Tough Choice: School Scholarship Or Summer Camp
02/15/2011 - 16:27
Gary Rosenblatt

Parents already reeling from the high cost of active Jewish life may soon be facing a difficult choice for their high school children between tuition scholarship for day school and a summer camp or summer-in-Israel experience.

The scholarship committees from two Modern Orthodox day schools in Teaneck, NJ have sent out similarly-worded letters to parents in recent days making it clear that “if a family currently receiving a needs-based scholarship award spends money on discretionary expenses or sends a child in grades 10-12 to attend a summer program” – including Israel programs – “that family is jeopardizing its scholarship.”

The letters came from Torah Academy of Bergen County (TABC), a boys yeshiva, and Ma’ayanot, a girls yeshiva, a block away, and reflect the difficult and diminishing options for educational institutions – and families – facing financial cutbacks.

The letters explain that the schools’ “core value” is that no student be turned away because of financial circumstances, and that families should “pay the maximum amount they can afford, with the understanding that tuition payments are part of the basic expenses of the family – taking priority over discretionary expenses such as home renovations, family vacations, new cars, etc.”

Summer programs, including those taking place in Israel, are defined in the letters as “discretionary and not basic expenses.”

I know these schools are hurting, but it seems to me like a bad idea to lump together powerful Jewish experiential programs and lavish personal spending in one non-essential category.

Some educators anticipate that these letters could set a precedent for a widespread similar effort among day schools around the country, setting up a possible showdown of sorts among school administrators, providers of Jewish summer programs and parents.

One rabbi told me the problem reflects “the financial trauma” that the community is experiencing, with various institutions each convinced that their work deserves the highest priority.

For some years now, and particularly since the financial meltdown of 2008, day school scholarship committees have been known to question closely applicants about family spending on home improvements, new cars, vacations and Pesach programs in resorts.

Including summer camps and Israel summer tours in the mix of “discretionary” expenses sharpens the debate, particularly when studies show that experiential programs like camp and Israel travel have a strong positive impact on teenagers.

Jeremy Fingerman, CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp, says it is “unfortunate” for such worthwhile programs to be “lumped together with a family spending on a lavish bar or bat mitzvahs or fancy trips.”

He said that “camps teach the joy of Judaism and build Jewish community in a very powerful, compelling way,” and that youngsters and families should not be “penalized” for wanting a full Jewish educational experience.

Modern Orthodox sleep-away summer camps range from $600 to more than $1,000 a week, per child, experts say.

The popular NCSY Kollel, a six-week summer program in Israel, costs $6,699, according to the NCSY website.

Sources say part of the expense is to allow the camp to provide scholarships for youngsters unable to pay in full.

Fingerman said “the community has to be there” for families facing tough times, and asserted that youngsters who attend Jewish camps come back benefiting themselves and “contributing more to the vibe of their school.”

Hopefully a meeting of the minds among these vital educators – whether their work is in the classroom or experiential – will ward off an unnecessary conflict.


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I tried very hard this summer to keep my kids home, to avoid paying for camp. It was a disaster. We live in a relatively secular area and all of those influences were there every day. They missed out on the enjoyment of participating with peers in activities that were not school related and academic, and often pressured. Their spirits, in short, were stifled, despite the many day trips and fun we had as a family. We all felt the difference, and I hope not to attempt to do that again, though I clearly understand that the money that goes to camp is less money for tuition... and the schools understand this as well. How can I justify asking for school scholarship when I send my kids to camp? I have come to the conclusion that a camp experience, for many children, is as spiritually edifying as school, but in a different way. Isn't our goal for our children to build up their self-confidence and team skills so they can grow into well-rounded and strong adults? I now see camp as a necessity.

I am sick to my stomack evry time I see the tuition bill for high school. Why is it so high?($16,000-$20,000). To appply for scholarship you have to account for every dollar (how much I spend for gas water electricity). And if you contribute to 401K more than $5,000 you are not eligible for scholarship. Meantime the school expects you to have internet (expense) since their way to communicate with you is to send an email. And now you have to submit scholarship application on line. Don't forget to pay a fee of $100.00.

I do not know the statistics but just based on the people i have come across in my life. If we compare the numbers of those that have stayed religious who attended camp and yeshiva or only camp they would be higher than those that attended only yeshiva. If i had to choose between the two (yeshiva or camp) i think i would actually have a hard time - thinking monetarily which one gets you more bang for your buck - camp hands down - one summer at 7,000 often has more impact than 12 years at yeshiva day school. Maybe thats something we as a community should be looking into
If these schools are opposed to families spending on Jewish summer camps, I am curious if they are going to be offering year-round school. Teachers and administrators are often paid on a 12-month year. The financial reality is that in order to pay for Jewish day school, both parents must work. In a situation like that, where should the kids go during the summer while the parents are working their 12-month a year jobs?
I work full-time for Camp Morasha, so it is obvious what my opinion will be on the matter. I see first-hand how campers (and staff) are transformed over eight weeks at camp, year-after-year. Camp cannot replace school - but it certainly should not be lumped into the same category of fancy vacations and home improvements. All those educational leaders who classified summer camp as "discretionary spending" should ask themselves where they first learned how to be a leader. I'd imagine, for many, it was summer camp. With that said, Camp Morasha ironically launched a video just this past Friday on this topic. It's worth watching:
Are these for profit camps telling the not for profit schools to serve their community? If Mr. Fingerman would like to become part of the discussion, he should recommend that all for profit camps turn over their businesses to their local Jewish communities so that they too can find out what it is like to run a not for profit organization.

At the Foundation for Jewish Camp, we are sensitive to the issue of affordability. We work solely with nonprofit Jewish overnight camps, many of which are sponsored by nonprofit Jewish organizations like synagogues, JCCs, and religious movements. The camps we work with--whether they are sponsored or independent--operate as nonprofit businesses, and are constantly working to reduce the level of financial stress that camp tuition puts on families. Many of these camps offer scholarships, payment plans, sibling discounts, and more. We hope to continue working together to bring down the cost of Jewish camp, and Jewish living overall.

Who can I contact to help get scholarship for my 15 yr. old son to attend the NCSY Kollel this summer.

Actually, most of the camps affiliated with FJC are non-profit Jewish camps (including the camp with which i am affiliated). At least our camp would never deny financial aid to a child wishing to attend camp just because the child's parents chose to spend money on an expensive private (albeit Jewish) education when there is a perfectly good free alternative (public, secular education). As a supporter of Jewish camping, I recognize the value of a traditional Jewish education. I am also aware, from experience, that there is a tremendous value added benefit from an experiential Jewish experience, like Jewish resident camping or an Israel experience even for Jewish day school or Yeshiva students. The two experiences are different and each, in its own way, enhances Jewish values and, as a not insignificant consequence, Jewish continuity. Unfortunately, some in the Jewish camping world have similarly chosen to exclude Jewish day school kids from some financial aid grants available to other kids. Both communities need to recognize that the different experiences are mutually supportive. A balanced diet is always better for the body that a single, even wonderful, course. It is the same with the development of our future Jewish communities. We need to recognize and enhance all elements, providing a strong balance of Jewish experience for our children if we are to see them prosper.
Tell me this is a joke! How anyone can say that sending your kid to a $7k summer program is anything other than a luxury is beyond me. If kids are getting scholarships, then it is a tremendous waste of community funds at a time where Yeshivas aren't fully funded and kids are leaving for public schools. And like the grandparents who pay for lavish vacations but won't help pay tuitions (and the community is thus forced to give scholarships), organizations that subsidize these summer programs should be called out and asked to fund yeshiva education instead.

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