Founded during the Great Depression, the Brandeis School, in Lawrence, is flourishing despite the coronavirus pandemic, melding 90 years of Jewish education with contemporary needs and technology.
“We are a modern Orthodox Jewish day school,” says Administrative Director Reuben Maron.
Plans to celebrate the school’s anniversary were interrupted by the pandemic. Brandeis, like all schools, had to turn on a dime to remote learning in March. And this fall, with a new year starting, school officials aimed to embrace necessary changes for its students, who range from nursery school to eighth grade.
Class schedules were revised to accommodate in-person and remote learning. There is two-way livestreaming, and upgraded internet and network service, throughout the Frost Lane building. Masks are required (though children 2 or younger are exempt), there are clear plastic dividers between desks, and social distancing guidelines are followed. Water fountains have been replaced by dispensers where individual containers can be filled. Air purifiers have been installed.
“I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment this year, and a great level of pride,” said Head of School Raz Levin. “I am incredibly proud of our parents, students and staff members for complying with all of our school’s health and safety protocols. The biggest challenge for me was ensuring that I addressed everyone’s concerns. We were walking into the unknown together, and it was my responsibility to alleviate any concerns and anxieties presented to me.”
Enrollment has increased by 30 percent in the past three years, and was boosted by 35 new families with 62 children this year. Many moved from New York City to Nassau County’s South Shore because of the pandemic, Brandeis officials said, adding that a majority of the children are in nursery school, pre-K and kindergarten.
“We chose Brandeis this year because we were looking for a smaller, tight-knit community that we knew would take extra-close and careful care of our kids during these difficult times,” said Michelle Kushner, a Brandeis alumna and a resident of Long Beach whose sons, Leo and Rex, are in pre-K and nursery school. “I had firsthand experience with Brandeis during my own years at the school, and know personally what a supportive and loving environment it is. There’s been clear communication and attention given to our kids from the very start, and I’m so grateful knowing that they’re being taken care of so well.”
Rabbi Irving Miller founded the Jewish Center School in 1930, one of the first schools in the nation to combine general and Jewish studies. The Far Rockaway school began with kindergarten and first grade. Over the next five years, it was expanded up to eighth grade.
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited the school in 1936, and wrote in her newspaper column: “I wonder if many racial groups could not take a leaf out of their book, and if the result might not be far-reaching in making us understand other nations and what was drawn from them.”
Nine years later, the school moved to Congregation Sons of Israel, in Woodmere, and the name was changed to honor Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis. The first Jewish justice on the country’s highest court heartily endorsed the use of his name.
In 1964, Brandeis moved to Lawrence. It became one of the first members of the Solomon Schechter Day School Movement, the educational arm of Conservative Judaism, in 1965. (Brandeis ended that affiliation in 2012.) Brandeis High School had its first graduating class in January 1975, but closed in 1989. That portion of the building is now used by Rambam Mesivta High.
Longtime Brandeis parent Roxanne Schebovitz, who lives in Cedarhurst, has two children who are graduates, Shoshana and Eden, and two who are current students, learning remotely: Aliza, a sixth-grader, and Meir, in fourth grade.
“We are so impressed with how the administration has handled the entire Covid and academic situation since March,” Schebovitz said. “Brandeis has been able to provide all of the children in school or at home all that they possibly need in order to succeed academically and mentally. The school is always sensitive to each student’s needs. The teachers are true heroes for keeping up the momentum so they don’t fall behind, but at the same time, faculty and staff members are being considerate and showing extra patience towards the students.”
School officials noted that 92 percent of the 2020 graduates continued their education at yeshiva high schools, with a majority attending North Shore Hebrew Academy High School, in Great Neck. “We always knew that Brandeis was our found treasure amongst many bigger institutions in the Five Town,” Schebovitz said. “We are forever grateful for what they do for each child.”
Random Covid-19 testing of staff and students continues, though it is no longer mandated, because the state’s cluster-zone restrictions for Lawrence were lifted earlier this month. School rules state that a student who shows any symptoms — along with any siblings — cannot return to school until the symptomatic child tests negative.
“We worked day and night to make sure that the Brandeis School opened its doors safely for our Brandeis mishpacha,” said board President Heidi Goldmintz, using the Hebrew word for family. “It wasn’t always easy, but we maintained open communication with our stakeholders, including parents, students and staff members.
Have memories of attending or teaching at the Brandeis School? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.