Aileen Becker’s 27-year-old daughter was in the first class of Shearim Torah High School for Girls in 2007. “They’ve produced a lot of bright girls who have done very well academically,” she said. But it isn't the right fit for her 15-year-old daughter.
“I want her to feel comfortable," Becker said.
Shearim and the all-male Yeshiva High School of Arizona are the only Jewish high schools in Greater Phoenix, both Orthodox. Seemingly out of options, Becker considered sending her daughter out of state.
But now that Nishmat Adin is set to open this fall, her daughter will stay put.
“For her,” Becker said, “I’m really excited.”
Ariella Friedman, president of Nishmat Adin’s board of directors, recognized the need for more Jewish options. “Many children who graduate from Jewish or non-Jewish elementary [and middle] schools don’t have a high school option that is exactly the right fit for them.”
The Oasis School, another inclusive and coeducational Jewish high school, was also scheduled to open in Scottsdale this fall. However, due to COVID-19, it will instead welcome its first class in 2022, according to Tobi Rifkind, president of the board for Oasis. “We are currently focused on recruiting the right head of school to lead Oasis with an in-person high school education using our innovative educational model,” said Rifkind, via email.
Nishmat Adin, or Shalhevet Scottsdale, will partner with Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles. The Scottsdale campus is open to all Jewish students regardless of religious affiliation. The exact location is still in the works, but students will be physically together in co-educational classes, and teachers at Shalhevet in LA will instruct them remotely. Students will have the assistance of in-person academic facilitators.
Nishmat Adin students will also be required to travel to LA regularly for in-person social and learning events. The school promises both a rigorous Jewish and secular education. Applications for admissions are due April 1 for
August enrollment. Tuition will be $24,750 per year.
Friedman is working with five other members of Congregation Beth Tefillah as well as Rabbi Pinchas Allouche to launch the new high school. Creating a Jewish high school has been Allouche’s dream “for many years,” he said. Currently, he teaches seventh and eighth grade at Pardes Jewish Day School.
“I’m in touch with many, many of my students — hundreds of them. And I see them drifting away from Judaism and losing that connection and that education,” Allouche said. “So for many years now, I’ve been wanting to create a high school that would attend to the Jewish needs, to keep them connected, and ensure that they continue to develop their Jewish identity each in their own way.”
Allouche has already sent three of his own children out of state to Jewish high schools. Sending his kids away, “tears my heart each time,” he said.
About a year ago, Friedman and the others hired a consultant to help navigate the ins and outs of forming a Jewish high school. They met Rabbi Ari Segal, head of Shalhevet High School in LA, and a partnership seemed natural.
“I did not go into the relationship, the consulting role, thinking that this would be a possibility, but it emerged very, very, very organically,” Segal said, noting there was an alignment in philosophy and values between his school and what the Beth Tefillah congregants outlined. The pandemic has opened up opportunities in the educational realm for partnerships; this will be the first of many to come, he said.
Jeff Klores moved with his son from Phoenix to Los Angeles in 2016 so he could attend Shalhevet. “My son graduated this past year, and he’s in Israel now and had really an amazing high school experience,” he said. “I didn’t want to leave the Phoenix area, but I thought it was important enough to do that.” Klores moved back to Phoenix last July, and joined the effort to develop the new school.
“I hope this opens up opportunities for families in Phoenix so that they don’t have to be faced with the same kind of decision that I had,” he said.
Friedman, who is also a pediatric urologist at Banner Health in Glendale, wants the school because it is an option she wants for her kids — ages 10, 5 and 3 — and she wants to create something that will benefit the growing Jewish community in Greater Phoenix.
“I want a very strong secular education for my children,” Friedman said. But she also cares “very deeply about Jewish education.”
Allouche likes that much of Shalhevet’s philosophy aligns with the ideals of his mentor and teacher, the late Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz ob”m, a Jewish religious commentator. It will ensure that Nishmat Adin offers educational excellence and helps create strong Jewish leaders, he said.
“The passing of my mentor really propelled me to do even more, and continue his legacy,” Allouche said.
Steinsaltz’s teachings — including one of his mottos, "Let my people know" — were the inspiration for the school’s four foundational philosophical pillars.
“He had this wonderful philosophy of bringing Jewish people together of all different backgrounds and in an environment that is positive and uplifting, with a focus on action and learning,” Friedman said.
Becker has complete faith in Allouche and the Nishmat Adin board.
“They're going in knowing what they're doing and getting the support that they need,” she said. “I really have a ton of confidence in them so it's very exciting. I think it will make a big difference for the families here and future families and for the children.” JN
To learn more about Nishmat Adin, visit www.nishmatadin.org.