To say that day school tuition is breaking the Jewish middle class is not a contentious assertion. It is practically axiomatic. And yet… and yet…
So here is yet another cry for relief and a proposed solution – this time, from Rabbi Aryeh Klapper.
And, like the earlier proposal from Aurora Mendelsohn, it is based on a form of tithing.
Where Rabbi Klapper’s argument differs is not in outcome, but in tone. His argument in favour is solely a moral one. We must do something about day school affordability because inaction will destroy the community Jewish day schools are supposed to foster and nurture.
Rabbi Klapper explains:
Imagine that someone proposes a new Jewish practice that would have these consequences:
a. Parents take second jobs, or work longer hours, that deprive them of almost all weekday contact with their children and leave them too exhausted to make Shabbat meaningful.
b. Almost half of households are transformed, for years, from community contributors to charity recipients.
c. Children aspiring to intellectual, creative, or service work, such as teaching (especially Torah) or other helping professions, are told that these are not options because they will not produce enough money to sustain a committed Jewish lifestyle.
d. For economic reasons, families choose to have fewer children.
We would consider such a practice stunningly irresponsible.
Rabbi Klapper plays out the costs and benefits of the tithing scenario here. It is very worth reading and considering.
One more point which really kicked me in the kishkes:
The system also undermines the schools’ Jewish effectiveness. If our children lack Jewish passion, doesn’t that bespeak parental exhaustion? If they are materialistic, isn’t this related to their being told that their career paths are limited because they are poor? When they show signs of being “at risk,” doesn’t this reflect lessened parental involvement? How can children internalize the core Jewish value of human dignity and the spiritual value of financial independence when their schools make them dependent?
I suppose we could continue on this path, arguing that the status quo has its problems but seems to be working just fine as we continue to bankrupt Jewish families and, as Rabbi Klapper argues, the values of the community in the process.
One can almost imagine, if the clamor grew loud enough, a letter from the local federation diplomatically addressing Rabbi Klapper’s argument. The letter would empathize with the vast middle struggling to pay, agreeing that, in principle, yes, there is some financial distress out there. (Would the letter also state that families must make sacrifices for Jewish education? – I wonder…) One can also imagine how further down the page, the letter would indicate the unprecedented levels of funding for day schools and how, with decrease in support for federation, funding could not increase any more than current levels. One can also imagine no reference at all to Rabbi Klapper’s moral argument.
We have seen letters like this in the past and they are wholly besides the point.
Rabbi Klapper is not talking about philanthropy. He is talking about fairness and equality – two consummate Jewish values. He is making the same argument that Occupy Wall Street made in Zuccotti Park (which was later adopted by Barack Obama under the guise of the “Buffett Rule”) and François Holland proferred during his run for the French presidency: Those with more need to pay their fair share – which means more.
If we are to have a community (and having one is another one of those pesky Jewish values), then we must ask ourselves what kind of community it will be if the price of admission ultimately turns away more people than it attracts.