An anonymous blogger posting with our online partner The Times of Israel has created an uproar by attacking an old problem: the high cost of being Jewish.
It’s a timely issue for the High Holiday crowds at synagogues, some grousing about the cost of membership or tickets and others chafing at the Kol Nidrei appeal for donations.
“A Jewish Father,” an American Modern Orthodox father of four in his mid-40s, submitted his itemized critique in blog form Monday, Sept. 11, as we in Atlanta were focused on Hurricane Irma. While he didn’t topple trees, some think he has undermined the foundation of the U.S. Orthodox community, if not all American Jewry.
This blogger has many complaints about the structure and expense of “doing Jewish.” Some of them, such as the salaries of rabbis, the cost of kosher meat and the composition of synagogue boards, are off-base. We also reject the idea that synagogue membership is too expensive — ask Christians who tithe 10 percent of their salaries whether $2,000 to $3,000 a year seems excessive.
But the blogger’s main targets are Jewish day schools. Tuition for his four children accounted for more than half his annual Jewish bill of $150,000, and he felt the education they were getting was substandard.
Where you send your children to school is a personal decision, but it has a communal aspect: While day schools are not right for all Jewish children and are not a cure-all for problems of Jewish continuity, they have a statistical edge over public and non-Jewish private schools at producing additional Jewish generations.
But the negatives could cancel out the benefits if education costs strip a family of the ability to fully participate in Jewish life or create financial stresses that rupture Jewish family life.
Georgia’s tax credits for donations that fund student scholarships at private schools help, but they are only a drop in the bucket. Consider that Birthright Israel is a huge philanthropic success because it can spend roughly $150 million a year to send almost 50,000 Jews on 10-day trips; the cumulative tuition of the U.S. students in Jewish day schools is more than $5 billion.
That kind of number is beyond private philanthropy.
A Jewish Father argues that the number shouldn’t be that high, that bloated administrations and other inefficiencies and a lack of pushback against the high prices greatly inflate the bills. We’re sure those problems exist in some places, but Atlanta’s day schools seem to be lean operations and still can be out of reach for many in our community.
A seed of a solution may have been unpackaged if not planted during the Atlanta visit of members of the Knesset.
Deputy Speaker Yoel Hasson, a member of the opposition Zionist Union, said Israel has a responsibility to help ensure that every Jew around the world who wants a Jewish education can get one. He didn’t get into details, and his party is out of power.
But it’s an intriguing, mutually beneficial concept: tying the world’s Jews and Israel closer together and reinforcing Jewish continuity and Diaspora support for the Jewish state through an arrangement in which Israel subsidizes day school education.
It seems far-fetched, but so did Birthright 18 years ago. If the cost of Jewish education is endangering the Jewish future, it seems natural to apply some of that Israeli innovation to finding a solution and easing the struggles of all Jewish parents.