Cayla Solomon
Cayla Solomon
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Jewish day school tuition a burden? What one school is doing about it

How one Ontario school helps parents struggling to finance Jewish education -- a potential model for North America

With a little one at home, my husband and I so often discuss the many things we hope to provide for our children: a home filled with love and support (and maybe one with a little more space to move around); opportunities to develop individual interests through extra curricular activities; and an education rich in academic excellence that is true to the values we hold dear.

As a product of the Jewish day school system, for many years I didn’t realise the gift my parents had afforded me by struggling to pay for my Jewish education. I often took for granted the many advantages I had as a Jewish day school graduate: daily immersion in a Jewish environment and a comfortable familiarity with Jewish texts has given me a level of knowledge that I wear like a second skin. The self assurance I developed in my Jewish identity as a result of my day school upbringing also made it easier to actively participate in the non-Jewish world around me.

My husband, on the other hand, came from a public school background and a high-holiday-only observant family. He envies the level of confidence I have always had in my Jewish identity, and, in his own words, feels like he can “never catch up,” despite the efforts he puts into learning more about Judaism and practicing Hebrew.

As a Jewish day school professional for nearly six years, I have had the pleasure of seeing firsthand what a Jewish day school can offer on a daily basis. Long before our daughter was even an idea, I would come home from work and say to my husband, “I don’t know how, but we have to make this work financially, because our children deserve this.”

Unfortunately for many young parents, especially those in the middle income bracket, the struggle to afford a Jewish education is real. Many of my peers believe their incomes are too high to qualify for tuition assistance, and thus do not even research Jewish day schools. They know they will love what they see, and then will be met with the disappointment of not being able to make it a reality for their family.

Photo courtesy of The Leo Baeck Day School
Photo courtesy of The Leo Baeck Day School, Toronto, Canada

The Jewish day school conversation happens naturally among my friends (my professional role aside) — those who value Jewish life, even if only culturally, believe there is value in sending their children to a Jewish day school. Though each school has its own ‘product’ to sell, I don’t believe the challenging part is convincing people of the benefits of Jewish day school over public school. The challenge — and, I would say, crisis – is that so many young Jewish families feel that a day school education is far out of their reach, and that trying to make it work would compromise the quality of life they strive to provide for their children.

I feel fortunate to work in a school that not only recognizes the struggle of many young Jewish families, but that is also doing something about it. In 2013, with the assistance of a private donor, The Leo Baeck Day School inaugurated the AlephBaeck tuition incentive program, aimed at easing the burden of the prohibitive cost of tuition fees for middle income families. This innovative program — the first of its kind in Ontario — helps make it easier for qualifying families to give their children a world-class education at Leo Baeck. Students of first time families entering the school’s North Campus in Thornhill (up to grade 2) are eligible to receive over $10,000 against tuition fees, and siblings of current students entering the school’s North Campus are eligible to receive up to $5,000 against tuition fees.

The AlephBaeck tuition incentive program does not solve the crisis that both day schools and young Jewish families are facing today. This is just one of a number of similar innovative programs being offered across North America to address this serious issue. However, it shows a promising and positive level of commitment on the part of Leo Baeck towards providing as many Jewish children as possible with a Jewish education. AlephBaeck allows for more children to attend Jewish day school — and full classes help ease the financial burden of tuition on each Leo Baeck family.

I am proud of the work that is being done at Leo Baeck — with a focus on individualized instruction and a commitment to providing academic excellence in a nurturing community, I really do believe that you are gifting your child with something incredible by enrolling them in Jewish day school.

I continue to return home from work every day to hug my daughter and think to myself, “I want this for her”; I am grateful that there are options, like traditional tuition assistance and the AlephBaeck tuition incentive program, that might help make that a reality for some families. If there is one piece of advice I can offer to families struggling with the decision to make the sacrifice for their children, I encourage you to reach out to your school of choice, meet with the Admissions professionals, and see for yourself what your child will miss without a Jewish education. It just might be more affordable than you think.

About the Author
A communications and branding professional, Cayla Solomon is also an amateur chef who shares her kitchen adventures on Chutzpah in the Kitchen.
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