I appreciate the feedback, both in support of how I resolved my very real dilemma, and against. Some of you were really passionate. I think that’s great! Let’s brainstorm together how to collectively get out of this quagmire before our children are totally lost at sea. The goal of my article was not to divide the community, but rather to rally a response that will raise this dilemma to the rabbinic leadership of our communities as the number one threat to the future of American Orthodox Jewry. Every Yom Kippur sermon this year, after the appeal is over, of course, should find the rabbis of the shuls standing humbly before the communities, publicly repenting for what they have and have not done this past year to help solve the problem of overpriced Judaism that is slowly bleeding the community dry. If the rabbis won’t lead us out of this problem, then it really is up to us little guys to make it happen on our own. Happy New Year! Now let’s get to work.
So what are the answers everyone is looking for?
First, the tuition crisis: Well, many of you hit on some answers. Now, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for every community, but I think each community needs a bunch of brave souls to vocally not enroll in the legacy day schools next year in order to send a powerful message to the community, and go make something better and cheaper happen. You would only be helping yourselves. Homeschool! Yes. There is even a full Jewish curriculum online. Chabad is doing it already, all over the world. If you think it will make your child socially awkward, do it with others together in a group. Rent an apartment or a small storefront location and start a low-budget group homeschool type heder. If that makes you nervous, get together and hire a teacher to work with the kids throughout the day. This is a low cost solution and, for the right kids, may even yield better academic results than traditional school.
Some donors have subsidized education costs in parts of the country. Good for them. Big mitzvah, no doubt. But unfortunately, many donors just want to build impressive structures and have their names seen on their buildings in lights from afar, which does nothing to lower education costs, and simply drives up the overall cost downstream, to provide ongoing maintenance to these larger buildings. What a waste of money. I would rather my kids learn affordably in a trailer.
I think the Kadima model in Los Angeles that was mentioned is excellent. See also Yeshivat He’atid in New Jersey, brought about in part by the bloggings of the notorious “$200K chump” who had also gone broke doing his Jewish. Naale in Israel? Nice price, but not everyone wants to send a young child away from home during such formative years. Charter schools may not be ideal, but they may be the start of something that could work. See Ben Gamla in Hollywood. They are moving from elementary to middle and high school now. If you have access to expertise in the community, start your own. A large part of the day becomes free.
Good luck on vouchers. Few local governments are going to move funding away from underperforming public schools to let middle class suburban families put their kids in religious school. Politically toxic. But try. It worked in pockets of the country and may work in your neighborhood. Vote in officials who are pro-voucher.
Deficient day school education? Yes! We witnessed it ourselves. Kids studying there for a decade, still lacking the ability to speak modern Hebrew, understand a paragraph of Tehillim (Psalms), open a Jewish text and translate the page word for word. I met endless kids in my travels who graduated from day schools in far away places like South Africa and Mexico, who finished 12th grade with perfect fluent Israeli Hebrew, in schools that were a fraction of the cost. What is wrong with this picture?
To the dean of the School of Education at YU, who called Jewish living and Jewish education priceless, thanks for the Jewish guilt. Reality check: How will your students ever pay off their college loans? They are probably paying $300,000 to get a B.S. in education so they can go get a $30,000 a year job. They will be in debt, living at home for 15 years paying off their student loans before they have enough discretionary income to even rent an apartment. Who as a Jew can afford to be a teacher anymore?
Other alternatives: Yes, there are excellent low cost private schools in every town. You have to look. And no, they won’t be Jewish. But they won’t be Christian either. In fact, no religion is allowed. Just math, science, reading and social studies. Maybe some music or Spanish. Sounds OK by me. Jewish could be done in afterschool heders on the side, like my grandparents did in the old days. And they still married Jews. There are also some good public schools, even public schools for gifted kids. If enough kids from the community go together, they can create their own subculture within the school for the few hours a day that they are there.
(I agree that small-town Jews may be the future in America, no doubt. Can cut cost of living 50% easily from a big city.)
And don’t be so afraid of goyim. Your kids may have to work with them some day. Many actually still revere the Jews as People of the Book. You are so scared that your kids’ Jewishness is so weak and fragile that if they sit in a room with some non-Jewish kids a few hours a day and learn math they will suddenly go completely “off the derech”? Really? That is the most pathetic thing about all of this. The irrational fear. Being among the goyim just may strengthen your kid’s identity as a real Jew.
Now many of you, many more than I expected, brought up making aliyah to Israel. Kol hakavod to everyone of you that has been successful in making it over there in the holy land. And by making it there, I don’t mean your parents bought you a house in Modiin. Or you work in Jersey and fly back to Ra’anana one week a month to kiss your kids on the cheek. I mean you moved there, you learned Hebrew, you work with Israelis, you earn shekels, you pay all your bills, and you have money left over at the end of the month. If you have done that as an Anglo oleh, then I truly stand in awe. If you served in the IDF, even more so.
But every day you are in Israel, taking what the government is giving you, you have to be fair, and ask yourself, am I willing to sacrifice the life of my child to live here in the Middle East. Wars are frequent and bloody, and your son may be in the reserves for 20 years, likely enough time to see real action in Lebanon and Gaza. Israel doesn’t always come out unscathed. The recent Second Lebanon War did not turn out so well for the IDF. Over 150 soldiers died. From some of the best units. One day a casualty could be your son. Remember that. It isn’t suburban Chicago over there.
On the economic side, I did my research. If I moved to Israel, I would literally make one-tenth of what I make in the US, and the costs are not a tenth. Not even a half. Tel Aviv is in the Middle East, but the prices are not on par with Cairo. More like the Upper West Side. True, some things would be cheaper. Free school is a big plus, but I would never be able to save a penny. I would be moving there as a selfish taker, looking to use the system to get by. Is that what aliyah is about? What me and my family can game from the system and get from the government of Israel, after we failed to get enough out of the USA? Is that what Israel needs? More hungry mouths to feed when 40% of the children there are already living in poverty?
The matchmaking crisis: With no savings, your chance of having a shidduch for your children — 0%. Who will marry your kids if you bring nothing to the table? The couple will be coming to you for a ring. Needs to be at least two carats to be taken seriously in NYC, right? That’s about $20,000 Those human hair sheitels are what, $9,000? How many children do you have to marry off? Who is going to pay for all of this? The 19-year-old unemployed groom? Where will they live? In your basement forever? What about the year-long honeymoon in Israel you are expected to pay for? And you want them married off young too, so of course they are not working, so who is going to be paying their bills if you already can’t pay your own? And what about when they want 20% down to buy a house? You don’t think the in-laws are scoping out a prospective mate’s family’s finances prior to marriage? Really?
Kosher markets not a business? One recently sold for $50,000,000 to a pool of investors. You don’t think they are running it like a business now? They are never going to lower the cost of anything even one penny. One word: friars. Boycott them! Do it now! It’s the only thing that will work. Better yet, do as some suggested and be vegan. It’s better for the animals for sure. Why don’t a group of you cut out the middleman and get kosher food yourselves from a wholesaler, or split an order of an entire cow among ten families and pay half the price? Try it. Do something!
Rabbis’ salaries: You don’t think rabbis are well paid? You are all so naive…
And yes, people have been denied access to synagogue for lack of tickets. Absolutely. If you don’t think that is true you are living in La La Land. Not to sound like a heretic, but one of the most famous things Jesus is credited with in the Christian Bible is smashing the tables of the Jewish money-changers who were making a profit off of all their poor fellow Jews who were coming to worship God at the Temple. Sound familiar? No dollar bill ever comes between me and my God again! Hashem is free! Smash an idol today, even if it is your precious institutions and leadership that have become the idols.
(People assume I went to Chabad to get everything for free. I don’t get anything for free. I support Chabad with charity and other types of donations. Where did I say I went there and didn’t contribute to their cause if I was benefiting from their services?)
Yes, it takes a $300,000 to $500,000 income to be a large Jewish family doing Jewish. To those who say it doesn’t, let’s do the math. At $300,000 a year, an upper 5% US income by any measure, take home is $17,000 or so a month after almost 40% in income taxes. Take away $8,000 a month for tuition; $1,000 for health insurance; $4,000 for the house near the shul, including mortgage, property tax, homeowner’s insurance, water, electric, lawn, misc housing fees; $1,000 for two cars, car insurance, tools, gas, repairs; at least $2,000 for food, not to mention life insurance, cell phones, 10% to charity, and what do you have left? NOTHING. You want to save for retirement, do summer camps, go every so often to Israel, do Passover even at home? Don’t tell me the wife doesn’t have some purses and a maid, and it’s $500,000 buddy. Maybe more.
I love when people say money comes from Hashem. Sounds like something broke people say to themselves to make themselves feel good. My ex-day school principal told me that too, when he begged us to stay in the school before we left. Unfortunately, in the real world, money comes from working. Working hard. Hashem is not a cash machine. One of the 72 divine names is not “ATM.” (Maybe in your case, if you’re lucky, money comes from your father-in-law.)
While you all went back and forth and debated how big of a tragedy it is that someone like me actually pulled their kids out of overpriced Jewish school, what I think you missed is that, from the sound of it, none of you have any savings in the bank! This is crazy. Are you telling me your religion somewhere demands this? How will you ever retire? There are no more pensions. You may need to live off of your savings for 30 years before you die with no active income. Do you know what multiple of your annual salary you need to be saving and for how long in order to sustain your current lifestyle? You think Social Security will be there for you? Do you understand a nursing home can cost $5,000-$7,000 a month? How can you not be saving and working actively toward this goal with every paycheck your entire working life? Who will pay for you to be buried, your kids? Are you expecting to retire on an inheritance? Will you leave any of that for your kids? Who will pay for your kids when day school costs are double what they are now, wages are stagnant, and your family inheritance has already been squandered on the last generation?
I hear stories from people like me who literally looked at their newborn third or fourth child and, instead of being happy, actually felt regret, thinking that now, with tuition going up yet again for the family, they would literally go broke. Yet every rabbi with seven kids about to have their eighth — do they stress out about tuition, or is it assumed every kid goes free? What if they have 11 or 12 children? Is it assumed that everything will always be there for them off the backs of the working members of the community? In my opinion, every time a rabbi has another child that the community has to pay for to send to day school, it’s flat out thievery against the community. Explain to me why it is not. Why are their children holier than yours?
What’s lacking in Modern Orthodox life — that special something that many people are trying to hit on, but don’t seem to be able to nail down — is the lack of wholehearted belief in the first Commandment. God comes first. God is everything. Anochi Hashem. Instead, there is too much arrogance, money, macherism, elitism. If you truly believed that you and everyone and everything are all one in the eyes of God, none of this would be happening. If only our rabbinic leadership was there for us on this one as well…
I enjoyed all of the dialogue. This is truly coming from a good place. I feel like our rabbinic leadership is completely out of touch and has abandoned us. And I do not feel guilty for one second for wanting to be a Jew that is trying desperately to find a way to be both Jewish and, for the financial sake of my family, accumulate a little wealth. I refuse to live another day broke, going month to month. If that means I have to leave mainstream Judaism to achieve this, so be it. But I have never left what I know is the true Torah or God. Maybe what you have been led to believe is the only way to the true God and Torah is actually the problem.