Best of both worlds: seniors will have prom and soiree


BP Photo by Ezra Fax

BOTH: At students’ request, girls and boys of the class of 2017 took a separate party buses as part the Senior Soiree celebration last year. This year’s class has decided to make the buses coed, among other changes to the school-supported event.

Senior Soirée, originally an alternative to prom, is a supplement — at least for now.

In a change from the administration’s previous stance, the school will provide a soiree for the senior class even though students have decided to hold a prom on their own, officials confirmed.

The soiree has not yet been scheduled, but the prom is set for June 19.

For several years, Shalhevet has offered the senior class the choice to have “soiree,” a school-funded event which last year included a dinner at Herzog Winery, a two-hour yacht trip and an overnight stay at a resort, as an alternative to a prom if students agreed not to have one.

Last year’s class accepted that offer in a vote made by a show of hands in front of teachers. Some prom supporters at the time claimed they had been therefore pressured into voting for Soiree.

This year however, the class voted 35-22 Nov. 22 in favor of prom instead, using anonymous note cards.

But some students said they would not attend, and in February, senior class presidents Tali Schlacht and Danielle Mandel asked the administration to change soiree so more people would favor it. Since there has only been one Soiree, they argued, seniors had just one example to base their vote on, and they proposed changes that would make this year’s Soiree drastically different.

“What we have turned Soiree into is a big bar mitzvah party for our entire grade,” said Danielle.

The seniors had to vote again on whether they wanted to have the additional Soiree, but they did not vote on specifics.

“I think the first time we voted it was a little bit misunderstood, and that’s why the vote didn’t work out,” said fellow senior Hila Machmali, who joined them in the discussion. “We started to realize that members of our grade would not come if we had a prom, and that’s just not how we want to end off the year.”

Meanwhile, the school’s view of Soirée seems to have shifted from its being a preventative measure to an experience in addition to prom.

“We thought that after a number of years spent in Jewish day school — whether it was just high school, middle school — that ending their time here with all the values we’ve learned and all of the Torah that we’ve learned and all the incredible Jewish values that have been part of their education — to end on a party that in many ways is antithetical to that was not the right note to strike,” Rabbi Segal said in an interview last month.

He also said that if the grade were to have a prom, it should be after graduation, and that is what is planned.  Graduation is June 3.

“They should be graduates of the school and then they’re on their own … if they want to do it,” Rabbi Segal said. “That’s how we feel.”

Seniors said officials have agreed to most of the proposed changes to the original Soiree plan.

“They’ve been cooperative with pretty much about anything we want,” said Tali Schlacht.

So far the administration has accepted having co-ed busses, dancing separated by gender but without a mechitzah (separation barrier between genders), and not having teachers dance.

All but $4,000 of last year’s $14,000 Soiree budget was paid for by the school.  Students paid $75 per student. Rabbi Segal said the administration would subsidize the event this year as well, but what percent depends on what the students want.

Meanwhile, Danielle Mandel said the prom would be the same as in previous years, and would include an after-prom.  The after-prom is where problems with alcohol have occurred in the past.

“It will take place at a student’s house for pictures and dinner, and then we will be taking party buses to the after-prom venue,” Danielle said.

Non-seniors will be invited to the after-prom.

While the prom is not being actively fought back against now, both Rabbi Segal and Just Community adviser Rabbi Ari Schwarzberg still have concerns about it.

“What always bothers me about prom is the make-believe, almost fake or fraudulent aspect to it,” said Rabbi Schwarzberg. “All of a sudden 18-year-olds are buying these dresses — and I hate the financial responsibility to it — dresses that people rarely wear or ever wear and feeling the need to put on this show… and have something that you’re calling prom because that’s something they do in the movies, that’s what other people do. That to me is honestly not who our students are.”

Rabbi Segal believes that prom and soiree have some things in common, and that one is better than the other.

“They’re obviously two sides of a different coin, from my perspective,” said Rabbi Segal. “One is a great way to end your high school career, and one’s one that I don’t think is a healthy way but is a time-honored tradition, and I think some people confuse time-honored tradition with good idea.”

Senior Ben Mashiach thinks that prom has positives.

“Girls and guys can both feel special and dress up fancy, and like have a nice meal and like it’s a cool transition to like being an adult I guess,” Ben said.

But Rabbi Schwarzberg cautioned that offering both prom and Soiree would not necessarily be the policy going forward.

“This is not a bylaw of Shalhevet,” said Rabbi Schwarzberg. “I don’t think we have that yet. I honestly don’t know.