country struggled to regain its financial solvency and as the Nazi movement
in Yorkville flourished, Rabbi Joseph H. Lookstein (1902-1979), following
in the footsteps of his grandfather-in-law, the RaMaZ, sought to establish
a Jewish day school.
He first broached the subject to a circle of close friends at a July
Fourth weekend in 1936. He spoke of what he saw as a tremendous
void in Jewish education. He shared his vision of a new type of
day school with a different philosophy of education -- one that
demonstrated a better understanding of a Jewish child growing up in the
free and open society of the United States of America.
In the yeshivot
of that time, there was a distinct separation between
Jewish and secular learning. Jewish studies were taught in the morning;
public school teachers would arrive for secular studies late in the afternoon.
Rabbi Joseph H. Lookstein was quoted as saying, "Tired teachers were
expected to teach tired children." He told of his dream of
a school with an integrated program of religious studies combined with
general studies--a school in which the culture of America would blend
with the heritage of Judaism. Rabbi Lookstein envisioned a yeshivah
day school in which a child would not experience an intellectual or emotional
clash between being a Jew and an American.
There were only fifteen Jewish day schools in New York, and most were
located in poor neighborhoods. The Talmudic slogan of the day was,
"Be concerned with the children of the poor, for through them will
Torah thrive." Rabbi Lookstein dismissed this as a rationalization
to explain the fact that the children of the affluent were not being given
education. He was seriously concerned that an entire generation
of young people would not attend the existing yeshivot
. He saw
this new school as a way to attract more children to day school education.
During the year 1937, on his way to making this dream a reality, Rabbi
Joseph H. Lookstein was presented with a number of obstacles, one of which
was objections to his educational objectives. In the 1930's many people
in the neighborhood did not believe in a yeshivah
education. Most observed
but very few understood the concept of a religious school.
Prevailing sentiments were expressed with cultural discomfort: "I don't
want my son to be a rabbi. I don't want him to be too religious."
Another impediment to realizing the dream was the challenge to find financing.
Eventually, Max J. Etra, then Treasurer of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun,
stepped in and offered to underwrite the expected deficit for the first
year. The congregation, following his lead, agreed to sponsor the formation
of the Ramaz School as well.