Founded in Philadelphia in 1895, Gratz is the oldest independent and pluralistic college of Jewish studies in North America and the first institution of advanced Jewish learning to accept men and women on an equal basis. Gratz Academy (formerly JCHS) continues Gratz College’s 125-year tradition of engaging and challenging and supporting the growth of teens through formative Jewish educational experiences.
Gratz College has educated Jewish teens for 120 years, operating multiple branches for almost 30 of those years. That is a long legacy, and it’s one that bears out this truth: Institutions whose histories span centuries must implement change over the course of time in order to address changing community needs. For the first 57 years of the college’s existence, teens took courses side by side with college students, who continued to take Jewish studies at Gratz while they attended Temple and Penn, and even when they were in medical school.
Understanding that best practices in education in the 1950s required significant changes, the then-leadership of Gratz launched a formal five-year Hebrew High School program in 1952. The decision to create the branch-based JCHS came 36 years later, in the late 1980s, and addressed the needs and realities of that time. The program thrived for several decades, and then it became clear that a more centralized model would better meet the needs of teens and families.
The sociological trends that challenge “part-time” Jewish education, the geographic expansiveness of our five-county community, and the trend among local synagogues to develop their own high school programs were key factors that prompted that decision. Like Jewish community high schools nationally, Gratz JCHS experienced steep enrollment declines — despite the fact that students and parents continue to express great satisfaction with our program.
Along with the Jewish community nationally, we’ve grappled with the question of how we can continue to engage teens so they remain actively Jewish beyond their B’nai Mitzvah, as they enter the crucial stage of young adulthood. Leading research has given us some good answers. Thought leaders challenge us to continue to innovate.
We understand that Institutions must be informed by the past while being cognizant of the present and focused on the future. For Jewish educational institutions, the stakes are high.
Gratz high school education will live on; it will simply serve the community in different ways in the future than it has in the past. Quite possibly it will serve more members of the community in a new paradigm.
Our outstanding faculty offer a unique experience in each classroom, continuing our 120-year tradition of great Jewish learning and great mentoring for teens.
Dr. Dina Maiben is Assistant Professor of Hebrew and coordinator of the language programs, and serves as the Academic Director of Gratz Academy (formerly JCHS). Dina has worked extensively in the field of Jewish Education, in both formal and informal settings. She has served as a Hebrew School director, classroom teacher, youth director, camp counselor, program director, and consultant. She was the founding chair of Monmouth County’s Commission on Jewish Education. Dina has authored twenty-three books and more than two dozen journal articles and stories. Nationally recognized for her work in the area of Hebrew reading instruction, her Hebrew primer, Alef Bet Quest, won the Association of Educational Publishers’ Distinguished Achievement Award for World Language in 2010, the only Hebrew textbook to be so honored. Her pre-primer, Ready Set…Go Alef Bet, was the first fully integrated multi-media Hebrew pre-primer. Her most recent book, Shalom Reader, is a transitional text. It provides students who have completed a Hebrew primer with stories, poems and activities in simple Hebrew that provides them with real reading opportunities. She also co-authored Z’man Likro and Z’man L’tefilah.
Dina holds an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership, an M.A. in Jewish Studies, and an Advanced Certificate in Jewish Education from Gratz College, and a B.A. in Middle East Studies: Hebrew from the University of Utah. She also studied at the University of Haifa in Haifa, Israel.