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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!!

 

Goodbye, New York Times

Dear New York Times,

It’s over between us.

For 30 years, I’ve been in love with you, NYT.

I met you soon after I moved here from Chicago. Never before had I read such thoughtful, compellingly written journalism, with dispatches from all over the globe that mirrored my politics and my interests. You opened my eyes, New York Times. Back in Chicago, the papers covered only local news, but you showed me there was a larger world out there, filled with enchanting possibilities.

It was love at first sight. From that very first time, I turned to your editorials and op-ed pages to shape my opinions. I wouldn’t see a movie or a play until I read your reviews. I chose books based on your recommendations. I tore out your recipes and saved them in a special notebook. It was a thrill when my illustrations appeared in your hallowed Sunday Magazine. The papers that described 9/11 and the election of our first black President are preserved lovingly in my basement.

 

 

A view from the pew

A past chair of JCRC of Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, with the group for the last 40 years, I have been deeply involved both in interfaith relations and in fostering better understanding of Israel’s struggle for recognition, of its right to exist as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

For me, the decade-long debate within the Presbyterian Church (USA) that culminated in the decision to divest from investments in three companies that do business in Israel was a hurtful blow to a half century of interfaith relations. In the aftermath of this action the question remains: How should we as a Jewish community respond?

 

 

Letter from Israel

Tragedy never fails to bring Israelis together.

This was proven once again when teenagers Naftali Fraenkel of Nof Ayalon, Gilad Shaer of Talmon, and Eyal Yifrach of Elad were kidnapped while standing at a hitchhiking post after school on the night of June 12.

Over the ensuing days, Israeli unity took the form of prayer rallies, schoolchildren waving Israeli flags on street corners, social-media campaigns, and nonstop monitoring of news channels for updates. In our neighborhood, several families took up a collection of snacks to be delivered by Yashar LaChayal to soldiers laboring day and night in the aptly named “Operation Brother’s Keeper.”

 

 

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Not in our name

 

The abstracting of Israel

My new favorite defenders of Israel are a Pakistani-Canadian physician and an atheist who doesn’t believe in Zionism.

I’ll explain. I was in Woodstock, N.Y., over the weekend, where I saw a lone protester carrying a sign that read, “We are witnessing the Brutal Failure of Zionism and the Human Failure of the state of Israel.”

It wasn’t exactly the kind of rioting they are seeing in Paris, but his message still was infuriating. I understand people who are upset with the enormous loss of life in the latest Gaza operation. I can respect those who disagree with Israeli policy and who demand human rights for Palestinians.

 

 

A military funeral in Israel

A while back, Yuval Heiman went to the beach with his longtime girlfriend. Somehow their conversation turned to the risk of drowning, and he told her that such a death would have no value. It is far better, he mused, to die for a purpose, echoing the words attributed to the early Zionist hero, Joseph Trumpeldor, “Tov lamut b’ad artzenu— “It is good to die for our country.” Perishing while on a sacred mission, he surely believed, is to sanctify God’s name, perhaps the only Jewish value greater than life itself. That conversation was, perhaps, an Israeli exercise in confronting the reality that Israeli soldiers — and at times many of the country’s civilians as well — have to be prepared to sacrifice their lives in defense of the State of Israel.

 

 
 
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