Teaneck Parents Eyeing Public (School) Option

As Englewood Hebrew charter school moves forward, increased buzz about a previously unthinkable option.

03/22/11
Associate Editor
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 Soon after Jason “Yitzi” Flynn transferred his 10-year-old son from the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey to Teaneck’s Thomas Jefferson Middle School this fall, the phone calls started coming in.

Local Orthodox parents — sometimes as many as eight in one week — would call, wanting to know how his son was adjusting to public school, were the teachers good, was he managing to continue his Jewish learning, did he still have friends from yeshiva?

“People are saying, ‘We’re interested in hearing what it’s like, because we’re considering this for our kids,’” Flynn, an attorney, volunteer soccer coach and yeshiva graduate, told The Jewish Week.

In the two months since Shalom Academy, a Hebrew charter school serving heavily Orthodox Englewood and Teaneck, won state approval (now being contested in court by the Englewood Public School District) and began moving forward with plans for a September launch, local rabbis and day school leaders have voiced concerns that the 160-student school could siphon away many tuition-paying students from Jewish schools, hurting not only the children (by depriving them of the intensive Jewish education/socialization of a yeshiva) but also the institutions.

Nonetheless, the debate over whether Hebrew charter schools are an appropriate choice for tuition-squeezed day school parents may only be the tip of the iceberg.

Not only are a number of Bergen County Orthodox parents, themselves yeshiva graduates, at least considering Shalom Academy Charter School (SACS), but some appear to be seriously considering what was once unthinkable, almost taboo: non-charter public schools.

To be sure, Orthodox parents who opt out of the Jewish yeshiva/day school system are a small minority, and their choice still provokes disapproval and criticism from rabbis, friends and family members (as well as numerous anonymous commenters in the blogosphere). Indicative of the stigma still attached to opting out of day school is that most parents agreed to speak to The Jewish Week only if their real names were not printed.

Nonetheless, conversations with Teaneck parents who are pulling their children out, or considering pulling them out, of yeshivas and day schools (along with a quick perusal of the controversial and largely anonymous, but widely read, “Bergen County Yeshiva Tuition” blog) reveal that many families are financially overwhelmed, resentful of those they think are abusing the scholarship system and increasingly skeptical that a full-day intensive Jewish education is worth sacrificing seemingly everything else for.

“Twenty or 30 years from now the Orthodox community is going to have a serious retirement crisis,” said “Mira,” a Teaneck mother of toddlers who is already looking into options like charter school and public school. She was referring to a sense that yeshiva parents are unable to save enough for the future.

“People are not planning properly; most are in denial. And the communal leadership across the board, no one is getting up and saying ‘This is not sustainable.’”

Groups like the Orthodox Union, Yeshiva University’s Institute for University-School Partnership, Jewish Education for Future Generations (JEFG) and its Northern New Jersey Kehillot Investing in Day Schools (NNJKIDS) project are talking about the “tuition crisis” and moving forward with various projects, such as a community-wide scholarship fund and a “benchmarking” project to reduce school operating costs.

But for some parents, these efforts are too little too late.

“There’s so much soreness around the topic of rising tuition costs, it comes up at almost every Shabbos meal we sit at,” said “Melissa Rosen.” “It really is starting to consume everyone and become this sore subject, and it’s sad. People are getting so hostile against these schools, and it’s not good for the kids.”

Melissa and her husband “Yoni,” both of whom work full time, won spots for their 4-year-old and 8-year-old in the SACS admission lottery last month and have decided to give the new school a try. The decision came after the couple seriously considered sending their children to their local public school, which they visited. They didn’t elaborate on why they didn’t’ choose the public school.

Like many other families who spoke to The Jewish Week, the Rosens, whose older child currently attends Yavneh Academy, said that while they were happy with the yeshiva, they earn too much to qualify for financial aid, or at least more than a modest scholarship, yet do not have enough money to afford full tuition.

“We were getting nowhere on our bills,” explained Yoni. “They were getting larger and larger.”

The Rosens say they are under no illusion that SACS will be a yeshiva, or that the children will be in an all-Orthodox or even all-Jewish environment.

“We knew it would just be Hebrew,” Melissa said. “But we also knew that a lot of the [Judaic studies] learning at a yeshiva is speaking, writing and reading Hebrew — and often the graduates don’t come out even speaking Hebrew with fluency.”

The Rosens are also, pending more information, planning to enroll both children in the optional Talmud Torah that is being developed by Hebrew Options in Public Education, a new nonprofit (pending 501(c)(3) approval) that is also helping to fund SACS.

While some question how much Judaic material an after-school program can cover, pointing to the failure of Talmud Torah programs in generations past, the Rosens are hopeful.

“This will be a little shorter, but we come from a home where we are proud of our Yiddishkeit and take joy in the holidays, so we feel we can reinforce” the Judaic learning at home, Melissa said.

The Rosens, both yeshiva graduates themselves, are skeptical of the argument that, without day school or yeshiva, their children will go “off the derech” [religious path] a term commonly used to describe people who cease to be religiously observant.

“We have family members that you would never guess went to yeshiva all their lives,” said Yoni. “We’re mindful that there are no guarantees.”

Sidney Vidaver, whose 6-year-old daughter, currently at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County, will attend the charter school this fall, said that while day schools tend to claim credit for graduates’ Jewish engagement, most of these graduates grew up in committed Jewish homes.

A graduate of a Modern Orthodox school in Baltimore, Vidaver, who now identifies as Conservative, said, “From my class, a few became rabbis, a few do nothing and the majority of people are very identified and are affiliated with a Jewish community in some way or another.

“It almost entirely dovetails with the types of families they grew up in. The person who grew up going to shul every week, he still goes to shul every week, even if he experimented in college. People generally do what their families did.”

Vidaver noted that day school is itself a relatively new phenomenon, “a movement of the past two generations.”

Like the Rosens, Vidaver has no complaints about the day school education his daughter is getting, other than the price tag.

But even with just one child (the Vidavers also have a 3-year-old) in day school “we didn’t have a financial cushion in case of emergencies, and it wasn’t a tenable way for us to live.”

“We talked about how we could have more children or educate our children,” he said. “I can’t accept living that way. We absolutely could not have afforded to have a third child if we were going to pay another $13,000 to $18,000 a year. And it’s not like we’re taking trips to Florida or going to Pesach resorts.”

“Sarah,” a Modern Orthodox Teaneck mother of four, is dreading telling her mother (and the yeshiva) about the decision to move her two older children from a yeshiva to SACS.

She said that she and her husband could continue paying tuition if they absolutely had to. But she’s no longer sure it’s worth the stress.

“Do we want to live this way where we’re dipping into our savings and not going to have any savings, not being able to go on vacation, borrowing money from our in-laws?” she said, adding, “I don’t want to feel guilty or like I have to explain to my husband that I spent a lot of money at the drugstore. I want to feel like it’s OK to buy the things we need, or even something we want. Not Louis Vuitton bags, but if you need a new computer or new shelves.”

With no tuition to pay next year, she and the Rosens now have the luxury of thinking about other uses for the money they expect to save: putting aside money for yeshiva high school and college, making long-delayed home repairs, maybe taking the kids on a trip to Israel.

“They called [the SACS admissions process] a lottery, and we did the math of what we wouldn’t be paying,” Yoni said. “You really did win the lottery. Even after paying for the Talmud Torah, you’re still way ahead of the game.”

While money is a driving force, it is not the only factor pulling some families out of yeshivas.

One Englewood mother who is planning to transfer her children from a yeshiva to SACS told The Jewish Week that money is only one factor: that she and other parents she knows are “very unhappy” with their schools, particularly what they see as a “black box”-like lack of financial transparency and a teaching staff that is uneven in quality.

She sees parents’ willingness to give the unproven charter school a try as an “act of desperation” stemming from their deep frustration with the yeshivas.

For Yitzi Flynn, who is active in two Orthodox shuls — Arzei Darom and Etz Chaim — finances did not play a role in his decision to look into public school.

Instead, he decided that his son, who was struggling in some secular subjects, would do better academically in the public schools, where secular studies start the day and an array of learning specialists are available.

The boy has thrived in the new environment, Flynn said, noting that not only is he in a mainstream (rather than special-needs) class, but on the honor roll.

School officials have been accommodating of the boy’s religious needs, offering to provide kosher options at class programs, and he has had no difficulty fitting in socially, Flynn said. In addition, he continues to socialize regularly with other Orthodox kids, is studying privately with a rabbi and participates in a “mishmar” evening learning program.

Flynn recently began organizing families interested in starting a Modern Orthodox after-school Jewish studies program for children not enrolled in yeshiva or day school.

His program is, at least for now, separate from the one organized by HOPE. Flynn said has left messages with HOPE expressing interest in partnering, but no one has gotten back to him yet.

Even without the support of HOPE, Flynn’s fledgling after-school program has already formed a steering committee of 20 people, has found an Orthodox rabbi willing to help run the program (starting this fall) and has identified a potential location, he told The Jewish Week.

“I can’t right now discuss the rabbi and facilities because they have asked me to keep it confidential, but we’d be able to accommodate 250 to 350 people,” he said.

Details of curriculum and logistics have yet to be determined, but Flynn said the thinking so far is to offer homework help and social activities, along with Torah learning.

Flynn’s Talmud Torah effort has gained momentum in the past few weeks, since he published a detailed account on the Bergen County Yeshiva Tuition Blog about his family’s experience with the public schools.

“There are more Jews in the Public School system currently than you may be aware of,” Flynn wrote in a posting. “A school administrative assistant who happens to be Jewish told me there are more Jews in Teaneck High School NOW than at any point in recent history.”

But in a sign of just how hot-button the issue of public school remains, Flynn and “200K Chump,” the anonymous editor of the blog, removed the post within hours because the blog was flooded with angry comments. An edited version of the post was published on the blog later, with many details removed and a caveat added: “This posting is an example of what is currently good for one of my children. I believe Yeshiva is the best option for most children and, IY”H [if it is the will of God] if appropriate, I plan on all of my children being in a Yeshiva...”

Just how SACS, and the weakening of the public school taboo, will affect area day schools and yeshivas remains to be seen.

With only 160 spots at the charter for this fall, and over 4,000 students currently enrolled in the eight yeshivas and day schools, it is unlikely that any one school will lose a sizeable percentage of its students. However, many schools are relatively small and have little flexibility in their budgets; the loss of even a handful of tuition-paying students would not go unnoticed.

While enrollment has not been finalized (the school is full, but is still adding names to its wait list) it is widely believed that the school is attracting a largely Jewish — and day school/yeshiva — crowd. Rumors abound that at least 100 children admitted so far are Orthodox.

Raphael Bachrach, the SACS organizer, and the other members of the school’s board have declined repeated requests for interviews.

Similarly, few Jewish schools were willing to speak on the record about SACS.

Of five schools contacted, only the leaders of Ben Porat Yosef agreed to be interviewed about the charter school.

In a joint interview, Ruth Roth, the Paramus school’s director of admissions and Rabbi Tomer Ronen, its rosh yeshiva, said they know of three families so far that are transferring from BPY to SACS — all for financial reasons. They do not know of any families transferring to non-charter public schools.

However, Roth emphasized that as a relatively new school, the 215-student BPY is still “in a rapid growth phase” and increasing by 30 to 40 percent each year.

Said Rabbi Ronen: “I feel really bad for the families that their children are going to lose a yeshiva education. If they’re thinking they’re going to be substituting yeshiva with a 45-minute club in the afternoon, it’s not going to happen.”

The presence of the tuition-free option, however “has made us even more sensitive to the fact that we have to be respectful more and more of our families and offer them value for every dollar they spend on yeshiva tuition,” Roth said.

The heads of Yeshivat Noam, Solomon Schechter, Moriah and Yavneh were either unavailable or did not respond to requests for interviews.

Gershon Distenfeld is treasurer of Jewish Education for Future Generations (JEFG) and chair of its Northern New Jersey Kehillot Investing in Day Schools (NNJKIDS) project, a community-wide effort to raise scholarship funds for the eight Jewish day schools and yeshivas in the area.

In addition to raising scholarship money, JEFG is also seeking other solutions to the “tuition crisis,” including working with the eight day schools on a “benchmarking study” to improve their “operating efficiency,” helping schools standardize scholarship guidelines and a project in the works to help middle-income families that are ineligible for financial aid yet unable to afford tuition.

Distenfeld told The Jewish Week that although he understands why SACS, the Hebrew charter school, is “appealing to some families for financial reasons, I don’t think it’s an overall solution for the Jewish day school tuition crisis.

“Most parents [currently in the day school system] want a day school environment for their children, they want a certain amount of the day dedicated to Jewish studies,” he said.

Last Update:

06/15/2012 - 03:00

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I have a simple solution for this problem. MOVE AWAY FROM NEW YORK. NY life is prohibitively expensive and it will result in a stressful life for you and your family.

Even moving just 1.5 hours south to southern NJ will result in a dramatic increase in quality of life and dramatic decrease in stress. The money you save from lower costs for everything can be used for private yeshivas which do exist down there or the public school option is viable as well.

I grew up traditional and went to the Public school system in Cherry Hill. There are so many Jews in the school system there, that it's closed for Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and the 1st 2 days of Pesach. About a dozen or so more observant kids also took off the other Yom Tovim. Going to public school didn't cause me to go off the derech, but I actually became more religious over time and have been fully shomer shabbat and kosher most of my life.

There is a much better path than New York living. Stop putting yourselves under so much pressure and move to suburban america where you can live like a human being.

Ben

I have, unfortunately, been receiving scholarships for yeshiva tuition for my children for the last 15 years, due to illness in the family and repeated job losses. We get help from our parents to pay our bills and occasionally they treat us to a trip to florida on winter vacation to spend time with us or a bar mitzvah trip to israel and they insist on paying for camp - not the cadillac camps that cost 6k a summer, but the cheap ones that are half that - it's how they choose to spend their money on their grandchildren, but now I'm being told to feel guilty for that. Yet, to "pay my dues", I have volunteered at my children's yeshiva on many levels - from PTA to boardmember, to anything they ask. I have even served on the scholarship committee - yes, me, a scholarship recipient. I have seen both sides, and let me tell you - the board and the committees are a lot more compassionate and sensitive than anyone on these forums is giving them credit for. And they are sincerely trying to improve the situation, cut costs, deliver quality and do the best they can do for every student.

I have to spend the next two Sundays cleaning for Pesach. Man, it would be a lot easier to just not be observant.

We pay over $60,000 per year in tuition (full) and the number is only going up. We are fortunate at this point to be able to do it, but it gets tougher and tougher and G-d knows what the future holds. We understand that some part of this total offsets the cost of tuition for other families, and we have no problem with that - we see it as a communal obligation. But the time is coming soon when the dam is going to break for more than just the $200,000 club. There are few real solutions to this problem, and much of the talk over the last few years is, frankly, just hot air. Until the community is willing to accept: (1) Bigger classes; (2) Less administration; (3) Consolidation of existing schools (we kill our economies of scale at every turn); (4) Organized efforts at raising money from non-orthodox sources (stopping asking the same 20% of people for more and more money) - which the orthodox have alienated (or at least ignored) to a large degree - we can blog until we are blue in the face and we will still suffer from self-imposed double taxation. IMHO, one of the real obstacles is our leadership. Who suffers economically from less administration, fewer teachers, less schools, and tighter budgets? Many of the same community leaders we are looking to lead us out of the situation (and their friends and colleagues) are those who fill those positions that would be jeopardized. Is it in their interest to lead these cost cutting measures? Cynical, maybe. Would they comment for this article? Just saying.

The issue of tuition is not going to disappear. The costs are getting higher and higher. I sent 4 kids through day school and my costs were in the range of $4,000 per year but that was 22 years ago. I don't know if I could afford it now.

We need to do some creative thinking in order to address the cost. For example have the local Jewish federation provide a substantial part of the cost of running the day schools. The Jewish community including the parents of the children should make sizable contributions to the federation. These contributions would be tax deductible thereby reducing the actual cost.

The budgets of the local organizations must be reoriented to address the need for these day schools. This must become a high priority; giving money to hospitals and other such institutions may be noble but the amount of money that is given is a small fraction of the institutions' budget and is not really necessary any more. This money would be more effective if given to the day schools. Without the continuation of the schools the organizations themselves will vanish.

i went to public high school, as did many others from my upstate NY community and our statistics are the same as the yeshiva day school educated in Teaneck except that in Teaneck most are coming from orthodox homes and still some leave the fold. we were a mixed bunch when we started. No one should be knocked down for sending their kids to public school - the example that the parents set when they make the talmud torah program important or when they make more of an effort to learn with their kids at night will have much more of an impact on the kids than 13 years of over priced day school education (especially as it is right now). I hope no shunning occurs. people in glass houses should not throw stones

If you spend (at least) $20,000 per year on something, you are a CONSUMER. As a consumer, you have the right to be getting a superior product, and if you can't get a refund, you can at least take your business elsewhere. We American Jews sacrifice so much to enable our children to get the best possible Jewish education. Unfortunately, for so many reasons, the yeshivos and day schools of today rarely measure up. Quite simply and crassly put, we are not getting our money's worth. It's become hard to justify the sacrifice -- the actual destruction of Jewish family life because both parents are working crazy hours and are never home for their kids because they are trying to afford tuition.
Five years ago I predicted this would happen - that parents would finally break and we'd slowly begin returning to public schools with "Talmud Torah" after-school programs that are much more affordable. I was met with derision and (understandable) horror, as well as cries of denial. It breaks my heart that I can say, "I told you so." This system is simply unsustainable. It's no longer good enough for yeshivos/day schools to provide a Jewish education- - they must provide and foster excellence in every respect if they want parents to continue sacrificing and supporting the system.
And yes - our local Jewish Associated/Federation should be ashamed. The pitiful amount they contribute per child is an embarrassment.

I loved the talkback from Berlin. What a concept.

I'd say the overwhelming consensus is to make Aliyah.

By the way, for yeshiva students, parents and rabbis who pray everyday, 3 times a day "vkabtzeinu yachad m'arba kanfot haaretz...to where??????.....L'ARTZENU" HELLO?! JEWISH EDUCATION!

Get on the freakin plane and stop complaining about tuition and your vacation savings.

...not to be judgemental of course ;)

The concept of supplemental Jewish Education is not new. The last time American Jews used it as a communal atrategy for edcucation, it was a collosal failure which led to the levels of assimilation. The first generation may still benefit from the solid Jewish environment of the majority who give their kids a Day school education but that will erode quickly.
The sustainability of Jewish Day Schools is a vexing problem. The cost of all education has risen steeply and it has nothing to do with Jewish Day Schools. When Jews viewed Chinuch as a communal obligation, the Kehillos funded most of the cost. That is why the Catholics can keep tution costs down. The American Jewish Community has shunned this structure and considers it repressive. Jewish money flows to all kinds of worthy (and unworthy) causes but the donors don't feel bound to support communal institutions. Many parents who fininsh educating their children in their local schools don't feel obligated to support them any longer.

Day Schools are struggling to improve their processes and transparency. We must remeber it isn't "them" vs. "us" . We all have the moral obligation to support day schools if we want a Jewish future for our kids.

And yes folks, it means a lot of sacrifice. Nothinmg of value comes effort free!

B"H, I have 5 children and they all get an outstanding Torah education (1 in high school, 4 in elementary school), with warm, caring, talented teachers. And I only pay about $500 per month for ALL of them. How is that possible? I live in Israel!!! What a novel idea! Yes, even Jews from Bergen County can live in Israel. Oh, and I haven't worked on a Chol Hamoed, Purim or Tisha B'Av in 14 years.

Yidden, come home.

Adam

There are many communities where the reality is that the reform, conservative, and Orthodox have to work together to open 1 school. Usually, what ends up happening is all the kids become friends and learn to grow up with differences. Some will not go to others birthdays because it is not kosher. Some will not be able to come to bar/bat mitzvot because their family will not be wiling to sit separately in shul. And guess what happens, water seeks out its own level, and people change. Some from Orthodox families become conservative or reform, some form conservative become Orthodox or reform, and some from reform become conservative or Orthodox. This was going to happen anyways, based on many more factors then school. I am a special education teacher, and I can honestly tell you, the difference between a student that will succeed and one that will fail is their home life. Remember, school is 8 hours a day, home life is 16 (Monday through Friday). Parents have the biggest impact on their kids, not schools. If you put all the students and parents in a room at my school, you would have no trouble finding out which one belongs to who based on their behavior. If the children are raised in a loving respectful Jewish home, filled with positive self esteem and confidence, then that child will carry it with them their whole lives. But if the home is constricting, the child is not doing well, they get frustrated and think that yiddishkite is the problem, then they are gone forever. Its not the school's doing, its the environment.

A huge benefit to having more Jewish kids at public school is the loss of isolation with the rest of the community. Public school kids -- those less observant Jews and non-Jews alike -- would get to know people in the Orthodox community, and that would breed understanding and respect from the outside world. This would be a very good thing!

IMHO, the source of the tuition crisis is not that the yeshivot charfge exorbitant tuition, Rather it is due to the fact that we pat 2 tuitions - the yeshiva and the public school. The best solution is either tuition tax credits or vouchers; this is what we should be pursuing, although it may not be as readily attainable as a chrter school.

The most telling item in this article is the 'unavailability' of anyone to speak for the Yeshivas, other than Rav Ronen. This leaves one wondering if they have a coherent story to tell about why it's worth it to send your kids there.
Or maybe, like Israel, the problem is simply one of 'hasbara'...

If yeshivot across America would lower their tuition, parents wouldn't be struggling with the financial pressure, they wouldn't se d their kids to PS, plus the yeshivot will have more students. I understand that yeshivot are struggling to stay open. They should do what the new Shulamith school for girls in BKLYN is doing: fun fundraising - Zimbabwe night, bake sale, puppet shows open house... etc.
everyone is happy in the end. Parents can afford the tuition because the school can get finding from other sources.

"Zimbabwe night"? I shudder to think what that means. Certainly sounds insensitive.

im from booklyn i think it was a spell check what she meant to type was zumba nite it was a charity event that people came to do zumba the workout and raised money for the school

We did not make aliyah because of the tuition. However, it certainly helped. We paid a total of $3 thousand per year for two kids in high school and one in middle school. The $3 thousand for all three kids included a full schedule (8:00 to 3:30 five days a week), transportation, trips outside school, shabbatonim, and whatever other extras there were. There are no building funds and no scholarship funds.

We are among the parents who did the unthinkable. We removed our child from a respected yeshiva high school and placed him in our local public school, partly for academic reasons and partly for financial ones. Our child is thriving in public school: his self esteem, confidence and grades are way up and we are extremely impressed with the dedication and sensitivity of teachers and administrators.Our child has made wonderful friends from all walks of life and now has the time to devote to a variety of extra curricular activities. But there is a tradeoff for parents: What is missing is formal davening, rosh chodesh dancing and spiritual/religious guidance offered by many caring day school rabbis and Judaic studies educators. In this respect, we are grateful to Mr. Flynn for his heroic efforts and pray that his HOPE project succeeds.

While I don't agree with the parents who are sending their children to public schools or charter schools, I certainly sympathize with their predicament. The typical parent who sends their children to Yeshiva are making an extraordinary financial sacrafice by doing so. There are some wealthy who can easily afford it, but the vast majority of parents struggle to pay their tuition bills.

This is a serious problem that deserves serious attention from all in the community. Thus far, unfortunately, it has not become a major issue with the exception of those parents who struggle with this matter day-in, day-out.

The Jewish Community in Bergen County is quite affluent and, in most cases, insensitive to those of lesser means. Additionally, a simple internet search reveals that compensation for many heads of Jewish schools and charities run anywhere from $200K to $350K (w/o factoring in benefits). The same search will reveal lesser administrators receiving between $150K and $200K. (Not all salaries are available. Some day schools, wisely refrain from posting their compensation.)

Furthermore, most (not all) of the Rabbis in the community have a vested interest in preserving the status quo (or at least the status quo for themselves) as they are beneficiaries of inflated salaries, both in their roles as Rabbis as well as Yeshiva adminstrators (which many are). School boards are fequently populated by the wealthy. Affordability is not their foremost concern.

Just as in government, where deficits are overwhelming the economic well-being of our country, here too the problem is similar and corrosive. Many are in denial and unable to make the association that affordability means the cost structure of these institutions are out of whack. I truly feel for these people and wish them luck.

Kol hakavod to these families. I reside in Teaneck, NJ and in my humble opinion the Yeshivot and High Schools are divorced from reality. Their boards and scholarship committees are made up of monetary donors. I dare any Yeshiva that can show me one member of their Scholarship Committee who is currently receiving financial aid. The members on these committees can give you all the sympathy but can't empathize with those of us who are not doctors or do not work for a hedge fund. And, the two local high schools in Teaneck, had the unmitigated chutzpah to send a letter saying that your financial aid is in jeopardy if a grandparent provides assistance to send your child to camp or to a summer program in Israel. A new concept in grand-parenting- vicarious liability for the grand kids tuition!

On top of it, the Yeshivot operate in secrecy, so there is no one who can question their budgets or make suggestions where money can be saved. The Yeshivot ask for every single financial document they can think of when you apply for aid but they reveal nothing. Parents are held captive by the schools and finally they now have a choice. My eldest daughter, who is studying in Israel this year, has a friend who attended public high school in Bala Cynwyd, Pa. She attended Camp Moshava every summer that she could and is attending a top seminary in Israel this year and is going to Princeton University come the fall. Enough said.

I'll tell you who to put on scholarship committees. Put on parents who are paying full tuition, but barely making it. No one will get off too easy, guaranteed.

Personally, I very much appreciated the letters from the high schools, which you refer to as "unmitigated chutzpah." I pay full tuition at one of those schools and more than one of my children will not be going to camp this summer because that is not our priority. Should kids on scholarship, which I help subsidize, go to camp instead? I think THAT is unmitigated chutzpah. If there is money in the family to pay the tuition, please make that a priority, for the community's sake, or the cycle will continue. I do not have a fancy house or renovated kitchen either. Those are on the back burner too.

The reason Catholic schools are better funded is the sheer number of people available to carry the burden. And if you're not an observant Catholic, you're probably still donating to the school system. It is far less likely that a Reform or Conservative Jew would donate generously to a black hat yeshiva. We simply don't have the numbers to carry this off.

The only place where Jews are the majority of the national school system is in Israel, and, accordingly, schools - including religious ones - are sponsored by the government, greatly reducing the cost for a religious education. It's group buy. Come on home! :)

Also, if I might add an observation: Parents are simply not realistic about their expectations from a privately funded yeshiva. They want their kids to have the best of everything - including enrichment, resource room, state of the art everything, extracurricular activities, etc. etc. The newsletters have to be professional quality glossies, their kids have to compete in every state level academic competition. Guys, the yeshivas are privately funded, and a dollar can only stretch so far. If your goal is to turn out the next president or head of a conglomerate, then send your kids to an Ivy league school. If your goal is to give your children a beautiful Jewish education, then let go of all the fancy stuff and get back to basics. This is what can bring costs down. No glossy newsletters, no fancy trips, no extravagant video equipment and computer labs. Let go, simplify, and fill their hearts with the warmth of Judaism instead of the state of the art chemistry labs...

The reason Catholic schools are better funded is the sheer number of people available to carry the burden. And if you're not an observant Catholic, you're probably still donating to the school system. It is far less likely that a Reform or Conservative Jew would donate generously to a black hat yeshiva. We simply don't have the numbers to carry this off.

The only place where Jews are the majority of the national school system is in Israel, and, accordingly, schools - including religious ones - are sponsored by the government, greatly reducing the cost for a religious education. It's group buy. Come on home! :)

Also, if I might add an observation: Parents are simply not realistic about their expectations from a privately funded yeshiva. They want their kids to have the best of everything - including enrichment, resource room, state of the art everything, extracurricular activities, etc. etc. The newsletters have to be professional quality glossies, their kids have to compete in every state level academic competition. Guys, the yeshivas are privately funded, and a dollar can only stretch so far. If your goal is to turn out the next president or head of a conglomerate, then send your kids to an Ivy league school. If your goal is to give your children a beautiful Jewish education, then let go of all the fancy stuff and get back to basics. This is what can bring costs down. No glossy newsletters, no fancy trips, no extravagant video equipment and computer labs. Let go, simplify, and fill their hearts with the warmth of Judaism instead of the state of the art chemistry labs...

I find this topic really interesting because tuition at a Jewish day school is one of the reasons that my family has chosen to stay in Berlin. When we discussed returning to our Westchester home after my husband had a posting abroad with his firm, we queried our local Solomon Schechter on what we could expect the tuition to be. With a 50% tuition rebate and two children, the bill would be $30,000/year. That would leave us unable to have any life beyond paying our bills and our mortgage, never being able to get ahead of anything or even to save for university for the children. While my atheist neighbors (and yes, some Jewish ones) send their kids to the great Catholic school across the street for $7,000 a year without assistance.
We even considered moving up by my parents in Northern NY, which has more Jews now than it did when I was growing up, but jobs are not as available, pay is lower, and the Hebrew Academy there is also extremely expensive. That's not even talking about synagogues where membership required us to have waivers/forgiveness just to be members!
Here in Berlin, we max out the income adjusted tuition at 345€/month/child (with kindergarten free) (including the kosher warm lunch). What a difference. It's not as good as a real day school, but we can have a life and be part of the Jewish community.
Is that not scandalous, that we can afford a Jewish life in Berlin (where Judaism is treated like other religions) and not in the US?

I could not agree more with these poor parents. I have three children. My husband and I both work as professionals with doctorate level degrees.. We have been saving for our children's college education from the day they were born. Each one went to Day school from K-12 with one still attending. There were years when we were spending $85,000 to $90,000 after tax dollars, a year on tuition, bus transportation. This does not even include sports fees, Shbbaton fees etc. My entire salary went for tuition. Luckily we have two salaries so my husband covers the mortgage, bills, summer camp etc. The day school my children attend is becoming a bastion for children of parents who work on Wall Street, own successful businesses, are partners in big law firms. This entire situation is a shanda on the Jewish community. Why is it that Catholic school parents pay $3-4K a year in tuition? Why doesn't the Jewish Federation and other chariities recognize that Hebrew Day School is the BEST WAY TO MAKE SURE THAT OUR CHILDREN identify as JEws! With everyone bemoaning the intermarriage rate, why isn't the Conservative movement doing more to fund Solomon Schechters and make them more affordable? Why isn't the Orthodox movement doing the same! Day school should not be a privileged reserved only for the rich

These interviewees talk about how they are getting nowhere with their bills, and would qualify for a modest scholarship, but then go onto say that with the money they save on tuition they would take a vacation to Israel or spend it in other ways. This is the root of the problem in Bergen County. People have no financial sense or long term planning whatsoever. For someone to qualify for scholarship, presumable they are not putting away anything for retirement. Now, instead of putting away for their retirement, they're going to go on vacation? That's very smart planning.

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