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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!!

 

Remembering Regina Jonas

Conversion to Judaism is very much in the news today — and for all the wrong reasons. But at the moment, my interest is not in the history of conversion itself, but in the way that it is read into next week’s Torah reading, parashat Lekh Lekha (Genesis 12-17).

The Torah reading opens with God commanding Abraham to set forth on a journey to a place unknown. Abraham sets forth with his wife Sarah, his nephew, all their possessions, and “the souls that they had made in Haran.”

How does someone “make” souls? The midrashic collection Genesis Rabbah, compiled some time in the fifth through eighth centuries, interprets this strange clause as referring to converts. Why did the text say “made” instead of “converted”? To demonstrate that converting someone to Judaism is like creating that person anew. But why the plural? Doesn’t it really mean that he, Abraham, had made or converted those souls? No. Abraham converted the men; Sarah converted the women (Genesis Rabbah 39:14).

 

 

Cold hearts and sub-Saharan Jews

I remember vividly how moved and inspired I was as a child when — at a very early stage of my Jewish education — I was introduced to the sage Hillel and his own youthful entrée to Jewish scholarship.

Hillel went on to become a renowned scholar, a beloved and oft-quoted national leader, and the founder of an important rabbinic dynasty. The brief story — my first “Talmud lesson” — is familiar. Working as a poor woodchopper, Hillel would devote half of his meager earnings to daily necessities. The other half he spent on the fee required for admission to the bet midrash — the Babylonian academy where Torah was taught by the great Shemaiah and Avtalyon. One winter Friday (during the month of Tevet, the Talmud records) he was without sufficient means to enter the citadel of learning. He was turned away. Undeterred, he climbed atop the roof, to listen to the lesson through a skylight. There he stayed until Shabbat morning, when he was found covered by three cubits of snow. “The snow came down from Heaven,” the text (Yoma 35B) says lyrically. (Even in my New England childhood, that daunting volume of snow fired my imagination!)

 

 

Scandals in the rabbinate

In the wake of the recent, highly publicized mikvah scandal, I wonder what possesses men and women who have dedicated themselves to the perpetuation of Judaism and its values to abandon those values.

Often enough this occurs in the domain of sexual wrongdoing, but there also are recorded instances of such ethical offenses as the misuse of discretionary funds for personal or family needs, and criminal activities including the embezzlement of synagogue or Jewish organizational assets. The parties involved often have sterling records of service to the Jewish community and are well-respected as clergy in their denominations and then suddenly all hell breaks loose regarding a discovered transgression that is not a mere peccadillo. Why does this happen?

 

 

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A view from the pew

The recent debates over the so-called Jewish State basic law was the catalyst, though not necessarily the true cause, for the collapse of Israel’s coalition government.

What was this debate really about? As a Chanukah gift to ourselves, I suggest that each of us do a Google search of the following list of internationally recognized legal documents: the Balfour Declaration; UN Resolution 181, dated November 29, 1947; the Israeli declaration of independence; and UN Resolution 242, dated September 1967.

Each of these internationally recognized legal documents are proof that for nearly a century, the international community has affirmed and re-affirmed the right of the Jewish people to re-establish ourselves as an independent Jewish state in the land of Israel. You will note as well that over that same century, the Jewish community in the land of Israel and in the diaspora has affirmed our responsibility to recognize the political and religious rights of non-Jewish residents of the pre-1948 community and of the equality under law of all citizens of Israel.

 

 

Divided we fall — united we may stand

As I look out on the world from my vantage point in relatively safe and protected Teaneck, I am often reminded of these lines by the Irish poet William Butler Yeats: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…”

Here, in the United States, we seem less united than at any time since the Civil War. In much of the Arab world internal sectarianisms and a return to tribalism seem to hold sway. Within the Jewish world we seem to have splintered into ever smaller, more closely defined, exclusive and exclusionary fragments. Even in Teaneck, we are deeply factionalized.

 

 

That dirty word ‘merger’ — and building a shared Jewish future

 
 
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