Indie Minyan Movement Grapples with Day School Cost
04/24/12
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With recession-battered parents concerned about affordability, and with cheaper alternatives like summer camp and Hebrew charter schools in vogue among philanthropists, it makes sense that the so-called “value proposition” — making the case for why a day school education is worth the money — has become a buzz phrase in the Jewish day school world.

Echoing that language, Beit Rabban, a small pluralistic day school is teaming up next week with Mechon Hadar, the nondenominational yeshiva of the indie minyan world, for a forum addressing the “values and value of a Jewish day school education.” Both institutions are on the Upper West Side in the same school district where plans are under way for a Hebrew charter school, to be located in Harlem.

At the May 3 event, Rabbi Ethan Tucker, Hadar’s co-founder and rosh yeshiva; Dan Perla, a program officer at the Avi Chai Foundation and Rona Sheramy, executive director of the Association for Jewish Studies, will discuss how Jewish texts, history and economics influence the nature of Jewish education.

Rabbi Tucker, whose two older children attend Kinneret Day School in Riverdale, told The Jewish Week that in the independent minyan world “everyone in our orbit agrees with the necessity of intensive, meaningful Jewish education to be able to create the communities that many of the minyanim represent.”

Noting that “day school right now is the best model out there for investing serious hours every week in real Jewish learning,” Rabbi Tucker said that day school affordability/sustainability issues arise from “holding two commitments close at the same time: one, the idea of Jewish education, mastery of Hebrew and access to Jewish texts being a really important cultural product, and two, the idea that there should be some democracy around that access and obligation.”

“Jewish tradition is an intense tradition to learn about and master, and we expect a huge amount of the population to access it,” he said, noting that at next week’s forum he plans to share several Talmudic texts exploring the question of “how much we want how many people to know.”

Rabbi Andrew Davids, Beit Rabban’s executive director, said the school — one of two day schools participating in a pilot program in which Hadar fellows help lead certain Judaic studies sessions —is hosting the discussion because “the cost of being Jewish is a real challenge.”

“Even though we have one of the more reasonable tuitions for day school in Manhattan, anyone who tells you $26,000 for kindergarten is reasonable needs to have his head checked,” he said.

More than 40 percent of the school’s almost 80 students are receiving financial aid, including children from families that “in any other community would be major donors, but because they’re in Manhattan, they’re struggling on two six-figure incomes.”

“Who Deserves A Jewish Education? A Candid Discussion on the Values and Value of a Day School” takes place at 8 p.m., Thursday, May 3 at Beit Rabban, 8 W. 70th St. To register, go to www.beitrabban.org/resources/AuthorsEvent.php

Last Update:

05/28/2012 - 04:57

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My school's tuition assistance application asks if "you belong to a country club?"Do I laugh or do I cry? It should ask - if you can afford to invite people over for Shabbat dinner, or if you can afford to feed your family kosher meat or if you can afford shul membership - My children do not go to summer camp, they have never had a music lesson or a sports lesson or a tutoring session (even when it was needed) - sadly, I have been priced out of my own religion- but (luckily) it is not so easy to let go of being Jewish so we do what we can at home

I agree with you 100%, Yeshiva has become a full fledged business and most people I speak with can no longer afford the price of sending their 3 or more children to Yeshiva or Day School. The sad thing is that a lot of families that may not kept Shabbat, or may not keep kosher but yet persisted to send their children to Yeshiva vs. sending them to public school are more and more giving up on Yeshiva due to increasingly high tuition. So when a Hebrew charter school open up near you, guess what those families will do? I know of Orthodox parents who recently sent their 3 children to a Hebrew charter school and supplement religious studies after school, because they cannot afford Yeshiva.

I have a question for the author: Does she know how many day schools have closed since 2009? I know one in Boulder has. I believe one in Chicago, and her previous articles on Florida said two others.

I strongly suspect that there is no data on the financial strength of day schools nationally, but that would be a useful part of the discussion.

It's time we stopped pretending about what Hebrew language charter schools are and are not. Most founders and proponents swear until they are blue in the face that these public charter schools are not a form of Jewish education. After all, how could they be since they are publicly funded. Yet the Jewish communal
public is increasingly confused. And who can blame them when journalists like Julie Wiener repeatedly refer to these charter schools as a form of Jewish education. To wit, in the above article: "With recession-battered parents concerned about affordability, and with cheaper alternatives like summer camp and Hebrew charter schools in vogue among philanthropists." Hebrew charter schools are not an alternative to Jewish education because they can not provide a Jewish education. They can only provide Hebrew language instruction. It seems to me that when Julie Wiener conflates the two she does a disservice to readers, and she contributes to the misperception that day school affordability can be solved through publicly funded Hebrew charter schools. Day school affordability is a real and serious issue for the broader Jewish community. But we won't "solve" it by substituting Hebrew language instruction for an immersive text-rich, value-full context. And no where in the body of the article did I see Rabbis Tucker or Davies suggest that Hebrew Language Charter Schools are even part of their framework of Jewish education.

I applaud the commitment families have made to a "yeshivish" education, irrespective of denominatin or level of family ritual practice. "Are we preaching to the choir?" How can we best align our priorities with those on the cusp? Family education is necessary in order to ensure that learned and practiced classroom pedagody and ritual finds its way into thr home amd has the "legs" to stamd the measure of time. L'dor va dor, our obilgation is to ensure that what we teach is consistent with what is practiced at home.

Mallory Probert Caplan

I have not argued that Hebrew charter schools are a form of Jewish education, and as a reporter, I am neither an advocate nor opponent of them. However, while Hebrew charter schools do not offer Jewish religious education, they do teach Hebrew. Many also teach about Israeli culture and Jewish history.  These topics are generally included in the Judaic studies portion of a Jewish day school day. The Hebrew charter school movement is backed with philanthropic dollars from donors, like Michael Steinhardt and Harold Grinspoon, who have given to Jewish education and day schools as well. Whether they are right or wrong, many parents (and, I'd venture, philanthropists) DO see Hebrew charter schools, particularly when combined with supplemental religious studies, as an alternative to Jewish day schools, at least for those families unwilling or unable to make the financial sacrifices day schools require or uninterested in the amount of religious education and worship that day schools provide.    

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