The opening of a small high school for Orthodox Jewish girls in Palo Alto this fall reflects the growth of the Orthodox community in Silicon Valley, school founders say.
Meira Academy -- named for the Hebrew word "light" -- will open its doors on Middlefield Road with eight ninth-graders later this month.
Dressed in navy pleated skirts and blue, white or blue and white striped blouses, girls will spend mornings studying Jewish texts, Hebrew, Jewish history, ethics and the role of women in Judaism.
Afternoons -- stretching until 5:30 p.m. -- will bring classes in math, science, history, language arts, computer science, visual and performing arts and gym.
The new school aims to produce graduates qualified for admission to any U.S. college or for postsecondary Jewish education, typically in Israel, said Principal Penina Noy, herself the product of an Israeli education.
The school has no formal link to any local synagogue, but caters to families seeking a "rigorous Jewish education" for their daughters, said Rabbi Joey Felsen, president of the school's board and executive director of the Palo Alto-based Jewish Study Network.
Until now, such families would have to move, or send their daughters away to board at small schools in places like Los Angeles or Denver, said Felsen, whose oldest daughter boards at a girls school in Denver.
Felsen's second daughter will be in the first class at Meira, along with girls coming from the South Peninsula Hebrew Day School in Sunnyvale, San Mateo, Davis, Seattle and Las Vegas. The out-of-town girls will board with a local family.
The amount of time reserved for Jewish education sets Meira apart from other Jewish high schools in the Bay Area, he said.
"Judaism is so vastly deep and rich you have to have a tremendous number of hours of instruction to access the wisdom and to become self-sufficient in Jewish texts," he said.
Meira Academy's math, science, humanities, arts and P.E. classes will be taught by non-religious faculty members with a range of teaching experience.
Noy, Felsen and the school's operations director, Rachel Gedalius, were occupied Monday setting up the school for occupancy later this month.
Rooms -- some with art already hung on the walls -- were freshly painted in greens, yellows and blues, reflecting the eye of local fiber artist Wo Schiffman, a major backer of Meira.
There are separate classrooms for humanities, math/science, Jewish studies, counseling and gym, as well as a teachers' lounge.
Felsen said the idea for the school sprung from a conversation his wife had with Schiffman more than a year ago.
"The idea came out that we really need to figure out how to make a high school here so the kids don't have to go away," he said.
Palo Alto's Orthodox community, with origins at Stanford University as far back as 1966, has grown to more than 150 families or individuals. The congregation, Emek Beracha, occupies a building on El Camino Real.
"It's general growth," Felsen said. "To live a fully engaged, Orthodox life, there's a certain level of infrastructure people would like to have and see in a community."
"We're much more family-oriented than the world is today," Noy said.
But even in the Orthodox world -- especially with modern technology and more women completing higher education -- "you see a lot of households with two working parents," said Gedalius, who taught school through Teach for America and recently earned an MBA.
"We see ourselves as an Orthodox school, but not necessarily for Orthodox girls," she said.
"Anyone looking for a rigorous Jewish education, regardless of family background, would be welcome at Meira Academy. We definitely fit a niche -- it's not like we're stomping on anyone else's turf."