In Rhode Island, all things cling to their earliest incarnation.
I used to work at Cumberland Farms, not the Gulf Express. I rented movies at Douglas Drug, not Rite Aid. And 36 years ago, I went to a place that I will always call Schechter.
It was fun telling friends I was going to a 40th grade school reunion – who gets to say that? Schechter (now The Jewish Community Day School of Rhode Island) was a huge part of my childhood and my life in Providence.
I was happy and anxious to check out the Gala / Big “C” celebration. It was my first time attending a R.I. Jewish community function in many years (I moved to Washington, D.C., in 2008). After years of covering events for the Jewish Voice & Herald, I finally got to attend something as a common Joe. No reporter’s notebook needed.
First, they threw a good party. Standing room only – tons of people. The four (!) different Kosher food stations were on point. The flawless eight-piece musical act – The Free Download Band – seemingly could play anything under the sun. It was open bar, with the good stuff. And there were mountains of desserts.
Inside the smartly renovated Jewish Community Center (thanks, Dwares family!) I looked under the hood of one of Providence’s most important Jewish institutions.
Like Saturday Night Live, Schechter has seen many eras. The earliest ones included close family friends like Marty and Dianne Newman, Dan and Cindy Kaplan, and, oh yeah, my sister, Hilarie. My class and my brother’s, a few years later, came during incredibly historic times – the fall of the Berlin Wall and the waves of Russian Jews our school embraced. And the school expanded into the shiny “new building” built alongside Temple Emanu-El in Providence.
And then there were all the classes after mine. Kids I used to babysit are now rabbis and financial investors. They have kids of their own, some of whom are now going to JCDSRI.
My friend’s kids made speeches. We did a lot of toasts. The band played the Hora and folks hit the dance floor hard. Oren Kaunfer did some admirable emceeing, and was nicely upstaged by his own mom, the venerated and near-tzaddik Marcia Kaunfer. I got to reconnect with a friend in my class. And I learned who was in the D.C. area that I should look up.
While I watched the video tribute, flanked by my mother and sister, it occurred to me what tremendous sacrifices have been made for this school to exist, and persist. Back in the 1980s, the founders of the school were just ordinary people with young kids. They were younger when they did it then I am today.
I have created many things in my life, but to create a school is truly next-level difficult. And for parents to take a leap of faith and send their kids to an experimental school – and keep them there – showed the love, trust and dedication this school rightfully earned.
Despite the passing of four decades, The Jewish Community Day School is still able to deliver Schechter’s warmth, community and sense of purpose.
May they go from strength to strength.
JONATHAN RUBIN, of Arlington Virginia, is a 1992 graduate of the Alperin Schechter Day School, and was editor of the Jewish Voice & Herald from 2002 to 2007.