There is an article about the high cost of Jewish Day School that was published earlier this week in Lilith Magazine.
Many of you have emailed it to me – thank you.
It has also been widely shared on Facebook, so most of you have probably already seen it.
It was written in a most thoughtful way by Elizabeth Mandel. I appreciated her humility, her self-awareness and her holistic approach to this very difficult question.
Some of you may have read it and thought, “Meh, those aren’t questions I struggle with. I know the price is ‘worth it’.”
Perhaps the egalitarian/progressive lifestyle piece turned you off. Or maybe the article just didn’t resonate.
Truthfully, it didn’t fully resonate with me – largely, perhaps, because we have decided to bring our sons home for school.
But what I truly appreciated about her article was the careful, sensitive way in which she asked a question that so desperately needs to be asked: What price are we paying to give our children a Jewish education?
For some, paying tuition bills (possibly even with financial assistance) means not being able to save for retirement; not being able to afford repairs on your home; or, like Elizabeth, not being able to work more flexible hours.
For those who are breaking even, these choices are just that – choices. And as long as one has their eyes open about the short- and long-term impact of these choices, I don’t think there are right or wrong ones to make.
But I hear weekly from readers who are drowning under their tuition bills. They’re nowhere close to breaking even. They aren’t making choices, they’re dodging bullets.
They are running monthly deficits into the thousands. One woman shared with me that she has a credit card she uses only at the grocery store — and it currently has a balance of over $8,000. Others are behind on their mortgages, and facing imminent foreclosure. One told me that her rabbi counseled her husband to have faith and stay the course.
The affordability question is, in many ways, above my “paygrade”. There are communal issues at work here that definitely need to be addressed – beyond the valiant efforts that so many have already put into “solving this problem”.
But when readers email me and say, “What should I do? I’m four months behind on my mortgage. Can you teach me to clip coupons so I can afford yeshiva tuition?” I have to be painfully honest with myself — and with them.
Cutting coupons is great. It can easily save you a few hundred dollars a month. Menu planning and budgeting are great money-saving tools, as well.
But if you’re spending an average of $1500, or $2,000 or even $3,000+ a month more than you’re making, and you’re carrying balances on multiple credit cards, then thinking that cutting coupons will save you is like being buried alive and trying to dig yourself out with a spoon.
What you need is a bulldozer. Or at least a couple of very large shovels – and some heavy-lifters.
And it may well be (and I say this gently, as I know many of you will vehemently disagree with me) that the bulldozer needs to be directed at school tuition.
Not as your first choice. Not even as your second or third choice. But if all other cuts in spending and increases in income have been exhausted, and you still can’t make it work, then as a last resort.
Elizabeth’s family is in the seemingly enviable position of being able to “make it work” financially. With deep sacrifices, yes — but they appear to be “breaking even”.
And even still, she is worried that making day school the top Jewish value for her family means they are sacrificing their ability to impart other Jewish values.
For those who aren’t breaking even, I worry that the legacy of sacrifice will be unbearable — not only for the parents, but for their children.
What do you think? What sacrifices have you made for your children’s education? Is the cost worth it? Above all else?