Dear Jewish $40 k a Year Father

This is for the gentleman blogger who wrote “I can ‘do Jewish’ on just $40,000 a year.”

Dear Jewish Father,

I feel your pain. I truly do. All of my children passed through the educational system you describe and the cost post tax was enormous. I now worry how my children will be able to afford covering tuition costs for my grandchildren. Tuition costs are astronomical and there are ways to reduce them and save the population some cash. But, I think the problem is far more complex than the one you descrbe.

I served on the Board of a yeshiva for well over a decade. I know the costs involved. Yes, there is little reason for a top heavy administration except that a great deal of time is spent by the principals dealing with parents who are demanding and so protective of their children that every minor issue becomes a conflagration. Let’s get real – demanding which class your child is in because she may not have the closest friends in the class she was placed, or insisting that your son is a math genius and should be in the highest math track, even though test scores do not bear that out, is not something administrators in public or other non-sectarian schools have to deal with, certainly not as frequently. We have gotten to the point where everyone believes that they know more than everyone else and can prove their point via Google, despite a lack of evidence in the real world. And, we are notorious for being good at creating a kerfuffle. It’s in our DNA. Point of fact though, we are less likely to do so outside of our own immediate circles. This, however, is only one small component of the issue.

For what it is worth, in the Modern Orthodox day schools that I have served with and consulted in, no child is turned away because of a parent’s inability to pay full tuition. Yes, there may be a grueling scholarship committee process but such is the way of the world. I would also argue that these yeshivas have an excellent track record for the most part especially if you look at long-term success of their students. The acceptance rates to top tier universities often, not always, but often, equals or surpasses the best high schools in the same districts.

There is no evidence to indicate that Modern Orthodox, however you may define that, is dwindling. There is evidence that there is a lot of wasted resources in our Jewish communities. There is no reason for there to be over 100 properties taken off the local tax roles in the neighborhood where I live because everyone wants their own shul. The bigger synagogues start to lose membership as a result and there is more emphasis on raising cash for these community institutions, funds which can easily go toward education in yeshivas. There is also no excuse for building even more schools simply because some parents want to hire a certain Rebbe to teach their children while the local successfully operating yeshivas refuse to do so because they feel he is not that competent. Unfortunately, this too occurs. If you want to speak of power and control and waste of funds this is another place to start.

Don’t get me started on the Shidduch Crisis, I wrote the book! Yes, I really did. If there is one thing that represents the issue of wasted resources, who has the power and control and what has to be done, this is it. We are allowing ourselves to be taken in by additional chumras, stringencies that have no real foundation in Halacha. The chumra of what clothing is acceptable, where to go to eat, in general, of how to impress the person the shaddchan or rebbe says you should date can all be overwhelmingly costly. These are not the only money wasting chumras! Think about the extra costs of chumras when it comes to kashrut, like hiring a full time mashgiach when a part time one is perfectly kosher. Think about the cost of vegetables that have to be pre-washed and hermetically sealed, when there is no real basis for that process in Halacha.

Dear Jewish Father, I am on your side. I felt exactly as you did for many, many years. I have vowed to never go back and work out how much I paid for my children’s tuition over those many years. We joke that we can never retire because of it. But, knowing what I know about education, I am glad that my children received the education that they did.

Yes, we need a rebellion but that is more an issue of community responsibility, smarter approaches to real Jewish needs, and reasonable access, not tuition alone.

About the Author
Dr. Michael Salamon ,a fellow of the American Psychological Association, is an APA Presidential Citation Awardee for his 'transformative work in raising awareness of the prevention and treatment of childhood sexual abuse". He is the founder and director of ADC Psychological Services in New York and Netanya, the author of numerous articles, several psychological tests and books including "The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures" (Urim Publications), "Every Pot Has a Cover" (University Press of America) and "Abuse in the Jewish Community: Religious and Communal Factors that Undermine the Apprehension of Offenders and the Treatment of Victims."
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