The high costs of Jewish day schools is not a NEW challenge

Since the onset of the Great Recession, there has been a tremendous amount of concern in the Jewish community about the debilitating costs of day schools.

But Shira Dicker, a well-known writer and publicist out of NYC, has written a very absorbing and persuasive column in The Jewish Week about the struggle that non-affluent Jews have long faced to pay day school tuition.

The problem is not new, she writes, even if many Jews did not notice before the recession. She writes, in part:

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But the problematic price tag of Jewish education was enabled by a culture of affluence that somehow got tangled up with American Jewish identity. My unscientific observation is that this culture took root in the early ‘80s and grew wildly in the intervening decades, subverting the teaching of the Ethics of the Fathers—“Who is successful?” The answer became “He who makes tons of money and has lots of stuff.”

Within this culture of affluence, there was a distinct shame associated with financial struggle, a belief that not having enough money indicated some kind of existential failure. After a brief eternity of being a have-not in a land of haves, it is startling for me to suddenly hear the phrase, “I cannot afford…”

For the last quarter century, those who were committed yet couldn’t afford the high price of being Jewish were bullied or shamed into silence or compliance. That reality changed, nearly overnight, and I view the defection of Jewish families from the day school system as an important wake-up call, a reaction to the myth that if Jewish education is a priority, families will always find a way to finance it.

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That’s what is called brutal honesty.

Gary Stern

Gary Stern covered education in the Lower Hudson Valley for several years during the early 1990s. Now's he back on the beat. He believes that schools are one of the main reasons that people live around here and that educational issues -- from curriculum to financing -- are among the most challenging things that journalists can write about. He continues to be amazed by the complexity of educational jargon. Gary got his B.A. at SUNY Buffalo and his M.A. from the University of Missouri Journalism School (where his master's thesis was about the best ways to cover education). He lives in White Plains with his wife and two sons, who attend public schools.