Rethinking Jewish Day Schools

From DonnaBurstyn.com:

I was calculating what I spent on the education of my four daughters before they hit college. Three of them went to Orthodox Jewish day schools. A fourth one went until third grade and then was in other schools that catered to her special needs better.

I spent around $400,000 for their education.

Many people in my Orthodox Jewish community shrug their shoulders and say, we all have to spend that.

I’m having a different look at it now that I’m 50 and have two married daughters, a granddaughter and another one on the way. I’m looking at the cost of a college education.

My desire to have my kids at Orthodox Jewish day schools cost me more than their college did. It was such a tremendous strain and drain financially to keep up with what was expected of me as an Orthodox mother that in retrospect, I would’ve done it differently.

I am so bothered by what it costs for Jewish day school. I remember having a patient come to me who was a non-practicing Catholic. She had her child at a Catholic day school because they had a finer education than the public school in her district. She told me that she had to pay $212 a month. That included lunch. Everyone paid that. Why so little? Because the Archdiocese of Los Angeles subsidized the rest of the tuition.

I remember thinking how fortunate she was and how appalled I was that there wasn’t a central system that would subsidize Jewish day schools. I’m not talking about scholarships at individual schools. For seven years, I did get a discount on my bill as a single mother, but I still ended up paying out $400,000. It probably would’ve been $500,000 if I had not gotten those scholarships.

There’s a message that we’re sending our children and an expectation that they are assuming – that they should give to their children what I gave to them. I don’t agree with this message any more.

I’m trying to think of other ways than a Jewish day school to implement the ethics of our fathers, the transmission of our values, the teaching of Torah.

With my fourth daughter about to go to college, I don’t have the funds to support her going away from home. Her dream was to get good grades and to go to the best four-year college she could get into and live in a dorm and have a college life experience.

Some people reading this column will say that is not what an Orthodox girl should do. She should go to a seminary her first year out of high school.

Some of my daughters chose to do that. Another went to Bar Ilan University. But even that was thousands of dollars.

Are we telling our children that you have to be rich or you will be a beggar?

The scholarship process was so humiliating at the Jewish day schools, except for a couple of years when a gentle soul was there. He understood. He was not wealthy. Other than that, the scholarship process usually consisted of a committee of five and some would be assigned to my case. I would be asked to bring in my check stubs and they would go through everything I wrote. And then they would decide if I was eligible for a scholarship or if I was negligent with my money. If I overspent elsewhere, then I wouldn’t qualify.

This is a big issue I’ve yet to fully grapple with, but I don’t want to see for my grandchildren this same problem. I’m not in a position to support them or to make a dent in their day school tuition. The finances are much too difficult for me.

I’m self-employed. I don’t have a matching 401K plan. I have to protect my future.

I suppose I could say – let my kids struggle as I struggled. Let them have less now. They’ll have more later as a result of a Jewish education.

I’m not sure that is the case. My daughter who did not go to a Jewish school past third grade is as magnificent as the other three, even though she does not read Hebrew.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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