Marketing Day Schools to Interfaith Families

Not sure why I hadn’t thought of sharing this yet, but we wrote this article on marketing Jewish day schools to interfaith families for RAVSAK, the Jewish Community Day School Network. It will be published in their issue coming out in December, I believe. It’s specifically targeted to the boards and administrators of Jewish community day schools, so forgive the somewhat-dry language.

How to market community day schools to interfaith families
By Micah Sachs and Edmund Case

Of the estimated 500,000 children in intermarried households, only 5,400 (Kotler-Berkowitz, 2005), or barely more than 1 percent, attend Jewish day school. So clearly there is growth potential in the intermarried market.

When thinking about marketing to interfaith families, the most important thing to keep in mind is that interfaith families who are considering a Jewish day school education are probably not very different from inmarried families considering a Jewish day school. As Jennifer Rudin-Sable, the former Jewish life coordinator at the Rashi School in Boston has said, “Inter-faith and intra-faith families are much more similar than they are different and… the key to bringing them into our community is not identifying ‘who or what’ they are but rather identifying ‘where’ they are and ‘what they need’ to take the next step in their journey.” There is no magic bullet to reaching this diverse market; the best advice we can offer is to make sure your advertising and marketing materials emphasize your acceptance of the children of interfaith families.

Just like in-married families, intermarried families considering a day school probably fall in two broad camps: those who seek out the day school primarily for its Jewish qualities, and those who seek out the day school primarily for its educational expertise. To determine what kind of interfaith family you’re dealing with, ask the same kinds of questions of them that you would ask of in-married families: What other schools are you considering? What brought you to our school? What are you looking for in a school?

If their answers to these questions—“We are considering other Jewish day schools. We want to promote our children’s Jewish identity.”—indicate that the family is already Jewishly engaged, you can treat them as you would any Jewishly engaged in-married family. Indeed, it’s possible they may be even more interested in insulating their children from the pressures of the media-saturated, secular, presumptively Christian American culture.

If, however, answers to these questions indicate that the family is considering a Jewish day school for reasons other than its Jewish focus, then your pitch should be similar to your pitch to in-married families who are primarily looking for a good education, with a few modifications.

These interfaith families, much like their in-married counterparts, may be worried that a Jewish day school is “too Jewish.” For these families, emphasize the diversity of your community. Tell them how many Russian, Israeli and Sephardic families there are, and explain to them the diversity of Jewish religious observance of students at the school. Discuss the atmosphere of tolerance at your school.

Also, much the same way that Jesuits market the universality of their educational approach to people of all religions, emphasize the universal application of a Jewish education: how it encourages right action and kind and truthful speech, how it promotes social justice, how it focuses on spirituality and God. Contra Costa Day School in Lafayette, California provides a good model: “In our published materials, at back-to-school nights, and during school tours it helps to frame Jewish values, when possible, in a universal light,” says Dean Goldfein, the head of school.

At the same time, intermarried parents, just like their in-married counterparts, want to be told upfront everything they and their children should expect from an education at your school. Some key policies to address with prospective interfaith families include:

1) The school’s policy on accepting—or not accepting—the children of Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers as Jewish.

If your school only accepts matrilineal descent, you are significantly reducing the potential market of interfaith families. However, even if you do accept the children of non-Jewish mothers as Jewish, you should make prospective interfaith families aware if a significant segment of your population is traditional. Advise parents to make their children aware of the debate over descent. Train your teachers to be sensitive to this issue.

2) The school’s policy on promoting in-dating and discouraging interfaith dating.

Many parents choose day schools because they feel it provides a very good opportunity for their child to socialize with and date fellow Jews. Inform prospective interfaith parents if this is part of your school’s agenda.

3) The school’s policy on allowing students to bring non-Jewish dates to events like the prom.

This has been one of the trickier and more controversial issues for Jewish day schools. Whatever your policy, articulate it clearly to prospective interfaith parents before their children enroll.

With their focus on pluralism, tolerance and quality education, community day schools are well-placed to meet the needs of interfaith families. With a little extra sensitivity and a little bit of preparation—for teachers, students, parents and administrators—you can attract, and retain, interfaith families as supportive members of your school community.

Note: All quotes come from articles originally published on InterfaithFamily.com.

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