You May Think it is Not Your Problem – Here is Why You are Wrong
For some time, the cost of Jewish education has been labeled a crisis. While it feels like this issue has been addressed ad nauseam, believe it or, it is still being debated. Our own Rabbi Adam Englander penned an article describing how KHDS was able to freeze tuition and even lower it. Gershon Distenfeld, Chairman of Yeshivat He’Atid in NJ wrote an article in response entitled, “Is There Still a Tuition Crisis?” He writes, “Today, what I (and others) are hearing is totally different. Many (day school administrators and board members chief among them) are expressing skepticism that we have any sort of “tuition crisis” for a very simple reason. Parents, and especially the younger generation, are demonstrating time and again that price just doesn’t factor much (if at all) into their decision-making process.”
It is true, that for those who can easily afford Jewish education there is no crisis, and frankly, for many of those receiving the largest scholarships it can be argued, there is no crisis in the sense that their children can remain in a Jewish school without question. My experience has shown me, however, that there remains a crisis for a significant number of families who fall in between. There is a population that is receiving a generous tuition reduction and yet they simply cannot afford to meet that reduced tuition contract.
None of us should know the crisis of having to consider the question of removing a child or children from a warm, nurturing, positive Jewish educational environment and put them in Public School for financial reasons alone. There are legitimate reasons to leave Jewish day schools, but money cannot and should not be one of them. I strongly believe that a Jewish education is a necessity, not a luxury, and every Jewish child deserves a chance at one.
To put it simply, these families, these children, need our help. Our local Boca day schools are extraordinarily generous. Combined, they provide more than 6 million dollars of tuition assistance a year. They, and those paying full tuition that helps subsidize others are doing your part. But to relieve the crisis for the children on the brink of leaving Jewish Day School, the rest of the community needs to step up and do their part.
In 2009, we created the BRS Jewish Education Scholarship Fund to provide modest support to struggling families and help close the small gap and keep their kids in Jewish schools. Since then, the generous donors to this fund have helped literally dozens of Jewish children stay in Jewish schools. The fund does not support the operating budget of schools or make donations to their fundraisers. The fund exclusively provides money on behalf of specific children in specific circumstances to ensure that they can remain in a Jewish school. The fund has zero overhead or administrative costs. Every penny that is donated goes directly towards the tuition of a particular child and helps them remain in Jewish school.
Helping the youth of our community is not the job of schools alone or of other parents who happen to have their children in the same school. It is the job, responsibility, and halachic obligation of each and every one of us alike, whether we have young children at home or are empty nesters.
You may be thinking, this fund is a fantastic idea and my neighbors should most definitely give, but I am exempt. Here is why you are wrong:
MYTH #1 – “This is important, but it is someone else’s responsibility, not mine. I have been there and done that. I have built my children and grandchildren’s schools and now it is time for the next generation.” This is a myth and a fallacy. In the year 64 C.E., R. Yehoshua ben Gamla introduced an idea that would revolutionize the educational world. He identified a crisis in which Jewish children, particularly orphans, were not being educated by their parents at home as they had been traditionally until that time. He left his prominent position and started the first Jewish public school. He mandated each community to provide the funds to enable a Jewish education to all. The Talmud (Bava Basra 21a) credits his vision and initiative with saving our people.
Indeed, his approach is quoted in Shulchan Aruch and remaining an obligation on Jewish communities until today. The Rama, Rav Moshe Isserles writes, “In a place in which the residents of a city establish among them a teacher, and the fathers of the children cannot afford tuition, and the community will have to pay, the tax is levied based on financial means.” Living in a community means contributing to a fund that ensures every Jewish child can get the Jewish education they deserve. One never graduates from this obligation, even if their children and grandchildren have graduated the schools they once supported.
MYTH #2 is “My children or grandchildren are struggling and I am helping them with their tuition.” That is fantastic, meritorious, and noble. However, it does not exempt you from giving locally as well. Poskim are clear that local schools have the status of aniyei ircha, local indigent, and there is a halachic imperative and priority to give to them before giving to every envelope that comes in the mail and every knock that comes to the door. If for years we send at least something to every yeshiva, kollel and charity that contacts us, how could we not participate in our local communal obligation?
We need the community, especially those who are not otherwise giving to our schools right now, to participate in this fund. Whether you are single, married, young, old, an octogenarian or newlyweds, these are OUR children and OUR collective responsibility. This fund is not helping anonymous, unfamiliar children in faraway places. It is enabling your neighbor’s children, the children who sit next to you in shul or riding their bicycles down your street, to remain in Jewish schools.
Supporting the fund is an investment opportunity that is guaranteed to pay a return. The dividends are informed, inspired, passionate Jewish children who are committed to Torah, the Jewish people, and the State of Israel. With all of the challenges we are having inspiring our youth, the research and statistics don’t lie. One cannot compare the Jewish identity of a child that attended a Jewish day school with one who didn’t. We need your help, please answer the call.