Tikvah Fund, conservative think tank, to open ‘classical’ Jewish day school in New York City


((JR) and New York Jewish Week) — The Tikvah Fund, a Jewish conservative think tank, is launching a Jewish day school that will aim to give students an education that emphasizes “the majesty of Western civilization.” 

Emet Classical Academy, whose name is Hebrew for “truth,” will open next fall on the Upper East Side of Manhattan with a sixth grade and aims to run through high school. It will be led by Rabbi Abraham Unger, a political scientist and former professor who currently leads a Tikvah program for middle schoolers.

An email announcement said the school would be “small and selective.” Tikvah already offers a range of education initiatives inside and outside of existing schools, promoting the same set of values that will drive the school.

The announcement of the school comes at a time when conservatives have taken aim at elite educational institutions — including but not limited to universities. Those critics have accused some universities and public and private schools of teaching children to “hate America” and creating a hostile environment for Jews, in part through diversity and equity programs and instruction about racism in the United States.

Emet’s website says the school will offer a curriculum based on “the perpetuation of Jewish, Zionist, and American exceptionalism.”

“First, we wanted to create a school with very clear founding principles: the pursuit of excellence in every academic and cultural field, the formation of confident Jews and civic-minded Americans, and the preservation of the best of Western civilization,” Tikvah CEO Eric Cohen wrote in an email announcement Tuesday.

“Second, we are living in a moment of great Jewish awakening in America,” he wrote. “Many Jewish families and students feel the weight of Jewish history and American exceptionalism more deeply than ever. We hope that Emet will be an oasis of Jewish excellence that helps renew American culture.”

The school arrives at a time when rising concerns about antisemitism amid the Israel-Hamas war may be inducing Jewish families to consider schools where their children will not be in the minority. It also comes exactly three years after the Jewish writer and editor Bari Weiss, who has been a leading critic of elite institutions, tweeted a call for a school just like it.

Referring to a college with a curriculum built around the “great books” of Western Civilization and two non-Jewish elite private schools, Weiss tweeted, “If @tikvahfund started a school with a St. John’s style curriculum in NY or LA I think they could charge more than a Dalton or a Harvard-Westlake and still be massively oversubscribed.”

At the time, conservative discontent about education was mounting. Months later, a father of a student at the Heschel School, a prestigious Manhattan Jewish school, went public about pulling his child over “woke” instruction that he said taught her that she held “white privilege.” (The school said he left for financial reasons.)

Emet won’t cost as much as those elite private schools: Its website says tuition for the 2024-2025 school year will be $36,000 — tens of thousands of dollars less than other private and Jewish schools in the city.

Emet’s website says it will be able to accommodate children who previously attended Jewish day schools as well as children with no background in Jewish education. Children from families of all Jewish denominations and practices will be welcome, the school says.

Paul Bernstein, the CEO of Prizmah, a nonprofit that supports Jewish day schools, declined to comment on Emet specifically but said the school’s arrival reflects a growing interest in Jewish education. 

“Families across North America are appreciating Jewish day schools more and more,” he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “We are experiencing growing enrollment in our schools, as a result of which a number of new schools are opening and others are expanding their intake.”

The advertised curriculum at Emet departs from that of other Jewish day schools in New York and beyond. Alongside Hebrew, students will study Greek and Latin. Classical music and art history are among the “core subjects.” Students also have the option of studying “Military History & Grand Strategy.”

That is all part of the “classical” education model that has gained favor among conservatives in recent years, including with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a vocal critic of progressive ideologies, who has vowed to import the model to his state. Proponents of classical education say it centers values and skills that have been wrongly deemphasized by progressive educators. Its critics charge that it advances a nostalgic worldview that gives short shrift to women, people of color and non-Western voices that deserve a place in the contemporary canon.

Both sides say the model is deeply entwined with Christian ideals, with some advocates saying it is inappropriate to advance irreligious versions of classical schools. Hillsdale College, a Christian college in Michigan that is a driver of conservative thought, has launched or worked with dozens of schools across several states.

Emet Classical marks the first prominent experiment in a Jewish version of the model. Its board includes Ruth Wisse, an emerita Harvard professor and prominent Jewish conservative thinker, Bard College professor Walter Russel Mead and Wilfred McClay, a professor at Hillsdale.

“[W]e believe that history’s future leaders — in law and business, politics and statesmanship, science and religious life — benefit from a truly classical education,” Cohen wrote. “America needs a Jewish classical school.”