High level political officials, journalists, think-tank scholars, Jewish organizational leaders and others involved in the nation’s political life were among the 450 people who gathered Sunday at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C., to attend the annual Purim Ball celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capital.
Nearly all speakers recalled the school’s beginnings in 1988, led by parents with small children at Adas Israel Congregation.
“My husband and I were committed to living in the District and we were committed to sending our child to Jewish day school,” Michelle Gary, one of school’s founding parents, told Washington Jewish Week. “But we didn’t want to have to put our child on a long bus ride to Rockville. We were also interested in having a school that had smaller classes and that was a developmentally oriented, kindler gentler school.”
Now home to 318 students, the school recently opened a new center to accommodate three kindergarten classes. Gary recalled the early days when, along with her day job as an attorney, she was responsible for preparing hot lunches for the entire school — numbering 30 at the time.
Other founding parents include Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew and his wife, Ruth, who served as president of the school’s steering committee.
Originally scheduled to speak at the event, Lew had to cancel at the last minute. On Tuesday he underwent surgery for a benign enlarged prostate. Lew sent his remarks to be read by Gary.
“We dreamed of a school that would value each and every child,” Lew wrote, “that would provide them with a rich academic experience in a warm and nurturing environment, that would support them in becoming proud citizens of the United States of America as well as committed members of the Jewish people.
“And it was critical to us that JPDS would welcome all kinds of Jewish people — our goal was not tolerance, but embrace,” he continued.
A fundraising auction netted $100,000 for student scholarships. It was matched by school supporter Robert Schattner, who pledged $50,000.
Leon Wieseltier, writer and literary editor at the New Republic, was one of the night’s honorees.
Speaking about the importance of a Jewish day school education, he said, “This gorgeous civilization of ours, I mean the Jewish one, has miraculously made it all the way to us, and we are right to be stubborn about its development and transition.”
Rona Kelner, a school parent co-chair for this year’s ball, said she and Laurie Saroff began the massive effort of planning for the ball as soon as the last year’s ended.
“The kids are at home because this is the grownups’ night out to mingle and socialize,” Kelner said. “It’s the one night where everyone gets to dress up and leave the kids at home.”