It is not new or even rare to hear discussions of the tuition crisis in Jewish education. Proposals to do away with Jewish education, to consider alternative models, and even to opt out of Jewish education and Jewish life because it is too costly. The problem is that these discussions, in focusing exclusively on the cost side of the Jewish equation, miss a critical component of the issue.
I have no doubt that many in our communities are struggling, and that costs and sometimes even our choices need to be re-evaluated. I do not deny the financial challenges, and our communities and our individual households have work to do. But if we are to consider life-altering decisions, for us and for future generations, we need to consider not just the costs, but the value and values of living a rich (no pun intended), meaningful Jewish life of purpose . . . and the costs to our communities, our children, and even our world, by walking away or opting out of the Modern Orthodox way of life. Given the research on Jewish demographics, walking away from Jewish education, and from Jewish day school education in particular, has powerful, long-lasting and dire implications for the continuity and vibrancy of Jewish living in the future.
I am not a neutral party here. I am the dean of the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration at Yeshiva University. I know that our students, dedicating themselves to enlightening and inspiring the next generation of engaged Jewish students, enter the field in spite of meager salaries and limited benefits. I am awe-struck, daily, by their commitment and caring, by their unwavering belief that Jewish children deserve to learn and grow and be spiritually connected to their heritage. I believe, as they do, that what they teach, and what they do, matters and enriches children’s lives now, and gives those children the tools to enrich their communities and our world for years to come.
I also can’t help thinking, as I consider the costs of “living Jewish,” of the generations that paid with much dearer currencies than money to live our traditions. I feel it both an honor and an obligation to do my part in keeping that chain unbroken.
Yes, there are expenses in Jewish living that might benefit from efficiencies and new models and policies. But any discussion of Jewish living that focuses on the monetary economics alone is short-sighted. In our consumer society, we are paying so much for things that give us so little! Do we subject those “costs” to rigorous analysis?
We need, I think, to understand that the really important equations in our lives must consider the costs AND the costs of not paying the costs. We need, before we opt out, to consider the value of things that we value, and what we are willing to do, how much we will struggle, what we will give and give up, to keep those values and practices in our lives. I do not consider myself an economically wealthy person, but I feel quite rich in blessings. I know the richness in my life comes from living it, and having raised my children within Torah Judaism. In my mind, it was the wisest and most lucrative investment I have ever made.