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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!!

 

Why Ferguson matters to Jews

“Standing on the parted shores of history, we still believe what we were taught before ever we stood at Sinai’s foot:

“That wherever we go, it is eternally Egypt; that there is a better place, a promised land; that the winding way to that promise passes through the wilderness.

“That there is no way to get from here to there except by joining hands, marching together.”

This passage is read every Friday night at my synagogue, Barnert Temple, and I am moved each time it is read. Ever since I was a teenager, I would picture Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. walking hand in hand in 1965, marching for voting rights in Selma, Alabama.

 

 

To a daughter on her way to Israel

We spend much of Thursday at Marshall’s.

“What do you think?” I ask you, frowning. “Here. Add up these numbers.” I read you the measurements of the cute red wheelie bag, and you punch the figures into your phone.

“It comes to 44, Mom. Perfect!” Perfect for El Al, that is. Height plus width plus depth, the dimensions of your carry-on luggage may not exceed 45 inches.

“That’s great, sweetie!” I say cheerfully, and we wheel it to the cashier. One more thing we can cross off the list.

 

 

Jewish time

Have you forgotten that the seasons have no regard

for the sovereignty of the sun

and instead attend upon

the grace and glory of the moon?

have you forgotten that the day begins

with evening’s song

and ends with shadow’s conquest of the hills?


 

I never heard any talk about “Jewish time” until I moved to New Jersey. When I was growing up, my family belonged to a Reform temple in Forest Hills, New York, and maybe it still retained a strong sense of its German-Jewish origins. Punctuality is a value, some say an obsession, present in powerful form in British as well as German culture, and by extension the Anglo-Saxon-dominated culture of the United States. And it was marginalized groups that were known to possess a different sense of time from the mainstream.

That’s why, back when I was a college student in the ‘70s, I heard references to stereotypes about “Indian time” for Native Americans, “Spanish time” for Latinos, and “Black time” for African-Americans. But back then, I never heard anyone talk about “Jewish time” or “Hebrew time” to explain why, for example, services scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. might not actually start until 8:15 or 8:20.

 

 

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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).

 

 

Lord of the fruit flies

All right, I confess. Some Jews have Christmas envy.

Me, I have Halloween envy.

When it gets cool and the leaves change color, I long for cornstalks on my doorstep, candy corn in my candy bowls, gourds on my table, spider webs on my bushes, trick-or-treaters ringing my bell. Sometimes I drive to Bergenfield and Bogota to get my Halloween fix. And, O.K., maybe I wrote a short story that managed to incorporate both the Holocaust and a werewolf.

Still, I like to think I have it under control.

 

 

A reason for optimism

A Frenchman, a German and a Jew were wandering in the desert. All three were parched with thirst. They each craved their favorite drink.

The Frenchman proclaimed, “I am thirsty! I must have a glass of wine!”

The German said, “I am thirsty! I must have a frothy beer!”

The Jew said, “I am thirsty! I must have diabetes!”

Jews are a worrying lot. We often are consumed by fear, and see our glasses of wine and beer as only half full. Perhaps that is from years of persecution, or perhaps it is just part of our DNA. Any way you slice it, we are pessimistic.

 

 
 
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