Abe Foxman is coming out and publicly stating what many of us already know: the North American Jewish community is in some difficulties, and it may benefit both this Jewish community as well as Israel in the long run to decrease the resources being diverted to Israel so that this community can expend those resources on preserving and growing our population and its commitment to Jewish life.
Actually, Foxman seems to be suggesting that funds would still be raised to be sent to Israel (over half of UJA money is sent to Israel for example), but then Israel would send $100 million of those funds back to the “diaspora.”
In his opinion, 30 percent of the money should be invested in programs to bring young Jews to Israel, initiatives such as birthright or Masa, the new program initiated by the Jewish Agency.
“We have developed the most exciting audio-visual Jewish identity program that anybody could dream of, and it is called Israel,” Foxman says. “We know it works. This is the tourniquet, this will stop our bleeding for now. If you send 100 kids here, one third will be Zionists forever, for one third it won’t matter, and one third will be `different.’ That’s a pretty good investment for $5,000.”
Foxman says that the remaining $70 million should be invested in Jewish education in the United States, in expanding the infrastructure and in substantial tuition subsidies. According to the study, in 2000-2001, 79 percent of Jewish children in the United Stated received “some kind” of Jewish education, but only 29 percent attended private Jewish schools and yeshivas. The main reason for that is the cost: One year of schooling in a Jewish school in New York cost the parents up to $20,000 per child.
“A good salary for people who don’t work in Wall Street is $100,000, $120,000, and if they have three kids and they don’t qualify for scholarship, they can’t afford to send their kids to a Jewish day school,” says Foxman.
Many families don’t send their children to Jewish day schools precisely because of cost. Many Jewish schools find their offerings restricted by a lack of funds. Sometimes schools totter on the verge of bankruptcy for years, always dependent upon their recruitment of the following year’s class for survival. Of course, the following year’s class has to have a few families who can afford the full tuition, because there aren’t enough subsidies to go around – education and running schools is an expensive proposition.
I’m heartened to hear Foxman come out and speak publicly about this. We already know that people like Bronfman and Steinhardt are putting their money where their mouth is and supporting programs. However, it’s not nearly enough. Every Jewish community in the US has its Jewish benefactors who are doing their best to support Jewish education. But it’s nowhere near enough. Foxman makes the correct point that this has now filtered through our entire community to the point where it’s harmful:
“I think there is growing apart,” says Foxman. “Intermarriage is growing. A lot of it is ignorance. We have grown two generations without being taught to be Jews. The next generation of Jewish kids on campus, if we don’t invest in them, will find themselves with another problem. Because `Tikkun Olam’ [repairing the injustices in the world] becomes the Jewish model, instead of `Im ein ani li, mi li’ [If I am not for myself, then who is for me?] Tikkun Olam is everybody else but me. I survived the Holocaust and I still carry that.”
Part of the problem that Foxman brings up can be seen in this study that shows that most Jewish mega-donations in North America are made to non-Jewish causes and institutions. Obviously that is well and good. But consider how many of the top benefactors ot all causes in the US are Jewish. Statistically, the Jewish community contributes to society wealth that is by far disproportionate to its size. If even a portion of that money could be directed toward Jewish education, you would have a much healthier system and one that is far more likely to grow instead of assimilating into eventual irrelevance.
Isn’t it about time that we started changing this situation – before we hit a point of no return? Let’s ask Israel for assistance, and let’s also ask ourselves to reconsider how we can benefit our communities and the education of young Jews. Seriously, while we may sometimes call them Jewlicious hotties and dudes, we definitely see them as the future and we need to invest in the future.