A School for D.C.’s Jewish Elite
The Jewish Primary Day School is now the place to be for the kids of Washington’s politically connected Jews
But part of the school’s charm, parents say, is that it remains a uniquely egalitarian place by Washington standards. “Importing the Washington power hierarchy into the school would not be socially acceptable the way it would be at some of the other schools,” said New York Times columnist David Brooks, whose children attended JPDS and who continues to help with fundraising efforts. As at similar private schools elsewhere in Washington, or in Los Angeles or New York, the kids don’t really care who their friends’ parents are. “They’re not afraid of them,” said Steve Rabinowitz, a parent and former Clinton White House staffer who helped run Jewish outreach for Obama’s 2012 campaign. “They have play dates, they carpool.”
And while the list of parents who have sent their kids to JPDS is indeed impressive, oftentimes their connection to the school precedes their climb up Washington’s political ladder; in many cases, young parents emerge as power players as their children progress through the school, not before. Daniel Shapiro—whose wife, Julie Fisher, taught at JPDS for many years—was a staffer for Sen. Bill Nelson when his oldest daughter started kindergarten there. “Dan was just Julie’s husband, because she was much more important around here than he was,” said Adina Kanefield, the school’s development director. “Dan and Norm [Eisen] were both parents here first, when they were just a Hill staffer and a lawyer, before they were ambassadors.”
Fisher, for her part, remembers being anxious during her first parent-teacher conferences with Joe Lieberman and his wife, Hadassah, when she taught their daughter Hani. “For us at JPDS they were important not because they’re famous, but because they’re parents,” said Fisher, who said she expects her two younger children, who are in first and second grade, to return to JPDS once the family’s time in Tel Aviv is up. “Now that I’m in this crazy world I understand what they were looking for, that they could come in and people didn’t care what they did for a living.”
Next fall’s new incoming parents include a senior Department of Justice appointee and an aide to Vice President Joe Biden. “We know with some of the parents coming in that they’ll be those people in a few years,” said Naomi Reem, JPDS’s head of school. “But they’re not there yet.”
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