Meira Academy is housed at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto. (Photo/
Meira Academy is housed at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto. (Photo/

Facing low enrollment, the Bay Area’s only all-girls Orthodox school will close next year

This fall, Meira Academy will become a one-room schoolhouse.

Enrollment at the Palo Alto Orthodox Jewish high school for girls will be down to six students, all of whom are set to graduate next June. After that, Meira Academy will close permanently.

The decision to shutter next year was not related to funding. The school, located on the second floor of the Oshman Family JCC, has always been supported by donors, including the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund.

The problem came down to a shrinking pool of potential students.

Rabbi Joey Felsen
Rabbi Joey Felsen

“It’s not complicated,” said Rabbi Joey Felsen, who co-founded the school 12 years ago with his wife, rebbetzin Sarah Felsen. “Ever since the pandemic, there’s been a real demographic shift, at least down here in the South Bay. A lot of families that would have had potential students here have packed up, looking for other opportunities. So we lost a bunch of kids.”

He also noted that the region has become less attractive to Orthodox families, due to soaring home prices and the dearth of Orthodox infrastructure, such as kosher restaurants and markets.

“The Orthodox community never managed to achieve the critical mass you need for a school, in terms of population,” Felsen said. “The other reality is it’s such an expensive place to live. Orthodox [Jews] tend to have bigger families, and to afford a house is almost impossible.”

The Orthodox community never managed to achieve the critical mass you need for a school.

Though the school’s peak enrollment was just 23 students, Meira Academy became a source of pride for faculty, administrators, parents and students. The school community is mourning its impending demise.

“It’s been really sad,” said Principal Devorah Lewis, who came to Meira Academy from Dallas 10 years ago. “Sad for the staff because they had put their all into the school, and hard on the students as well, even for alumni.”

Meira Academy is the Bay Area’s only Orthodox high school (though there are several that serve grades K-8). Its mission has been to provide a top-level education in both Jewish and general studies. “Meira” is Hebrew for “shine.”

According to the school’s website, Meira graduates have gone on to higher education in the United States and Israel, including to Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women in New York, UC San Diego, Touro College, San Jose State University and University of Denver, and Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, Nishmat and Ateres Bnos Yerushalayim in Israel.

“Our school had an incredible reputation among seminaries in Israel,” Felsen said, referring to all-female yeshivas. “Almost all our girls spend a year in Israel post-high school.”

The Meira Academy class of 2015, the school's first graduating class. (Photo/File)
The Meira Academy class of 2015, the school’s first graduating class. (Photo/File)

In terms of general academics, Meira Academy repeatedly earned accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Even after learning that Meira would close in less than a year, the association reaffirmed the school’s accreditation.

“We felt strongly about a strong dual curriculum,” Lewis said of the school’s Jewish and general studies curricula. “When you strive for excellence, it’s not one-dimensional.”

Felsen said because the faculty and administrators would “push a little on the girls,” Meira produced high-achieving students. The school offered AP courses, brought in expert rabbis and put an emphasis on social and emotional development with a school day that went from 8 a.m. to 4:40 p.m.

Former students have reached out to the Felsens to express their sorrow over the school’s closing, in letters shared with J.

“In the time you kept Meira open, you made a beautiful impact on so many of us, and the ripples of what you worked so hard for continue on,” 2016 graduate Nora Rubin wrote.

“There aren’t enough words in the English vocabulary that can thank you enough for everything you’ve invested in your students,” wrote Tehila Nissim of the class of 2019, praising both her academic and “spiritual achievements” at the school.

Meira Academy is not the only Bay Area Jewish day school to close in recent years. Tehiyah Day School in El Cerrito folded in 2018, and the Lisa Kampner Hebrew Academy in San Francisco shut down in 2016.

Felsen, who moved from Jerusalem to Palo Alto in 2001 to launch the Jewish Study Network, a Bay Area adult Jewish learning nonprofit, said his work as executive director of JSN will continue after Meira closes. (Felsen will also be serving on J.’s board starting July 1). But he won’t soon forget Meira Academy.

Said Felsen, “It’s very, very sad for us.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.