It Might Be Worth It
I’d like to begin by making a disclaimer that I am not a parent. I do not know what it’s like to have to pay up to $30,000 a year, per child, for Jewish education. To be honest, I don’t even know what it’s like to have $30,000 to my name. All I know is what I have done and where I have been thus far. I wanted the full high school experience- the graduation with my entire class, the late nights studying for my SAT’s, and working on my high school’s yearbook committee. I wanted to stay in my Jewish school and continue my Jewish education. I wasn’t supposed to stay in high school until 12th grade, but I did. I wasn’t supposed to go to Israel for the year, but I did. I wasn’t supposed to attend Stern College for Women, but I did. So I think it’s pretty safe to say that I have a particular attraction to Jewish institutions and formal Jewish education.
So of course, when an article came up on my Facebook newsfeed titled “I can ‘do Jewish’ on just $40,000 a year,” my interest was piqued. In the 2017 article in the Times of Israel, a young Jewish father explains his distress and concern about the price-tag of formal Jewish education in the United States of America. He makes several good points, many of which I agree with, but he does not consider the negative consequences of his actions.
In the article, the author explains that he was having a difficult time paying the high tuition of his children's’ day school. When he went to discuss his financial concerns with the head of the Jewish day school, the reply he got from this spiritual leader was: “[Either] you’re in or you’re out.” After hearing this, he chose to get out. This is one of numerous instances where I feel as though our spiritual leadership has let us, the greater Jewish community, down. Isn’t the purpose of Jewish day schools to fuel and provide a platform for the Jewish leaders of tomorrow no matter what their financial situation is? What if the child that the principle turned away had the potential to be the next Gadol Hador of the Jewish people? The “modern orthodox” world hasn’t had a Gadol Hador since Rav Soloveitchik. It’s time for the leaders in our communities to fix this, and it starts with our schools. Our communities, especially our leaders, are failing to recognize the financial burden exorbitant tuition prices are causing. In addition, there are many families I know who have gone through extremely turbulent times in their marriages because of the hardships of paying for Jewish education.
The lamenting father then explains that he was comfortably able to replace, for a lower cost, his children’s Jewish education with Chabad after-school programs and camps. Although a feasible option, Chabad after-school programs, most of which last 1-2 hours a day, will never substitute the learning done in a Jewish day school. The child who learns Torah half of his day will automatically have a better skill-set and knowledge-base than the child who only learns Hebrew or Parsha for a couple hours a week. To say the least, the father’s story is an unfortunate situation, and although I think the leader is at fault, I believe there were, and are, other options for the woeful father.
With all of the above mentioned, I am not coming at this article through the lens of a parent or a payer of tuition. I am coming towards it from the perspective of a student and a byproduct of lifelong Jewish education. Although, apparent from my past article, the Jewish education system is far from perfect, it does do a lot of things that this Jewish father cannot replace with Chabad summer camps, Hebrew tutors, and at-home Jewish support and education.
I do not think I would have the same vision of what Judaism is without my Jewish education, and I do not think an after-school program or a summer camp could replace my experiences. I have memories of teachings by my rabbis and teachers as young as the first grade that still touch me to this day. Even more so, my Jewish friends and peers greatly affected my perspectives about Judaism. Having peers in similar frame of mind, life circumstance, and background rubs off on a child, affecting how he sees the world religiously and socially .
Ultimately, I believe the now-broken system can be changed for the better. Until that day comes, however, we need to keep educating our children and envisioning the pros and cons of placing them in an environment that may not be conducive with our values and hopes for their futures. It is time for our leaders to rise up, and create uproar in our communities. After all, the leaders see first-hand the way in which these tuition prices are negatively affecting their communities- parents, children, and teachers. It may not be easy, but I think it’s worth it.