Choosing Public School Over Homelessness

Mayer Fertig writes:

After years of talk about a tuition crisis, many families that scrimped and sacrificed to send children to yeshiva in the past have hit a financial wall.

“Many children will end up in public school as a result of all this,” said Rabbi Shneur Wolowik, director of Chabad of the Five Towns. He says he is inundated with calls for help from parents who simply have run out of options.

“Parents have to choose between having a home foreclosed on or having a Jewish education. It’s a very tough decision,” he acknowledged.

An email he received this week from a woman in the Five Towns outlined her situation: “They have two children, she’s pregnant with a third, they’ve all but canceled the babysitter, have two old cars and a very simple home. She said it’s either tuition or their home and they can’t be homeless. She did the numbers with me and, unfortunately, she’s right.”

The children are now registered in public school.

Yonatan posts: So what’s wrong with sending your kids to public school?

Gil Student posts: Peer pressure. Yeshiva tuition is not about paying for Torah. It’s about socializing your children in the Orthodox Jewish community.

Yonatan posts: $20,000 is a lot to pay for socialization.

Gil: It definitely is! But socialization is essential to maintaining Jewishness in this society.

Yonatan: There are other cheaper ways to socialize people, such as synagogues & youth programs.

And there is something unhealthy about a Jewishness that can only be maintained by isolating from anyone non-Orthodox.

Gil: Those "cheaper ways" have been tried and the failure rate is unacceptable.

It isn’t a matter of isolation. It’s that the primary life of a child and adolescent needs to affirm Jewish identity and behavior, not undermine it at every turn. When they become adults, they’ll spent the majority of their lives in non-Jewish work environments.

Daniel: There is no question that the day school movement saved Orthodoxy in this country. There is no question that socialization aspect of day schools is crucial. There is also no question that day schools have become prohibitively expensive for a frowing portion of the Orthodox community. That is despite the fact that in some areas, day schools manage to provde a double curriculum that is competitive with the local public schools for LESS than that public schools spend per student. (I live in a district that spends over $10,000.00 per student. My tuition is $9,100.00) I believe that the only way to save day schools is to start a vigorous campaign to change the way schools are funded. Private schools have to be able to tap into the public dole. Nothing else will work.

Ilana posts: I was the only shomer Shabbos student in my grade in non-Jewish schools. I managed to emerge from that experience shomer Shabbos only because (1) I wasn’t popular and didn’t get invited to Friday night parties anyway (2) I LIKED being different from everyone else and (3) I was good enough academically that missing yom tov didn’t affect my grades too badly. Despite all that, it was a major nisayon for me and I would not expect every kid to come through ok. BTW I come from a very committed family and attended an excellent Talmud Torah 6 hrs/wk through grade 12.

Sifrah posts: When I went to Shulamith, it was in rented quarters in the Boro Park Y with two grades in a room with one teacher. It was followed by public high school, the only real option at the time. What made it workable was that we had enough of a chevra to support one another. Supplemental limmudei kodesh required evening and Sunday classes and subway travel.

Mordy: "Yeshiva tuition is not about paying for Torah. It’s about socializing your children in the Orthodox Jewish community."

And that is why the Jewish education it provides ranges from lousy to non-existent: education is not its raison d’être.


My son bumped into former classmates. They went to YULA and Shalehevet while he he attended public school. (As a result of a divorce, I could not afford the tuition and both schools did not help me. To think how many nights I cried into my pillow worried what will become of my three kids, afraid that they will become social pariahs).

He was SHOCKED to discover that they are all dating non Jewish girls and don’t go to Beth Jacob, anymore. They come from prominent families in town. It reminded me that during high school we heard of drug use in the Jewish schools. How do you explain that? Not to mention the hefty tuition payments in vein… Something went terribly wrong, I believe that they need to take stock of what went wrong in the above schools. Our community deserve better results.

My theory is that leaving it in God’s hands and praying a lot plus clear boundaries help. I guess it’s easier to set them in my situation. In a Jewish high school it’s like being half pregnant nothing is clearly define.

Prior to starting school we set some house rules:

– You go to public school for your education. (same in college)
– Yes, I know that they are very nice girls… but you don’t date them nor marry them.
– Eat Kosher or become a vegetarian.
– We don’t do drugs, or hang with drug users. Quick visit to a nearby drug rehab. is very helpful to make it clear: places you don’t wish to end up in.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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