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A mother’s solution to the yeshiva tuition crisis

 
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We all know that there is a tuition crisis, right? We are paying college-sized tuitions for our children (upwards of $11,000 per year), who can be well-educated for a fraction of the cost. Yes, well-educated!

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I grew up a Conservative Jew in a Long Island town and went to a public school. Although it had a Jewish minority, Jews were well represented in the honors program. I attended a Conservative Hebrew school and was a bat mitzvah. I absolutely love being an Orthodox Jew (ba’al teshuvah), and I’m proud that my five children attend or will attend Hebrew day school. But sadly, I feel that our Orthodox Jewish education system is fundamentally flawed. I believe that sending our children to public school, followed by an after-school Orthodox program for a fraction of the cost, is a better plan.

If we all sent our children to our public schools (especially in Teaneck), they would be in a strongly Jewish environment. These Orthodox children would benefit tremendously and also have the right to religious freedom in these settings.

Relieving a large portion of tuition expense would dramatically improve family life. Families could grow larger; mothers and fathers might be able to work less and, most important, worry less. Families could spend more time nurturing their souls and spend more money on tzedakah.

I know that great public schools exist and produce exceptional college students. I also know that after-school “Hebrew schools” have produced great Jews. Modern Orthodox Jews have never had Hebrew schools like the one I attended — schools that would be able to complement a good secular education.

I am not saying public schools are a utopia and I know that children in them may be exposed to bad influences. But we are not isolationists; rather we should be a light unto the nations. All negative influences could be offset by values taught at home.

We certainly plan on sending our children to college and into the business world; we’re not sheltering them their entire lives. At this rate, where will that college money come from? Spent on kindergarten? I fear this may limit the educational and professional options that are extremely important down the road for our children.

I also feel that there are so many overlooked benefits of public schools (not just financial).

First, they are environments of equality. Children of the wealthy are given absolutely no special treatment, and poorer children don’t have to feel they are charity cases.

Second, there are greater opportunities in academics (more advanced placement college-level courses), athletics, music, art, foreign languages, and many extra-curricular activities. My public school experience allowed me to become fluent in Spanish, learn to play the saxophone, learn guitar, participate in chorus, and play every sport imaginable — all free of charge.

Third, there is diversity; while 85 percent of my close friends were Jews, I had many wonderful non-Jewish friends who gained positive views of the Jewish people through our friendships. I believe the “real world” experience of public school will also allow our children to become more tolerant and respectful adults.

Fourth, and perhaps most important, any child who requires speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, behavioral therapy, and the like will have it for free. One of my children attends a Teaneck public school because of his autism; he is in a class with three children and three teachers. His individualized education plan includes 1:1 student-teacher ratio, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy three times a week and an eight-hour-per-week home therapist. He has been picked up and dropped off by bus at my front door since he was 3 years old — and it’s all free.

I have found many of the professionals in the Teaneck public schools to be exceptional and accommodating to all our religious needs. In my son’s school, he has a volunteer rabbi during lunch who recites blessings with him. Kosher meals are currently available as well. Children who come from solid Orthodox backgrounds would not be at risk in this secular environment.

What I envision is an intensive after-school Orthodox curriculum, using existing infrastructure at a fraction of the current cost of attending a yeshiva. I strongly feel that the benefits of this proposed system outweigh its costs. This system could work only if the public schools were heavily Orthodox and a great after-school religious curriculum were developed. This could and should be done.

We are losing precious Jewish souls because of financial birth control. Things need to change. Meanwhile, we will continue to pay in tuition what most people don’t earn in a year and lovingly raise our children who are attending outstanding yeshivas.

To be clear, I am not bashing the excellent yeshiva education my children receive. My motive is to create a less costly and high-quality Orthodox education system. I, like you, know nothing about the mechanics to bring about change, but I do know that silence only perpetuates the problem.

Amy Citron lives in Teaneck, where she is a physical therapist. She and her husband Yoav have five children.
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Stay tuned for the return of comments

robert posted 04 Feb 2009 at 12:56 AM

Amen. The ridiculous yeshiva tuitions are unsustainable. While the Orthodox are loathe to expose our kids to a non-jewish element, as you point out this is inevitable, and we might as well start early. Of course, Teaneck real estate taxes are supposedly already very high, and I suspect a sudden surge of hundreds if not thousands of new students will cause real financial headaches, and the local school boards to collectively stroke!!

 

Tzitz, tefillin, and the halachic process

Recent weeks have seen much discussion about the permissibility of women wearing tefillin.

Although I do not question the sincerity of the parties involved, and maintain high regard for the individuals involved, I see this as an opportunity to reflect on the unique mitzvah of tefillin and on maintaining the integrity of the halachic process. In addition to the specific halachic question involved, this controversy also raises the broader question of how halachah functions, and I would like to provide some perspective on both of these issues.

 

 

Ask the right questions

With the arrival and maturation of my generation, the Millenials, the question “Who is a Jew?” is rather passé.

Forget the halachic dimensions to this endlessly debatable topic. Forget all the moralizing arguments over the issue. Forget the demographically induced paranoia, the post-Holocaust hand-wringing, the Israeli legal maneuvering (not to mention the pandering that comes with it), and the denominational infighting. And — for heaven’s sake! — forget the Pew study.

The fact is that “Who is a Jew?” is the wrong question. To maintain our relevance — to regain it, really — the question we must ask today is “Why be Jewish?”

 

 

Holy water

Two weeks ago I visited a place in Israel that I had never seen before.

Shafdan, as the place is called, is a high-tech water reclamation plant just a few kilometers outside of Rishon Letzion. It looked a little like Area 51 in Nevada and it smelled a bit like the New Jersey Meadowlands. But what is happening there is amazing.

In the simplest of terms, Shafdan takes more than 90 percent of waste water — that’s water from kitchen and bathroom sinks, showers, drains, and toilets — from a large region in northwestern Israel. Shafdan repurifies the water, and then it can be reused.

 

 

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It can open avenues of positive imagination and creativity because a free people’s potential belongs ultimately to them and need not answer to a master who may limit that potential.

This is why the Haggadah must open with questions. Indeed, the Talmud tells us that if a person celebrates Pesach alone, he must ask himself the questions that lead into the story of the Exodus. The right to question, the ability to challenge authority, is the sign that a person ultimately is free. As long as an authority can say, “Keep that unacceptable idea to yourself,” you are not free. Therefore our Festival of Freedom must start with questions, which are always in some way subversive.

 

 

Why be Jewish? I’ll answer the question myself

In March I wrote in the Jewish Standard about the challenges posed to the organized Jewish community by my generation, the much- (if not, over-) discussed Millennials (“So, really, why be Jewish?”).

We need to refocus ourselves, I said, by turning away from questions like “Who is a Jew?” The key Jewish question of our time is this: Why be Jewish? “With the arrival and maturation of my generation, the Millennials, the question, ‘Who is a Jew?’ is rather passé,” I wrote. “The fact is that ‘Who is a Jew?’ is the wrong question. To maintain our relevance—to regain it, really—the question we must ask today is ‘Why be Jewish?’”

 

 

Hudson County is welcome to the federation

I read Joshua Einstein’s op-ed piece in last week’s Jewish Standard with great interest (“Hudson County needs a federation”).

He’s made a great case for creating a formal connection between Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey and the Hudson County Jewish community. His argument makes sense. Northern Hudson County has been in our coverage area for many years, so we already have connections there. We now provide services to southern Hudson, including those services Einstein mentions, and more. So it all seems like a natural fit.

 

 
 
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