In a piece about educational funding priorities, Leonard Saxe wrote:
[I]n Jewish education, we focus our attention on those who are most highly motivated. Both resources and opportunities are directed to the children of the most highly engaged families, and we provide relatively few resources to those who need Jewish education the most.
I suppose some folks might argue that Taglit Birthright is technically not Jewish education but, like Kleenex or Band-Aids, it has crossed over into the realm of generic trademarks. (The other night at Seven Numbers I heard someone at the next table say: “This penne all’arrabiata is the Birthright of pasta dishes!”) It has also snagged a lot of money. (Just this year, the Israeli government allotted over $100 million USD to Taglit.)
And why not? Taglit is successful! It is blingy! It is sexy! It leads to more Jewish babies!
However, it would not be a shocking revelation to anyone if I stated that money, like time, is one of those annoyingly finite resources that, spent on one thing, cannot be re-spent on something else. The $100 million USD Netanyahu’s government spent on Taglit cannot be spent on, say, affordable housing. The millions donated by the Adelsons to Birthright will not go to support other longer-term Jewish educational initiatives.
Yes, day school education commands a lot of Jewish Federation money, but from the rising costs of tuition and fees which far outpaces inflation, it seems that despite Saxe’s call for funding re-jiggering, not enough of Jewish money is being funnelled into supporting this endeavour. (If you do not believe me, you can check my account balance here to see just how far tuition outpaces inflation…)
There are other Birthrighty programs that are geared toward folks who need “Jewish education the most.” Like Top Bunk. (Unless Jewish camping is not Jewish education either…) This program, too, disqualifies kids who attend day schools. Those kids, the more engaged ones, were going to go anyway, right?
And you know, I get why Top Bunk or Taglit targets who it does…
However, much in the same way that we should not dumb down Jewish tradition to fit in a tweet, I wonder if we should be incentivizing Jewish engagement with groupons. Communities are not constructed out of convenience. They are forged out of mutual obligation and commitment.
Torah is not a limited time offer and did not come at a discount.