Values Crisis, Not Tuition Crisis
Tue, 03/29/2011

In last week’s front-page article, “Teaneck Parents Eyeing Public (School) Option,” the author discusses an increasing level of interest among Orthodox parents in exploring the once-unimaginable possibility of enrolling their children in public schools. This is primarily; though not exclusively, due to the prohibitive, and seemingly ever-increasing cost of yeshiva tuition.

As an avid reader of numerous Jewish publications, I am always amazed at the dichotomy that exists within numerous papers, including The Jewish Week. On one hand, we are inundated with articles related to the ever-increasing financial hardships that exist within our communities in relation to job security, housing costs, tuition, etc.

Yet within the very same newspaper much of the paid advertisements are devoted to featuring an amazingly diverse plethora of luxury packages for families to spend their eight-day Pesach vacation, in virtually any setting, anywhere across the globe. Listed amenities range from acres of plush grass, Olympic-sized swimming pools, whirlpool spas, expansive golf courses, tennis courts, and of course, private concerts and circus performances. It is worth noting that these lavish extravaganzas also typically feature leading Jewish personalities and rabbinic figures, who by their mere presence, are at the very least, subtly lending credence to such over-the-top and exorbitant affairs.

Perhaps it is not so much a “tuition crises” that plagues our communities, in as much as a “values crises” that has perpetuated itself within our midst. Clearly we should consider deflecting some attention from the “price tag” to which yeshivas are charging for their services, and instead focus some attention on the apparent lack of values that are being imparted to our most precious youth.

Brooklyn

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Mr. Braun makes an important point about Jewish luminaries who appear at lavish Pesach programs during a major economic crisis. When I have asked certain leaders or their assistants for an explanation, I have been told that they are there to meet well-to-do Jews whose support can be solicited. I'm afraid I do not find that very convincing as I believe there are many other opportunities to connect with the wealthy that do not send a message of excess and conspicuous consumption to those who cannot afford such or chose to spend their funds elsewhere.
Where Mr. Braun's letter falls short in my opinion is that it does not take into account the great disparity between the haves and the have-nots in the Orthodox community. There are young families who are struggling mightily to meet their tuition obligations. I know couples who live a much simpler lifestyle than the one to which they are accustomed so that they can meet their yeshiva tuition bills. I know couples who have cut back on plans for a large family, something Jews desperately need, in order to put a dent in the astronomical tuition bill with which they cannot contend.
Not everyone works at a hedge fund and not every lawyer makes partner. There are plenty of honorable professions that do not enable a family to pay tuition bills in the high five figures.
This is America and people who can afford to take a lavish vacation have the right to do so. I do believe, however, that Jewish leaders should reconsider exercising the fringe benefit their position offers in favor of more modesty, a supreme Torah value.

I see many letters and opinions including the one in this week's issue of the JW, which argue, in essence, that if only people shifted their priorities then day school would be much easier. I feel this is far too simplistic and avoids the fact that many of us do not have the luxury of choosing between, say, a cruise or a new kitchen and day school. We are cutting ourselves to the bone as it is and the question becomes whether we have even a very basic quality of life at all. A letter written by me and printed about a year ago in the JW addressed this as well.

Are there folks who have the wiggle room to "sacrifice" luxury items and activities? Sure, however, the rest of us need a real and effective solution without judgment. It's appalling that many people interviewed in last week's article on tuition and day schools felt they had to be anonymous for fear of their own community's judgment. Absolutely maddening and sad to me.

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