Dear Jewish Father,
I would like to begin by pointing out that I would never write an article attacking accountants during tax season; I would want them to be able to respond and address my grievances. It is now two days before Rosh Hashanah and I am caught between preparing my sermons, and the day to day work that goes into being a day school teacher. Now is not the best time for rabbis to respond to such a heavy article bearing such heavy personal accusations. Due to the high shockwaves your article has caused, however, I think that even under current pressure, a response in necessary.
“The Modern Orthodox lifestyle in many communities has become all too similar to the Ivy League prep process, as described by William Deresiewicz in “Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League” (The New Republic, July 2014):
“The more hurdles there are, the more expensive it is to catapult your kid across them. Wealthy families start buying their children’s way into elite colleges almost from the moment they are born: music lessons, sports equipment, foreign travel (“enrichment” programs, to use the all-too-perfect term) — most important, of course, private-school tuition or the costs of living in a place with top-tier public schools. The SAT is supposed to measure aptitude, but what it actually measures is parental income, which it tracks quite closely.”
Sound familiar? This is the way all too many of our communities — and it needs to change.”
I am sorry that instead of choosing to discuss what parts of the top 5% lifestyle we can change, it is the Jewish aspects of our community you argued to alter.
We live in a demand-based free market; people want Jewish day schools because they have proven their excellence. People choose to be part of a community because they find them to be the foundation of Jewish continuity.
I feel the pain of thousands of Jewish families who live with the struggles you described with such profound sacrifice and dedication. And yet, I am proud.
I am proud of my grandfather being a founder of the Hillel Day School in Pittsburgh PA and being a community rabbi there more than 70 years ago. I am proud because I look now and see his community thriving with generations of Jewish families and children who are thriving like no other denomination in America.
I am proud of the lay leaders, who work alongside rabbis, with neither being paid overtime or anytime, to make sure that our community thrives and that our children grow up proud of their Judaism and knowing about their heritage and dedicated to its continuity.
I am proud of people like my wife, who is a full-time specialized neurologist, yet spends several hours every Shabbat, making complete strangers — immigrants, Ivy League graduates, or people who never graduated high school — taste the warmth of Shabbat and community. I am proud to teach in schools in which the child of a blue color immigrant can sit in the same class as a child of a hedge fund manager.
I am proud of my friend who is a partner in big New York law firms, and yet told me he takes great pride in the fact that his child is growing up with the child of a plumber so that when the plumber’s kid thinks of what he can do when he grows up, he knows that being a partner in a big New York Law firm, is always an option — just like his friend’s dad.
I am proud that, while we are not perfect in this sense, upward mobility is much higher in our community than in other parts of America, where the injustice of children whose worst choice in life is what parents they were born to, is ravaging our society and economy.
I am proud of the teachers, rabbis, and principals who relocate, take professional risks and sacrifices, and stay up sometimes until 4 a.m., so that another Jewish kid can have a better Jewish education.
I am proud of the parents who spend such a vast amount of time and resources, so that their children, can continue the 3,500 hundred-year-old religion, that has changed this world, like no other one.
I am proud of the grandparents who help make sure that their grandchildren can also have Jewish grandchildren — Ledor Vador.
And finally, on a personal note, if you know of a school that lets children of rabbis go there for free, please let me know because I am not aware of that school.