Well, let’s face it, I’m the only married one among the Jewlicious posters. I believe I’m the only father as well (right, Muffti?). I am the only one of us who has to deal with the reality of Jewish education, and while I have posted about many things over the past months, the one topic that has been consuming my attention is this one.

It ain’t easy to provide Jewish education to your child because there are so many compromises involved.

The problems involve cost, quality and the general benefit.

The first question is that of the benefit. What does a Jewish day school education mean to a child? Will it make him a better Jew? Perhaps, but I believe our Muffti – he of the 3rd place in the Bible Quiz – grew up in a Jewish day school system that is among the better ones in North America, and today he is an avowed atheist. Then again, he is undeniably connected with his traditions and background. Perhaps his identity as a Jew, and his general comfort with his Jewishness are the reason he can afford to be an atheist. He is, after all, secure in the knowledge that he is a Jew.

Is Muffti an exception? Nope. Most Jews I know who attended Jewish day school identify strongly as Jews, although most are also secular. Even those who grew up Modern Orthodox or in strong Conservative homes have become fairly secular in their practice. Then again, most of these people married Jewish spouses and are active within their respective Jewish communities. Does it matter whether they keep shabbat as the rabbis demand? Not according to Bronfman, but ck tells us that it does matter.

Does Hebrew day school provide Hebrew? On a so-so level. You know how to read and write. You have a basic vocabulary. Opening a siddur in a synagogue comes naturally. If you go to Israel, however, you’re not going to have an easy time conversing with the natives. Different schools offer different amounts of Hebrew, but in my large urban city, the elementary schools typically offer 45 to 60 minutes of Hebrew instruction per day.

They also offer a similar amount of Judaism classes. So they cover the torah, holidays and general history in another 45 to 60 minutes every day or three times a week. In some schools, they may combine the Hebrew with the Judaism, so the teacher has some flexibility regarding focus. Do the kids end up knowing the major holidays? Sure. Do they get to know the intricacies of Jewish history or values? Not at all. In fact, if you drill down and ask what Jewish values are, you’re going to end up with some sort of universal do-good humanism that suggests that our purpose as Jews is tikkun olam, and that tikkun olam means healing all the world equally.

What else do you get? In some schools you get daily or weekly prayers. In some there might be a minyan that gathers every morning. The walls are covered with artwork by the kids that pertains to Jewish life. Assemblies are called before some holidays and some schools offer some sort of Friday afternoon pre-shabbat service or gathering. Some schools require kippahs on boys at all times. Unkosher food is usually disallowed or discouraged, and if they offer hot lunches, they are typically kosher. The other children and their parents are usually Jewish.

For this you pay about $10,000 to $14,000 at most schools. Per child. Some schools give you a small discount for the second child (or the third child if you’ve gone nuts and want to go bankrupt). If your income is below a certain level, you can bare ALL of your personal financial information, and they will send it to some centralized center in the Midwest that will crunch the numbers and figure out how much you have to pay. No matter how generous their discount, in proportion to your income, there will be a massive hit for every child you send to Jewish day school.

Now this isn’t a small matter and it isn’t just a “sacrifice.” This is meaningful. First, let me note that many of the parents, meaning people who put their kids through Jewish day schools and are now finished raising children, find themselves in some financial difficulties as they turn 60 and 70. This may depend upon their income as they went through life, but if we can extrapolate something, it is that middle class Jewish couples who sent their children to Jewish schools may have spent a significant portion of their future retirement money on their childrens’ education. They also used this money on Jewish education instead of trips to Israel. Certainly, they found it difficult to save for college.

It also affects how much house one can afford since two children would be costing an upper middle class family (in the U.S., $200,000/year places a family in the top 3% of all families) $20,000 – $28,000 after taxes. This translates to about $40,000 per year before taxes. That same family is probably paying about $65,000 – $75,000 in taxes, so their $200,000 becomes about $105,000 per year before they eat, drink and put a roof over their head. And this is a family in the upper 3% of incomes! What happens to the family that makes $100,000? Well, they’ll probably pay about $28,000 to $33,000 in taxes, and then pay about $5000 per child after they bare their finances to the school. So they have to spend $38,000 – $43,000 out of their $100,000 before they eat or drink or put a roof over their heads.

As we can see, Hebrew day school, by its nature, is a game for the rich, upper middle class, and completely insane middle class people who would sacrifice their kids’ college funds, their own retirements, and their standard of living in order to send their kids to these schools.

Now here’s the really unhappy part of the whole story. As I’ve noted, this is already a self-selecting crowd. Most people cannot afford or are unwilling to make the sacrifices I’ve just outlined. And it’s not as if they but a Lexus with the savings. Nope, they simply live like normal middle class people. So what’s the unhappy part? The quality of the education.

Trust me on this, I’m an expert. The key benefit of Jewish schooling is that you get both a secular and a Jewish component daily, with all the attendant extra hours at school and with homework that this entails. That combination trains you well for college and other aspects of life. You’re used to working harder and longer than most kids. However, usually the education – both secular and Jewish – is average.

Actually, I don’t even know whether it’s average because most of the parents are educated and able to offer their children a support system at home. I suspect this helps many of the kids overcome the mediocrity thrown their way at school. Many of the teachers are mediocre, but hold on to jobs for years and years – long after they’ve lost any fire in the belly to teach they might have had once.

The schools don’t test the kids because they’re supposed to be open to any Jewish child. This means that you might get Gary in your child’s class. Who is Gary? Gary is the moronic troublemaker who has ADD and needs to be medicated, but his parents think that it’s normal for him to abuse the little girls in class while laughing at the teacher to her face and telling her to fuck off. So they do nothing about him, and your child is assigned to the desk right next to Gary’s because he’ll be a good influence. Another problem is with Irma and Jake who are also both nutsoid and shouldn’t be there. But Jake and Irma’s dad owns a large chain of bagel stores and has always been a generous benefactor to the school. Plus, he pays full fare for the kids. So the school knows the kids are little shits, but won’t call the dad or mom because, well, because they’re loaded and give generously.

Ultimately, the tradeoff becomes about what one can afford, what risks one is willing to take with one’s financial future, providing an average secular education to a bright child among other bright children (while paying the equivalent of a decent private school), providing an average Judaic education, and surrounding them daily with a Jewish environment.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Here’s what needs to happen:

1. The UJF needs to be keeping more of the money it sends to Israel. That money needs to be funneled directly to Jewish education.

2. Each city needs to have a committee overseeing all of the schools. Committee tenure cannot exceed 5 years, and every two years at least half the committee has to change. There should be a national overarching committee providing guidance to all local committees. This committee is tasked with locating the latest and best research on effective teaching and passing it on to the local committees. The committees can be staffed by financial heavyweights, but there needs to be a professionals within committees who have proven themselves by having run successful Jewish schools in the past. Success can be measured in many ways, but consider student achievement, college placements, strong parent bodies, and a general feeling that the school is undeniably the best in its region. We all know schools like that, and they have principals and leaders who could teach others a thing or two.

3. Stop wasting resources on too many schools. How many 70 -100 person schools should a city support? Does every movement have to offer its own schools? Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, can be saved by consolidating schools. Whatever resources can be shared, should be shared. Cost savings will be substantial – one principal instead of three, 3 secretaries instead of 9, one facility instead of 3, one set of lawyers, accountants and auditors instead of 3.

4. Get some real money. Just how much money can Jewish benefactors give to non-Jewish causes before their kids intermarry and have christmas trees instead of chanukiahs? Let’s design a charitable entity whose sole purpose will be to get the $10 million and $100 million gifts, instead of some fancy building at some university. Let’s put a serious endowment together. Let the national committee manage its allocation to local committees.

5. Lower costs for parents. Cut them in half. The likelihood of getting more kids to attend Hebrew day school will increase dramatically if the costs become manageable. What is manageable? About half of today’s rates. The family that pays $25,000 for two kids, will pay $12,500. This frees up a lot of money and will enable them to choose to take on this burden. The family that pays $10,000 for two, will now only pay $5000. This will increase the number of middle class families who can afford the cost by a considerable number. Like any enterprise, there will be a tipping point here where people will say, “Hmm, for that amount, I can afford it and it won’t wipe me out.” Many more will send their kids, thereby increasing revenues for our newly consolidated schools. Let’s not forget that you pay the teacher the same whether the class has 20 kids or 13. And the building won’t become any smaller – fixed costs remain the same whether the school houses 200 or 300 students.

6. Market aggressively, and demand that synagogues and other Jewish institutions participate in the marketing. If they don’t, their allotment of UJF funds should be diminished. Why should the community be as supportive of institutions that don’t promote its future as those that do? Use carrot and stick if you have to.

7. Test the kids. I’m sorry if that means Gary can’t attend. However, if Gary’s presence might drive other kids out, he should be left out in the cold or medicated.

8. Streamline kids. Give kids the ability to learn at their own speed among peers of the same ability. Averaging out abilities is quaint, but everybody suffers because those who need more attention and time rarely get enough. Those who can move faster through the process, end up wasting years in absolute boredom.

9. Offer quality extracurricular activities. Jewish schools need to be competitive with public schools as well as other private schools. Also, these can be money making programs that keep the kids in the Jewish environment. Trust me, the parents would rather not have to drive Yitzhak to karate class if karate class was offered after school on school grounds.

10. Increase teacher salaries or improve benefits so they outclass other school systems. Then test the teachers and evaluate them semi-annually on an objective basis and with some sort of parent and child anonymous rating system. “Tenure” might mean that your scores don’t count for a two year period instead of annually. However, your performance as a teacher matters or you’re out. Also, no teacher is hired unless she comes with strong credentials or references.

11. Make principals accountable. School population drops for two years in a row? Dump the principal. Grades drop for two years running? Dump the principal. Test scores drop for two years running? Dump the principal. Teachers consistently getting bad reviews? Dump the principal.

12. Improve curricula for both secular and Judaic studies. Very simply, these schools need to be competitive with the best schools in their respective cities, and the Judaic component needs to be excellent. Offer support in the form of roving teachers who supplement those kids who need extra help.

13. As much as possible, foster interaction with other Jewish schools in the region. Enough segregation, and enough of keeping different streams apart. The Orthodox school should welcome the chance to visit the Reform school, and vice versa. Don’t know how to do it? Have sports days or theater days where the school bodies can have a shared experience.

14. Stop wasting time and do it now, before it’s too late.

I know I have more to say on this…but let’s save it for another time. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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About the author

themiddle

44 Comments

  • Before I say what I think, just a reminder that your yearly income is decided between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and part of that is money to give your kids a Jewish education. My parents put four kids through private Jewish day school and their retirement will be somewhat modest. They are convinced beyond a doubt that having less kids would not have made them richer or left more money for the golden years.

    Nonetheless,
    the simple answer is to move to Israel.

    Shabbat shalom,
    Josh

  • I have 3 kids in the Yeshiva Day and High school. I would say that ultimately it is an incredible sacrifice, but I am happy. The type of child that I have, is due to their Yeshiva education. I am not saying that you will have problems in public school, but I am aware of how they act there and in my kids case. As bad as some of the Yeshiva kids have gotten, it is nothing compared to your public schools, and I live in a good area.
    Key points:

    There is no other way to transmit to your children the Jewish heritage.

    The financial part is a problem. People realize it now, but for those stuck like myself, it is an enormous problem. I hope I will live through the pain of my financial burdens. At one time, I said the tuitions are a challenge to go out and get the money. And I did. I had a side business that was substantially higher income than all the tuitions combined. Then Bush was elected, 9-11, etc… I have not had that income since. But I am still looking, still trying. At my age, I do odd jobs and work for people. I take clothes that people want to give to charity, and give to my wife and daughter if they like them and they fit, and if not I sell them on Ebay. It is a life of a scavenger, no self respect, but I see my children, and I have no choice, they are such good kids, that the cost has to be bourne.

  • Wow, comprehensive. Also, maybe a bit naive.

    Who is going to force the different schools to combine into one? Even if you have different tracks for different religious philosophies, who will be the principal? You’ll end up with 5 schools in one, because each Judaic track will want its own rabbinate teaching the Judaica courses. And for the less religious tracks, will they get a more intense secular education, simply because they decide not to give equal time to Jewish studies? Or will their day just be shorter? Having grown up in a small community, and watched my parents bang their heads against the community-wide problem of Jewish education, I can tell you that there is no way that schools can be forced to combine. Even a community, whose very existence depended on creating a coed, Jewish community high school (which in my mind is infinitely more important than elementary school) could not, and would not come together to save Judaism in that city.

    Part of Jewish education, as you yourself pointed out, is inclusion. The entire community, ideally, must be involved. So kids who fail whatever entrance exam you are proposing get sent into public school? That goes against the very idea of a community day school. Track them, put them in special ed classes, fine, but don’t kick them out. More than anything else, Jewish education is about putting your money where your mouth is. And if you talk about the devastation intermarriage has wrought among American Jewry, then your best bet against it is putting your kids in Jewish schools for as long as possible. As Josh said, the best plan is to move to Israel.

    Finally, all things being equal, assuming we live in a world without friction, or politics, or ego, your plan is great. Unfortunately, it doesn’t account for the facts on the ground. Reform Jews, some of whom consider themselves Jewish through patrolineal descent, don’t want their kids learning Gemara for 90 minutes a day. Orthodox Jews don’t want “Rabbi Jane” teaching Chumash. And, outside the tri-state area, LA, and Florida, I don’t see too many Jews willing to donate millions of dollars to Jewish education, because it doesn’t put their names on sufficiently prominent buildings. But your fight is a good one. And when my wife and I have a child old enough to begin school, I will be on that wall with you, throwing my retirement money away so that my kids will stick me in a crappy nursing home, and so goes the great circle of life.

  • Josh,

    Is your comment meant to be an indictment of those who don’t earn enough to send their kids to dayschool and put a roof over their heads? It certainly comes across that way. This may come as a shocker, but all Jews are not financially secure. Some consider themselves lucky to have the roof over their heads *and* have enough $$ left over to buy groceries. Retirement? What’s that? I’m hoping and praying that mine will be even sub-modest, and that I can do it before I’m 80. I still need to worry about my kids’ education right now, though, and I’m being priced out.

    And moving to Israel is a “simple answer”? How old are you, anyway? Do you have kids? Does anyone have a spare clue to lend here?

    TM has had the cojones to put out a great post on one of the most important issues in the US Jewish community. There is a major crisis going on here, and TM has addressed many of the contributing factors quite accurately. Bravo.

    I only have a few seconds now, but I’m looking forward to this discussion. Don’t let me down

  • Wow! Great post, TM. As a parent with a few years to go before such decisions, I am already feeling the weight of the school issue. Maybe we could just nominate you to run the national Jewish school system?

    Oh, and Josh, have you actually read any articles about the dismal state of Israeli schools? I don’t see how sending kids there would help anything. Free education in a collapsing system. That sounds nifty.

  • Just a few comments:

    1) My wife and I have seven children. When the oldest was of school age, we moved from one Jewish community to another, 30 miles further from my job, so that the children would get the kind of education we never had. You see, both my wife and myself had a Sunday-school education. Which basically meant we could read some basic hebrew, knew about the State of Israel, and heard legends about Jewish heroes, like Sandy Koufax.

    2) We both began becoming religious in college (Thanks, Rabbi Silverman!!!), got married, began having kids. The Jewish schools demand that parents help their kids with their homework. Unfortunately, I am unequipped to help with any, but the simplest limudei kodesh.

    3) The schools suggests I get tutors. But, we’ve had trouble paying bills, and cannot afford tutoring. (We’ve avoided forclosure on the house, but just barely.)

    4) According to the goyishe veldt, we’ve got a good, middle-class household income. (Roughly, $95K per year.) But, the extremes of the requirements of financial obligations are creating an underclass of the religiously impoverished.

    5) Originally, all schooling for children was a communal obligation, but somewhere along the line, it was decided that individual families should pay for their children to be taught. This created the situation, especially in Eastern Europe, where only the wealthy could expect their children to get anything more than a cheder education.

    6) From my point of view, a Jewish day-school education provides the kind of background that was denied to my wife and myself. It is important to the future to get this kind of education (albeit weak in some ways as you described) so that someone need not become an adult knowing next to nothing.

  • I never went to a Jewish day school, because the option didn’t exist when I was a child, where I lived. I went to the classic after-school and Sunday morning “Hebrew school” connected with the Conservative synagogue my mother attended on Yom Kippur. There was NO Jewish observance in my home–indeed, my father was a WASP agnostic and my mother was “genetically” Jewish but supremely ignorant of Judaism.

    I’ve been living in Israel for the past 30 years, and would classify myself as “seriously masorti” (traditional). Go figure. It has been a very long journey to get where I’ve gotten, but I can tell you that a Jewish day school wasn’t part of it.

    Throwing money at a problem–the increasing assimilation of the American Jewish community–is only part of the solution. If the parents create a vibrant Jewish life in their home and are Jewishly active in their communities, IMHO it’s at least as valuable in the long run.
    Antigonos

  • Great post TM I have so many friends that were turned off of Judaism because of poor teaching, these students tend to be very intellegent they ask questions (which is a good thing) but are ridiculed by their idiot teachers.

    My sister switched to solomon schechter in middle school which had a great education but as my family continued to grow in observance we had some very negative experiences with them. When we told them that we were taking her out to go the a Orthodox day school they freaked out said we were ruining her life by sending her to those fanatics, I thought it was pretty funny but my parents didn’t think so.

    I don’t know if it would be possible to combine more traditional Jewish day schools with Yeshiva day schools. But your deffinately right thats something needs to change.

    I think I’ll just retire before I have kids and home school them (their spelling is going to be terrible)

  • Not to call anyone naive, but I think it’s safe to say that if Mr. Hedge F. Traderstein gave $10 mil to his local day school, said day school (whose administrators make much less than all those whiny $100K families!)would not eliminate tuition for 3 years but would instead construct a beautiful new facility and add programs which, when the grant ran out, would require raising tuition again. Just a thought.

  • I agree that it’ll be tough to combine the Orthodox schools with the non-Orthodox schools. Let’s face it, there are some red lines that are difficult for both sides to cross. Having said that, I don’t see why a market needs to have a Reform school and a conservadox or Solomon Schechter school. It simply wastes resources and it’s not that difficult for the Reform school to compromise and become a little tighter on some traditions. In fact, my experience suggests that the parents would be happier with “more” Judaism in their kids’ education since that is the reason they’re sending them there.

    Josh, your answer is true in the sense that just being in Israel helps. However, if you track Israelis who move to other countries, you will note many of them are very secular and unfamiliar with many of the traditions that kids in Jewish day schools take for granted.

    The problem is that you’re not going to make North American Jewry get up and make aliyah. Most American Jews are very content here and believe this is their home, not Israel. In fact, the majority still haven’t visited Israel. So putting aside wishful thinking, let’s deal with reality.

    It is certainly possible to ensure you have no retirement funds, although this is going to be problematic to these people as pensions are destroyed (see: United Airlines) and the aging baby boomers deplete any prospective government pensions before most of us will get there. I guess the Jewish community will simply have to feed and house more elderly Jews. However, as I noted, the problem is deeper: it takes such a big bite of your income, that it affects numerous other factors in your family’s abilities. The strain is too great, and the benefit is not exceptional, nor is it tangible. We need to improve on cost, quality and the final results.

  • yes themiddle, this is what I have been trying to articulate. I suppose there are more divorces for us. I understand that most fight in marriages are often regarding money.
    I can see the point of taking them out of Yeshiva btw. I have threatened to do so in fact.
    It would cause a major domestic fight. In order to win I would have to w/ hold my paycheck and ask for bills to pay. It would get ugly I doubt if divorce would be prevented. Right now not to be accused of being whiny, we have a 50K income that is all. Don’t ask me how we manage, we don’t, enough said, but I have NOT robbed someone yet altho I actually have such thoughts.

  • I just skimmed an article in the New York Times about “what a melting pot Queens is”. This article mentioned a Muslim teenager who was clearly working class and undoubtedly in public, not private, school. This teenager was enrolled in a Muslim After School Program!! He or she, I forget which, was clearly fully trained, and acculturated as a cultural and religious Muslim. MAYBE WE CAN DO THAT, TOO. MUCH CHEAPER. But, of course, we would do it our way, with our style.

    I would propose a network of such after-school programs, which would not DEVOTE ANY LESS TIME to Jewish education than what you describe!! I would also propose a formal link to the parents’ perhaps a mandatory class attendance for the parents once every three months on a Sunday complete with brunch etc. “If you don’t attend, your kid is thrown out.” This parental piece would support consistency between what the school says a Jew should do, and what the parents are actually doing.

    For free, good-quality, after-school instruction, four days a week, many parents would DO ANYTHING.

    The teachers could be a cadre of youngish rabbis who need jobs. They would have to receive some teacher training and early-childhood training, and be supervised by education professionals, to whom the parents could complain if necessary.

    Should be funded by the big Philanthropists, so any unruly child could be thrown out, because their parents’ money is not needed or accepted.

    It gives me the willies to hear you advocate less US money going to Israel, when we are in the land of wealth, are they are so much poorer.

    Private schools have their uses. But being a well- taught, religiously functioning Jew should NOT depend on one’s parents’ ability to send one to private school. Gloriosky. I don’t mind people being rich! More power to them. But the non-rich have to breathe too, and be Jews, too. Even moderately well-off people might use such a system.

    It works for the Muslims! I mean, look at them. They sure know their Islam, oh boy, including the (many) children of taxi drivers.

    A smart enemy is better than a stupid friend.

    We can always learn something by looking around, but still stay ourselves.

  • Charles, I don’t dispute that there is some optimism in what I wrote. However, I believe the law of economics will drive what I say forward, having two or three schools with 80 kids each is not sustainable in the long run.

    Will Reform Jews want 90 minutes of gemara? No. And they won’t get it. I think I made it clear about that the non-Orthodox schools should unite and the Orthodox schools should unite. If I didn’t, that was my intention. So, yes, the Reform might end up with more Judaism and Hebrew, but I believe the parents will be happy because this is what they’re expecting.

    One last point: I did not mean that Gary, the ADD child, should be evicted from the system altogether – although that is precisely what happens in some very successful Jewish schools that find ways to remove these children – but yes, perhaps being streamed. If the school is too small, and treatment does not help, then I am very sorry for that child and hope that other avenues will be made available to him. However, this is about providing for large numbers of people, and a tiny system that’s already short of cash cannot be expected to also address the needs of exceptional cases. I know that’s harsh, but so is this entire scenario.

    DRW, you point out precisely why I recommend a fundraising entity and an over-arching national committee dispensing funds to local committees. That $10 million will go to the national fund, and local committees will see their allotment diminished if they get contributions from outside sources. The idea is to level the playing field and benefit everybody. In order to avoid strengthening the poor schools, you monitor and test and make sure they are meeting their obligations as quality institutions.

  • Generally most private schools don’t have the same level of education as public, this is true with all private schools.

    The big difference is the students who attend, and their families. Right now some people have to make huge sacrafices to send their children to a Jewish day school, their childs education is important to them, this is going to have an possitive impact on their child and the his/her classmates. Moishe may not want his child
    (or 20) attending school with Tom, Dick, and Harry’s kids

  • Home schooling is a big job but it is very far from impossible. People do it, and their kids learn very well, and go to good colleges. There is a whole movement about this, and some good books on it. Socialization of the child is obviously much less. Learning to adapt to the harsh realities of the outside world is less. Coping with an institutional environment is obviously not learned, and that can be useful for surviving in a world full of institutions including one’s future employer. But while unusual and burdensome, home schooling is definitely do-able not totally loony.

    Gemara can wait.

    A religious Jew can be made in an after school program, don’t you think? Orthodox, but not necessarily scholarly. Parents who are put off by orthodoxy, and there are many, will nonetheless be tempted sorely by free child care coverage until 6 PM, as they usually both work. They could be visited gently by outreach teams where they can voice all their terrors of Medievalism and all that icky religious weirdness, oy gevalt.

    Judaism has never been copyrighted and belongs to everybody who was at Mt. Sinai, not just this or that group, with this or that color hat.

  • In my community, there is a Chabad-run dayschool (nearby) and an “M.O.” dayschool almost 25 miles away. There’s also another “M.O.” dayschool about 25 miles in another direction. We chose to drive the 90 miles per day to have our children attend a school that’s aligned with our beliefs and practices. Others in my town feel that they should use the school that’s closest.

    There’s also a local Schechter school. That’s the large one with the beautiful facilities and the annual 8th grade trip to Israel. The Orthodox schools seem to be lucky if all the windows in the building work.

    In the 3 years since the kids started attending dayschool (they’d been in a phenomenal public school system previously), we’ve had a wide range of experiences. We started off with the nearby school for 2 years and the kids got a great albeit hard-line Judaic education. Unfortunately, I’d have to give them a failing grade in acclimating publicly schooled kids to the program, though. The secular program left much to be desired. Many (but not all)of the teachers had already put in their years and had various burn-out issues. The science was “lite” and art and physical exercise were given little due.

    Our current school is a gem. The faculty and staff are committed, kind and accessible- rare traits in some schools. The science program wins national awards yearly (kvell moment: my eldest is going to Disney World next month to compete as a finalist in a national science competition). It is also very expensive. I do not get the impression that anyone is getting rich there, though.

    Someone brought up the hypothetical situation where a benefactor donates $10 million and it gets shunted to the building fund. Yes, that’s a probable scenario (I went to a college where even the trees had little brass donor plaques- everyone wants their name on something solid…).

    Unfortunately, it takes much more than $10 million to make a community’s schools run. I was shocked when I found out how much local Federations’ education departments spend on dayschools. It’s a pittance. The budgets for administration and Israel education are usually higher. The message being sent is quite apparent: “Sorry kids- but don’t worry, we’ll be here in a few years for you when you bring your own kids to our interfaith programs!”

    As a sidenote that bears consideration, years ago, kashrut supervision was a local enterprise. Money that went into the rabbis’ fees usually came back to the community and helped to support the community’s interests. Nowadays, supervision is a large, often national business. They operate as non-profits and will not divulge their fees or their income. It’s become a very profitable business for a relatively small number of people. It seems fair to say that a portion of these proceeds could support an awful lot of education (thus raising the likelihood of future kosher consumers??). Just a wild thought.

    Lastly, Izzy and Antigonos- I can relate to both of your situations. My Jewish education came from Conservative Hebrew school, and my husband did not have a background, until recently, in Judaism. We are utter losses in the homework help department. We got the “you need to hire a tutor” shpiel. We pressured the school to have one provided by the DJE. We got one, but by then, most of the year had gone by…

  • Schools can solve the homework problem by having a part time roving teacher whose sole function is to provide superior kids with extra challenges, and children who need help, with extra help. It should be folded into the cost of education.

    I agree with you that nobody is getting rich here. On the contrary, most teachers and principals in the Jewish day school system are underpaid relative to their public school counterparts. However, the money could still be used more efficiently, and there’s no question that the community is undermining itself by sending 50% of our UJF income to Israel, and by not targeting significant Jewish benefactors for large gifts that they end up giving to some university or other. The reason they do this is that we don’t have a national organization of quality that has taken on the role of overseer of Jewish education, and therefore there isn’t an organization that could benefit from a $50 or $100 million gift.

    The frustrating thing is that we know all of this, and what needs to be done is challenging, but fairly straightforward.

  • Like most of you, I did go to a Jewish day school. That is, I went until half way through grade 5 when an Israeli teacher attacked me. I still have the scar on my right bicep from where her nails penetrated my skin (and thankfully didn’t cause any muscle damage). After that fiasco, I was funneled off to a public school for the remainder of my education. With regards to my Judaism, that was a great thing. With regards to my education, however, it was terrible.

    The Calgary Jewish Academy (CJA) caters to the conservadox crowd in Calgary, whereas Akiva Academy (AA) caters to the Orthodox. Unfortunately, AA only goes to grade 6, after which students enter the CJA. Attendance at AA is free, as the school is subsidized by the Catholic School Board. Attendance at the CJA is $3500 per year, per student. The CJA is also subsidized by the Catholic School Board.

    Now that I get to thinking about it, the money charged to attend the CJA has really been spent in vain. Most of the children graduating from the CJA in grade 9 tend to lean more towards athiesm, with a slight twinge of indoctrinated zionism. Additionally, when they enter high school, they remain as one clique – a product of going to school for 11 years with the same group. At the high school level, no one can really be part of the Jew Crew, no matter how good of friends they may be with a Jew, unless they are Jewish. We really are the most racist religion.

    Now, then, why do I say that it is the best thing for my Judaism, but the worst thing for my education? With regards to my Judaism, I was just as complacent as the rest of the conservadoxers attending the CJA. High holidays meant time off, nothing more. At shul, when forced to go, I would leave the services as soon as a friend showed up to go climb onto the roof of the synagogue and play frisbee (Darwin was hard at work there :-). It was not until I was cast free of the JewSchool that I started to really long to be around other Jews. In Jr. High school, I was the only Jew in a school full of Mormons (talk about weird), and as such longed for my weekends with my Jewish friends. I still didn’t take services seriously, but the identity was slowly bubbling to the surface. With BBYO, I was able to immerse myself 6 weekends per year, plus 44 Sundays and 22 Tuesdays. Finally, with entrance into university, I was back to full conservadox status. Kippah every day, keeping Shabbat (mostly), and actively participating at Shul as the Kohen I was.

    Getting out of the JewSchool turned me into a real Red Sea Pedestrian.

    Unfortunately, though, my education suffered. At the CJA, they worked us. Hard. So once I hit public school, with teachers who were just looking for their next pay cheque, I coasted. Oh boy did I coast. So when I hit University, ‘lo and behold, I saw my first C ever. All of the sudden, my leet Jewish brain was no longer as good as it once was. With 6 years of wasted work ethic under my belt, I paid.

    My parable is effectively the same for others whom have left Jewish day school in Calgary. Poor work ethic, but very Jewlicious.

    If I didn’t know better, I’d think I just had a long kvetch.

  • Oh, and the solution I forgot to post to this proposed problem of a day school that requires a second mortgage – 1.5h after school JewSchool. Hebrew one day, religion the next. At $50 / week, parents not only get after school care thus allowing them to continue to bring home the kosher bacon, they give their kids a nice, round, edumacation.

  • Uh, Jason, “we really are the most racist religion” is so off-base with my personal and life experience, that I had difficulty with anything else you said.

    However, I would love to have a school that only charges $3500/year.

  • Not to totally de-rail this discussion… but…

    I don’t know how it is elsewhere, but in areas that have small Jewish communities (in Canada (such as Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Saskatoon)), we become very cliquey and exclusive. We look down our nose on non-Jews, we are very suspicious of converts, and engage in some of the most racial humor I’ve ever heard. What’s worse is that I am no exception to this.

    Also, look up the definiton for Shiksa. Last the Altekakers around her explained, it means “abomination”.

  • I’m trying to figure out why Jewish school is so expensive compared to Catholic School. My grammer school, from K-8 was $800 a year. And it’s not like the school was staffed by nuns and priests, we had regular teachers, and the school was very small probably under 150 students all together.

    My High School was $5K a year and also small (130 in my senior class) and staffed by normal folks.

    The local Diocese (a parish is local, a diocese oversee parishes) gave money to the schools I believe, but other than that all the cash came from tuition.

  • Jason, with all due respect, a good many of our friends who are Jewish and I would even say ALL of our friends who are Jewish, whether they are products of Jewish day school systems or public school systems, whether observant or pork-lovin’ secular, do not subscribe to what you say and do not behave as you suggest. Sorry. And yes, I even count some Calgary Jews as acquaintances and ex-Calgarians as friends.

  • Cheap Catholic Tuition:
    The reason is, the Catholic SCHOOL (NOT CHURCH) bureaucracy is very thin and lean. They just pay the teachers and keep up the buildings. They do not have a thick administrative layer. I think the tuition is just paid to the specific school you use, not a central authority. So, the money just stays in that school.

    I am not sure of all that above, but that is what I have vaguely heard. That is why is is only 3500 a year or so.

    SOMEBODY COULD LOOK INTO THIS IN DEPTH. Somebody with contacts at a Catholic school.

    It did not used to take $150,000 to create a functioning Jew.

    Your kid could be in any decent school and if you had other Jews over to your house on a regular basis, and they all had other Jews over too, for something meaningful like Shabbat, which is once a WEEK, well, that would forge strong life-long Jewish friendships like the ones obtained at huge institutional expense. This would not be free. You would be buying lots of food, wine and and spending time and effort. BUT IT WOULDN’T COST TWELVE THOUSAND A YEAR. Not unless you are drinking vintage champagnes.

    Paying astronomical tuition is JUST ANOTHER HIDDEN COST OF HAVING A WIFE WHO WORKS AT A JOB OUTSIDE THE HOME. Because she does not have time for these dinners and this socializing. HA HA HA weep weep

  • Nice post, TM. As a teacher in the public sector as well as the religious school at the synagogue, I feel I have a good basis to say that many of our issues in Jewish education are the same as in public/secular education. We want our children to have educational opportunities we didn’t have, and we want them to make the most of those opportunities. We abhor wasted time and wasted effort.

    My area (middle of the Midwest) has a difficult time because there are no Jewish dayschools of any sort less than an hour and a half away. (I saw that someone does drive their kids that distance every day—I say “good for you!” in a totally approving and nonsarcastic manner because that family has made a positive educational choice with some sacrifice on their part (and mazel tov on Disney!).

    Parents in my community send their kids to the one-day a week religious school. Is it a nice school? Sure. Is it enough to support intensive Jewish learning in any way, shape, or form? Absolutely not. I am the principal and one of the teachers of the synagogue school, and I still say that one day a week makes a mockery of education. Our kids learn information and become comfortable with services and the siddur. They learn to read and write Hebrew. Two hours a week is not enough.

    Yet, I still have parents writing and saying that because their kids are involved in so many extracurricular activities and due to the shortening of attention spans, we should only have school for an hour a week. One man is lucky I did not find him and strangle him while shouting, “your child will probably never be a professional ___________ (fill in the blank with whatever extracurricular role you want), but he will always be a Jew!” I controlled myself because these are not my children.

    We have the same issues in public education: what can we do to provide the best educational opportunities? I like TM’s post, though I’m not sure how much could/would be followed.

    I’d love a day school in my area; I’d probably leave several of my jobs to teach there. I know that’s the only way my kids could go —–we cannot afford the prices or the gas to the dayschools a few cities away. However, my city’s Jewish population is fifty (mostly elderly) families. I do not see the parents who cannot deal with two hour lessons a week supporting a Jewish dayschool or after school lessons (I would love afterschool lessons—Monday, Wednesday, and right before services on Friday!) I digress.

    I realize that normally I have a little more structure in my responses, but the issue of education and Jewish education gets me so riled up because to solve many of the problems would mean 1) less administrative maneuvering 2) more emphasis on intensive use of classtime 3) agreement on many levels and 4) more study of Isa Aron’s concepts of a community of congregational learners with elem. through adult education.

  • The financial discussion bolsters my view that we need school vouchers in the US. If we are being forced to pay thousands each year for public education, shouldn’t we atleast be able to say what kind of an education our children get? College students already go to religious colleges on federal financial aid, why not do the same for younger students?

  • JM-

    While I appreciate what you’re saying, I disagree that the same benefits of a dayschool education can be achieved through a weekly Shabbos meal with friends. Socializing with other Jews is certainly an important part of the dayschool environment, but there’s also the actual classroom stuff.

    I grew up surrounded by Jews. My grandfather was the director of an urban JCC for 25 years. I grew up eating non-kosher, barely attended (Conservative) shul outside of what was required for Hebrew school, and had next to no knowledge of the nuts and bolts of my religion. No surprise that I dropped out for a while.

    But now I’m back, thanks to The Divine One’s twisted sense of humor (long story…), and my kids now know not only the “hows” of Jewish practice, but a great many of the “whys” as well. Do I think that my daughters would be lost without their Gemarrah? That my son needs Rashi in order to play Little League baseball? Well no, but it certainly makes a big difference in the way they think of themselves as Jewish citizens 24/7.

    Do I think that Jewish schools are the end-all, be all? Well, no. In addition to the bad experiences recounted here, I’ve witnessed and heard of many more (although that Israeli teacher one… whew!). And it’s true that there are some great public schools out there. But we got tired of trying to live as halachically as we could within the bounds of secular society’s Saturday birthday parties, non-kosher events, Friday night concerts… It’s refreshing not to have to constantly explain ourselves and our customs anymore. And our girls feel no pressure to wear clothes that say “Juicy” across their butts.

    TM is correct. There really should be a national organization overseeing Jewish educational institutions. Participation would be voluntary of course, but it could function like the NEA, as an advocational, curriculum-resource (what? a dayschool with a set curriculum??), PR and fundraising organization.

    Stop laughing.

  • Yisrael, the vouchers would give you a thousand dollars or two thousand dollars, at most. It’s not a viable solution. Ziva, Sunday school in my town is two days a week for about a total of 4 hours of education. It’s better than nothing, and as Jewish Mother points out, if you maintain traditions at home (I’m not talking about being observant), then that combination might help.

    One of the key concerns I have is the overall quality of the education at Jewish day schools. Sure, it may be better than some public schools. However, in my town, some public schools are very good and offer serious competition as a result. It’s especially disheartening when one considers that for the $10,000, one is not getting a better student, merely one who is exposed to 8 to 10 hours of Judaism and Hebrew every week. It turns out that you are paying primarily for the environment and the Jewish community surrounding the child. This has to change if they’re going to charge so much. Alternatively, charge less, get more kids overall, increase general revenues, and attempt to remain competitive with the public schools instead of competing with the elite private schools.

  • Conserva-girl, if you have a national organization doling out funds, you end up with a majority of schools that will listen. It already happens on the local level with numerous organizations that have to lobby the UJF for funds, and go out of their way to meet basic requirements the UJF lays out for them to qualify. Jewish institutions are typically strapped for money, and they mostly rely on some degree of UJF or other institutional support so I’m sure they can be “brought in line.”

  • Wow!!!! For a minute there I thought I WAS THE ONE WITH TOO MUCH TIME ON MY HANDS…GOSH, Jsirpicco goes away for 3 HOURS TO GET HIS HAIR CUT and all of sudden Jewlicious turns into Meet the Press!

    Uhhh BOOOOORRRRRRIIIIINNNGGGGGG!!!!!
    Yeah yeah yeah, Jewish education sucks in this country. Sucks in Israel too. Sucks everywhere, cuz Hashem wants the kiddies to use their FREE WILL WHEN THEY GROW UP…

    Anyway – if our “friend” “Tom” you know, the fake YOG – sees these posting, HE’LL FOR SURE RUN AWAY FROM JEWS..>CAN YOU IMAGINE a NON-JEW talking about ANYTHING that’s not beer and chicks and nascaar for as long as this post went on? I THINK NOT…NOW GET BACK TO BEING FUNNY!

  • My deepest apologies Jsirpicco. As I noted at the beginning of the post, I NORMALLY POST ABOUT OTHER THINGS BUT THIS ISSUE HAS BEEN CONSUMING ME FOR MONTHS.

  • TM you explained it well:

    “Some schools require kippahs on boys at all times. Unkosher food is usually disallowed or discouraged, and if they offer hot lunches, they are typically kosher. The other children and their parents are usually Jewish.”

    –that is why they fail.

    In these schools Jewish kids learn chumash as a book all the while it derided as fiction. That is why you can have some people becoming an atheist. After seeing how these schools teach its hard to blame anyone!

    Who knows G-d-forbid had I gone to these day schools you refer to! I don’t want to think what could have happened.

    Better not to send someone to a “Jewish” school that like these then to go to public school -because at least in public schools nobody is fooled into thinking that they ‘know’ Judaism.

    Better no knowledge than half knowledge.

  • Joe Schmo, weren’t you taught to have some humility and respect for others? Or were you taught this and simply forgot to apply it to your life?

    Passing judgement when you’ve never attended one of these schools seems a little foolish, doesn’t it? For example, where did you get the notion that any part of the bible is taught as fiction at these schools? You are wrong.

    And if by “seeing how they teach,” you mean to say that instead of, uh, being taught that god intended men to wear outfits from 16th Century Poland, a person learns to think constructively and openly and then chooses to live their Jewish life in a way that differs, then yes, you’re right, it’s an effective method of teaching.

    But rest easy, I’m sure you can tell us what “Judaism” is all about, because you “know,” while those of us who grew up in the non-Orthodox day schools haven’t a clue. Yeah, wow, you sure convinced me.

  • This is a very comprehensive post, and I wish I had the time now to do a point-by-point comment. I’m glad we’re talking about these issues, though, because they’re important.

    As to special-needs kids in dayschool environments, there is an organization called Matan which focuses on providing tools that make Jewish education accessible to every child, even “Garys.”

    Someday I hope to have children and send them to dayschool, but I’m petrified by the growing costs of dayschool education. I don’t have the answers, and could do an analysis of how yeshiva dayschool education failed me and helped make me a stronger Jew, but I’m saving that for my memoir.

    I do think the idea of getting the community to agree on one educational approach for the whole area is unrealistic. (It’s like trying to have only one shul in a community; there’s a reason for that “one Jew, two shuls” joke.)

    And I’m not ready to say that dayschool education is the cure for intermarriage. But I am willing to say that if a formal Jewish education is not supported by the home-life of the student, the student will not value the lessons that s/he is taught in school. My friends from high school who were in this boat have dropped off the face of the Jewish earth.

    I am truly concerned about the state of Jewish education in general. But in my own life, I’m most worried about not having a partner to work all these things through with. And with that, I wish you all a Shabbat Shalom.

  • Oy, it’s hard to accept that this excellent discussion has been mostly erased, not to mention all of the posts that followed. For those who don’t know, this discussion was up to over 100 comments, many of them very interesting and right on point. We also had a number of posts that followed, including a couple of our group members in Israel and one about the neo-Nazis who had immigrated to Israel under the Law of Return.

    Do we have any backups?

  • I’m sure CK will do his darndest to get us our comments back. If not, they were never really meant to be ours to begin with…
    ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Intermarriage seems too convenient a scapegoat in these discussions. First, intermarriage isn’t necessarily a “problem” at all – it’s intermarriage without conversion that is a problem. It may be important to make the distinction, because gerim have been a rich and notable part of Jewish history. Notable gerim include Onklos, Akiva’s father, and the Candyman, Sammy Davis Jr. I rest my case on that last one. If that doesn’t sway you, how about the appeal of a little genetic diversity? Nothing like some “new blood” to chase away those concerns about some of the regrettable results of a few too many marriages between first cousins in the Old Country (aka Brooklyn)

    Intermarriage is a result, not a cause; the cause is assimilation, sometimes in the form of running away as fast as possible from hurtful religious freakdom that is unfortunately far too prevalent in “observant” Jewish communities . Assimilation comes first, not after, and that’s a hard fact for many Jews to acknowledge in my experience. How do I know this? Because I’m the non-Jewish half of an “intermarriage” with Conserva-Girl. We daven at a Conservative shul that has many examples of “intermarriage” that lead to conversion of the non-Jewish spouse at some point, many of whom play an active role in a vibrant congregation with dozens of members that lead services and lein Torah. Many are shomer Shabbat and kashruth, a regrettably notable fact in the Conservative movement.

    My wife and I both supported the idea of sending our children to a day school, which as she noted, was not exactly a piece of cake for them to experience after a perfectly nice non-Jewish public school education. As much as I support that choice, I wonder if the choice to move into a generally observant Jewish community wasn’t equally if not more important to our family’s religious growth. This past Shabbos we walked to shul, davened, and enjoyed a powerful dvar about the dangers of idolatry from a young gentleman – and a ger, by the way – attending the Yale Divinity School. On the way back from shul, we picked up one of my son’s friends that joined us for the afternoon, while our daughters joined friends and walked two miles each way to and from an afternoon mishmar learning session that the new (cute young) Orthodox rabbi hosts. I davened mincha/maariv at the local “old world” shul I adore with the old Yiddish-speaking men. We couldn’t have experienced any of these blessed things where we formerly lived in the country-suburbs, day school or no day school.

  • Great comment, Nathan, and I should add that the quality of your wife’s comments suggests you have quite a catch there.

    I agree that intermarriage is a symptom. I think the complexity for many Jews is in identifying the reasons that the non-Jewish spouse should convert. It seems to me there are two essential arguments that one could make: my faith is superior to yours; my faith and history are more important to me than yours are to you.

    I think those are challenging arguments to make for many Jews who aren’t observant and truly faithful. The second argument may hold up a little better than the first because it’s hard to dispute somebody telling you that their faith is very important to them. However, that spouse/prospective spouse had better not be a devout follower of their faith.

    I completely agree with you about the importance of community. I am currently helping a friend who is Orthodox locate a new home. He has to live in proximity to an appropriate synagogue. While this causes certain problems, one issue it alleviates is who will he find among the neighbors and will he feel comfortable, say, walking down the street with a kipah on his head. Because so many other families belonging to that shul live nearby, he will have an instant community surrounding him.

    I also think that numbers reinforce the childrens’ ability to see themselves as something other than outsiders in a culture where they are a significant religious minority. But then again, Jewish day school gives that feeling daily and a family has to work much harder to provide that same sense when they don’t attend. They have to compensate elsewhere.

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