Soille Hebrew Day School – a Road Less Traveledby Leorah Gavidor January 2, 2019
Aviva Rubin (nee Haber) was a student in Hebrew Day when the doors first opened. For her parents, in 1963, the ‘start up’ Jewish school made perfect sense.
“I didn’t speak any English,” she shared. Aviva was born in Nicaragua, where her parents were waiting for the papers needed to emigrate to Mexico. Her mother was a Holocaust survivor and her father left home very young. They met in Israel after the war and then eventually settled their family in Tijuana, where they owned businesses and were part of a small but active Jewish community.
“It was important to my parents to give my brothers and me a Jewish identity. They wanted us to have both cultures.” When they heard rumors about a new Hebrew day school opening in San Diego, they decided to enroll their children.
Aviva’s son Aaron also remembers starting school at Hebrew Day, one generation later.
“I met Rabbi Weiser my first day of school, but I didn’t know who he was at the time,” Aaron Rubin recalled of Rabbi Simcha Weiser, who has been the head of Soille Hebrew Day School since 1981.
Aaron rode the bus from home in Bonita to HDS, as it was known in those days, and when he arrived on his first day of school, he didn’t know where to go. Rabbi Weiser noticed the little boy was lost and took him by the hand, showing him the way to class. There began Aaron’s long relationship with Hebrew Day School. Today, Aaron’s daughter Mina attends the preschool at Hebrew Day School.
Mina Rubin is the third generation in the Rubin family to attend the school, which was established in 1963, in a couple of donated classrooms at San Diego’s first JCC on 54th Street. Few at the time felt it would become an important component of San Diego’s Jewish future.
Maxwell Brookler, another early alum whose four children are Hebrew Day graduates, is thankful that his grandchildren are his family’s third generation of students at the school. At the time of its founding, Hebrew day school was not widely embraced within the San Diego Jewish community. Brookler remembers that many of his parents’ friends were not convinced that choosing a full-day Jewish school was a good choice, and especially not an Orthodox-based school.
“Orthodoxy was almost unheard of in San Diego at the time,” said Brookler, whose parents made the bold choice to send him to Hebrew Day School in 1968. “My parents moved to San Diego from Canada, and understood that for Jewish affiliation to continue in so open and unstructured a community, more comprehensive study and knowledge would be necessary.”
“Traditionally Jewish education in the U.S. took place in the synagogue, after school, at home, or on the side,” said Rabbi Weiser. But a core vision motivated the founders: “if the community was to have a strong Jewish future there needed to be a full-time day school.”
San Diego in fact, was one of the earliest cities to begin a Jewish day school outside of the large Jewish population centers, like New York, Chicago, Miami, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. The place we now know as Soille Hebrew Day School was the first of its kind in San Diego.
Aaron and his two brothers grew up attending the school, as it moved from its location on 70th and Mohawk to Lake Murray to National University and on to its current campus in Kearny Mesa. When the time came time to put their daughter in daycare at age three months, Aaron and his wife brought her to Soille. “There’s no other place that I would think of to bring our daughter,” he shared. “It’s like a family.”
One of Aaron’s fondest experiences at the school was meeting and learning with students from all along the spectrum of observance. “We were all different, but with the same backstory—all cut from the same cloth. Rabbi Weiser is an inclusive person and he cares about everyone in the community.”
Nationally, 255,000 boys and girls receive some version of formal Jewish education in 37 states and Washington, D.C. Although this is the highest number ever, it is noteworthy that fewer than 10 percent of Jewish children are enrolled in a Jewish day school.
“Surveys show that less than half of American Jews today consider being Jewish important to them,” notes Rabbi Weiser. “Families who have chosen Jewish day schools are finding that their children possess a personal Jewish identity. These children grow up to live meaningful Jewish lives.”
Maxwell Brookler sent his four children, and today five of his grandchildren go to Soille. “My wife and I enjoy listening to them discuss the Torah portion, noting how happy they are to spend Shabbat with us. This is not something anyone would take for granted nowadays.”
Today, San Diego has a Jewish day school system that encompasses early childhood through grade 12, with three Jewish day schools and three local choices for Jewish high school. “This path, though still less traveled,” Rabbi Weiser reflected, “provides San Diego with young Jewish leadership and enables families to see their heritage carry forward strongly. The San Diego Jewish community nurtured the fragile start of Soille Hebrew Day School as it took hold, and inspired others to expand on its efforts.”