By Mariel Priven ‘19
At the Grade Parent Coffee last month, Head of High School Rabbi Noam Silverman announced that this year’s Junior Prom has been cancelled. He explained that the administration would instead work alongside the students to create a celebration that fosters a safer environment and is more in line with the school’s commitments and values, while simultaneously serving as a fun way to celebrate the end of a stressful year.
Though overall excited for his plans, Rabbi Noam did add that he again would like to apologize to the junior class for not speaking to the students about his decision before alerting the parents. Students were officially told of the decision on November 20th, four days after the parents, in an invitation to an opening meeting for further discussion.
Rabbi Noam explained that the changing of Junior Prom was something he had been considering since he began his tenure as Head of High School in 2015. In an interview, he elaborated that “most New York private schools don’t have Junior Prom. It was somewhat curious to me: why do we have it?” Upon further investigation, he came to the conclusion that the celebration has negative qualities that outweigh the positive.
Rabbi Noam believes that though juniors should have the opportunity to celebrate, “We as an institution don’t need to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on that kind of celebration.” According to him, Heschel spent approximately $3000 to hold last year’s Junior Prom. This figure does not include student fees for tickets.
Rabbi Noam also raised the safety concerns the administration has regarding prom. He worried that, no matter how hard the school worked to ensure a safe environment, students would nonetheless participate in dangerous after-prom parties. He explained that even if the students are no longer on the Heschel campus, the school is still concerned about their health and safety and therefore cannot encourage or host any event that might result in a threat to them.
As Rabbi Noam promised, he and the administration have begun working with the junior class to plan a different celebration. Vice President of the Spirit Council Omri Benichou ’19, who attended the student meeting, explained that prior to going, he understood the administration’s reasoning. “It led to consumption of illegal substances afterwards that the school did not want to be associated with. For seniors, they have already graduated, so the school is not held responsible for their actions,” he said.
However, Benichou shared that, other than providing a few details, the meeting was not too helpful. According to him, it clarified that in place of prom, the school will fund an approved activity that the juniors will plan. Though he does understand the worries of the administration, Benichou added that “most students at the school were somewhat resistant to the change, since so much has changed in a short amount of time, such as the Shabbaton date and location.”
On a similar note, many students are dissatisfied with Rabbi Noam’s proposed changes. In fact, just hours after Rabbi Noam told parents of the change, the Class of 2019 Facebook group was buzzing with questions, comments, and overall frustration. Junior Molly Katz elaborated that after a year as stressful as eleventh grade, the school must give the students an opportunity to have fun and de-stress. “A chaperoned grade trip does not accomplish the same thing,” she explained. “At a prom you get to dress up, and it’s something big to look forward to at the end of the year. We can all take a day trip any time in our lives, but there is only one opportunity for Junior Prom.”
Having waited for Junior Prom for at least three years, “To have that taken away after waiting to be the age when we get to go to prom feels unfair,” Katz added. Additionally, many students argue that the school-run prom does not present any more of a risk of illegal activity than any party or event. Junior Rochelle Dweck explained, “I think the unfortunate reality of the situation is that no matter what type of event the administration provides the class with, some sort of end-of-year celebration will be planned by the students that could just as easily result in underage drinking.”