Chabad-Lubavitch of Wisconsin, which operates Milwaukee's Hillel Academy and a host of other Jewish programs around the state, will open its first Jewish high school this fall on Milwaukee's east side.
Hillel High will offer a dual curriculum that stresses both Judaic and secular academic studies. It will target graduates of Hillel Academy, Milwaukee Jewish Day School and public elementary schools.
Lubavitch will direct the religious programming, with the secular piece provided through open enrollment in the Waukesha School District's virtual charter school, eAchieve Academy, said Lubavitch executive director Rabbi Mendel Shmotkin.
"This is really in response to parents who've come to us over the last three or four years asking, 'OK, what's the next step? How do we continue our children's Jewish education?'" Shmotkin said. "There's been a void here for a while, and parents have been asking, 'Ok, what can we do about it?'"
Among those parents are Jonathan and Amy Gelfman of Milwaukee, whose sons, Isaac and Avi, will join Hillel High as a freshman and a junior, respectively. Both had graduated from the local Hillel Academy, and Avi will transfer from a yeshiva high school in Memphis, Tenn.
"My boys are really the first guinea pigs. Pardon the religious pun, but it's a leap of faith," Jonathan Gelfman said.
He's been pitching the school to other parents. But a start-up can be a tough sell to some parents who want to see test scores, college admissions data and other traditional markings of success.
"That's the problem with any innovation," he said.
Hillel High will begin with about 10 to 12 male students. A separate program would be launched for girls if there is enough interest, according to Shmotkin.
It has already drawn interest from families around the world, as far away as Lithuania and Milan, Shmotkin said.
The school will be run by Rabbi Yossi Bassman, a Chicago native who worked in recent years for the local Lubavitch summer camp Gan Israel. Its exact location was not available Thursday because the lease had not yet been finalized, but Shmotkin said it would likely be on Downer Ave.
Tuition will be about $6,500, a bargain, insists Shmotkin. That's possible, he said, because of the collaboration with eAchieve.
Shmotkin declined to say how much Lubavitch was investing in the venture, describing it only as "six figures."
Hillel joins two other Jewish high schools, the Wisconsin Institute of Torah Studies, a traditional yeshiva school at 3288 N. Lake Drive, and the all-girls Torah Academy of Milwaukee at 6800 N. Green Bay Road. Those schools tend to draw a more religiously observant student body, with many of the boys going on to pursue Rabbinic studies.
Although Lubavitch itself is considered Haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, Hillel Academy will target a broad spectrum of students, from the modern Orthodox to those with no formal religious training, according to Lubavitch.
The school will fill a void for many parents in the local Jewish community who want to continue their children's religious studies but do not find the existing schools a good fit, Bassman said.