be in touch with me to provide input on them. The first is a population. If you are the parent of a child who will begin kindergarten in 2011 or 2012, would you consider Gesher if it were more local? And the second is a willingness. If you are not the parent of pre-school child, would you support the development of a satellite campus at a synagogue site inside the Beltway?
Please drop me a quick note at firstname.lastname@example.org. It will help me organize if you use the header “Gesher” when you send it.
Many thanks, and happy summer!