Over 40 years of community at the San Diego Jewish Academy

The San Diego Jewish Academy campus in Carmel Valley opened on Sept. 5, 2000.
The San Diego Jewish Academy campus in Carmel Valley opened on Sept. 5, 2000.
(Courtesy of San Diego Jewish Academy)

Home is where you feel the most connected. The San Diego Jewish Academy is a community to Jewish families celebrating their identity. It is home.

“It’s where everyone in the Jewish community can go, feel welcomed, and can put their fingerprints on the place,” says Ann Jaffe, the former president of SDJA.

For over 40 years, SDJA has provided a multi-disciplinary education of Judaic studies and general studies for students pre-K through 12th grade.

The 165,000-square-foot Academy of today is far different than it was in its earlier years, says Jaffe. Founded in 1979 by SDJA President Charles Wax, the Academy’s first campus was located at the Tifereth Israel Synagogue in San Carlos, Calif. With a high demand for a school with a Jewish education beyond Hebrew school, Jaffe says that rabbis and parents united to make the dream a reality.

The San Carlos campus quickly gained a higher enrollment, necessitating expansion to a second location, Congregation Beth El in La Jolla. With two campuses now open under the name, San Diego Jewish Academy, it became clear that both campus’ spaces were too small to accommodate all the incoming students, said Jaffe.

Under Jaffe’s leadership, land in Carmel Valley was purchased to build the master plan of a 40-acre campus.

“We broke ground Nov. 24, 1999, and we opened that campus on Sept. 5, 2000, and in less than a year, it went from raw land to a campus,” she says.

Today’s campus, says Jaffe, has evolved from a mom-and-pop operation run by volunteers to one with board members and professionals, offering high quality academics and meaningful Jewish learning. After extensive donations by parents and the community, the Academy of today was born.

Despite the donations from parents and the community, Jaffe says, “Parents were hesitant to pay full tuition for a school that had never existed. We were building on the credibility to get enough students to attend.”

With that in mind, one of the first teachers hired was Morah Yedid, an Israeli immigrant. Upon finding out that a new Hebrew day school was opening in San Diego, Yedid applied, was immediately hired, and she hasn’t looked back since, she says.

Yedid worked at SDJA for 40 years and was proudly there from the moment it opened.

“The school caters to all streams, from Orthodox, Reform Judaism, interfaith families, and to people who are not even Jewish,” says Yedid.

SDJA is open to all students of different ethnicities and religions. It takes pride in hiring faculty members from diverse backgrounds. Teshy Wellman, the current office manager, is an immigrant from Mexico City. She says speaking Spanish, English, and Hebrew are critical in her work.

For 22 years, Wellman has communicated with many of the new families and students who enroll.

“The Academy is a wonderful place for immigrants because we understand how they feel and what they need,” Wellman said. “Right now, we have 120 new kids. I have about 10 new families from Mexico, four from Israel, and a few from Russia. They call me, and it’s very easy to understand them because I speak Spanish and Hebrew.”

The San Diego Jewish Academy’s diversity and rich history have created a safe space for the Jewish community.

“It has changed the Jewish skyline,” Jaffe says, with implementing Judaism as not only a form of education, but as a lifestyle. A lifestyle that will continue to inspire and express the importance of a Jewish identity to the students of tomorrow.