As Jacksonville’s Jewish Community Grows, New Torah High School Will Too

By Mindy Rubenstein

Growing up in suburban Seminole, my parents drove my brother and me 30 minutes each way to Clearwater for Sunday School, and then also to Hebrew school each Tuesday evening as we approached Bar/Bat Mitzvah age.

Anyone who knows my father understands that he hates driving and will typically avoid it at all costs. Yet something within him knew that driving us to synagogue was important, and where we lived, that was one of the only options.

Later I met my husband, or re-met him, as we had grown up around the block from each other and both originally attended nearby Beth Chai with our families. It was torn down to make way for Temple Estates housing development, which is what sent my parents half an hour north seeking religious education for their kids.

Twelve years ago while our children were still toddlers, my husband and I decided to delve more deeply into the religion of our birth. Now raising our own children, we felt it was important to not only give over what we had learned, but also more.

To be blunt: I literally fell in love with the Judaism I discovered. And I wanted it all. My husband was more logical in his approach. But together, somehow, we began to search and ask and search some more. What does it really mean to be Jewish, especially now in modern times?

My husband and I moved to other places — Atlanta, Maryland, Virginia — to explore and experience Jewish life in various communities. Our children went to school across the religious spectrum as we, as newly religious parents, tried to gauge what made the most sense for our growing family — blending who we were with who we are now.

And then a job opportunity showed us Jacksonville. With our oldest approaching high school, one in middle school and two in elementary, we knew that we needed to choose a community and settle down.

And so we chose to come back to Florida, closer to our families and within a Jewish community that has the amenities we need but also allows for diversity. There is no judgement here as Jews of all backgrounds integrate Torah beautifully into their lives.

And because Jacksonville has a new, growing Torah high school, we could come.

In the beginning, I was unsure of how a small, fledgling school would suit our daughter. High school is a rough time for anyone. And in the early weeks I was like the mother I had always been — hovering over my daughter and worrying about her well being.

But after the second round of school conferences and several months into the year, I was literally in awe.

My daughter is learning to think and to question and to discuss deep, philosophical ideas. To be independent, to study on her own, to make Judaism her own, and to speak Hebrew. She comes home from school with a lot of work to do, but she does it with confidence.

How is this small, growing school able to impart such a remarkable education — both Jewish and secular?

Because of the people who are making it happen. As I sat and listened to her teachers explain their methods during conferences, I realized, THIS is why. They care.

Everyone at the school, including the administrators, truly cares for her and all the girls, not just that they’re memorizing information and getting good grades. But that they’re also growing to be confident, capable young Jewish women who know who they are and what their purpose is in life.

This school, this small, growing school, is full of love and warmth and a remarkable education.

And now the board is working to expand the high school for boys as well. As Rabbi Fisch with Etz Chaim said recently at a planning meeting, “When you build a house of study to educate your citizens, everything else will follow.”

Jacksonville has everything we need — kosher food options, pre-K through 8 schools like Torah Academy where our younger three go to school. Almost everything.

“As a community, we realized we had to start an entity here to educate our high school boys and girls,” he said.

It’s no easy task, but community leaders are dedicated to making sure our children can get the education they need here in Jacksonville.

As board member Avi Smith pointed out, “If you build it, they will come.”

We did. And soon, with G-d’s help, others will too.

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To learn more, visit JaxTorahHigh.com.

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