April 12, 2024
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April 12, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

A Perspective on Day School Tuition by a New College Grad

In response to the long chain of letters regarding the tuition crisis and expenses of the Modern Orthodox community started by Mr. Distenfeld (“A Viral Opportunity,” April 24, 2020), many perspectives have been published. I write to add one more, from the view of a fresh college graduate (Rutgers 2020!).

Some have written that Jewish schools should revert to the model of only teaching Jewish subjects and take place after public school, insinuating that Jewish schools only excel at Chinuch and that yeshiva students need to be taught how to “associate with the broader population.”

I would counter that during my time at Rutgers, I have seen the vast majority of Orthodox students wildly excel in academics as well as become leaders in many projects and on-campus groups. Never have I heard anybody say that they had a hard time due to not knowing how to associate with the broader population. Our schools must be doing something right.

Another thing I’ve noticed, especially during my two-year tenure as president of the Rutgers Chabad, is that many students viewed their attendance at Jewish events as an extracurricular activity, while some would view it as an obvious component of their life, the same as eating or going to class. When you regulate Judaism to be after “real school,” many kids will begin to view it as a forced extracurricular they need to go to, instead of something present in their entire lives. In addition, seeing their peers get to go home or play in organized sports while they need to go to Jewish school instead is hardly a way to foster a love of Judaism. This is not to bash programs like Kulanu and BCHSJS, which are working under the unfortunate current reality that yeshiva is too cost prohibitive for many.

On the other hand, some letters write that there should be no change at all. I attended almost all of my schooling in Bergen County, lived in Teaneck since age eight, did NJ NCSY and became the president of the Rutgers Chabad House. Yet, I am being told that I should move out of New Jersey because my major isn’t lucrative enough to put me in the top two percent of earners in the country?

This type of elitism is not what Judaism teaches. I’ve seen a few writers claim that there’s simply no way to make schools cheaper, meanwhile ignoring that Yeshivat He’Atid managed to do just that! Even if the He’Atid model wouldn’t work for every school, surely this shows that there is SOME way for schools to lower costs without sacrificing a quality education. Not to mention that the OU’s TeachNJ is succeeding in its goals to lobby for funding to offset some costs.There are solutions out there, we just need to find them!

Now for my idea on what could be done. I know nothing about running a school, and I’m not even a parent yet, so I can’t give a solution from that perspective. However, I can give one from the eyes of a student. I think that finding ways to make Modern Orthodoxy cheaper would be easier if we all tried to view things with a little more perspective. It has been my experience that many in our community are not aware of how blessed they are financially, to the point that they cannot see the perspective of those who are less fortunate in that area. To be clear, my parents were by no means struggling, and they continue to inspire me with their successful careers to this day. Yet I cannot count the number of times while I was growing up that my peers were absolutely shocked that I had never been to Israel. They were truly shocked that my family had not vacationed in a country literally across the globe. The reactions were similar when they were told I had never been to Florida.

I remember how weirded out students were when they found out somebody lived in an apartment instead of a house. How I actually had to explain why I couldn’t go out to eat every other day, or why it wasn’t a given that I could go on an expensive NCSY Shabbaton. I remember how bewildered some were when they heard I would be paying for some of my college tuition. How surprised adults are when I tell them that college students are already worrying about paying for yeshiva before they even graduate. Many simply do not grow up with the perspective that others are in a different position.

This is not only present on a “civilian” level, but also in our yeshiva system. I have a vivid memory of asking my college guidance counselor how to apply for financial aid for college. I was told that I had missed the single afterschool talk about financial aid and there was nothing he could do. (For those wondering, you literally just go on fafsa.gov and fill out a form). I remember on Israel night, when gap year programs pitch themselves, many would start their presentation by saying that obviously, since everybody in attendance had been to Israel before, they wouldn’t bother talking about what their location had to offer. When yeshiva faculty assume the position of all students are the same, it is impossible to make changes that benefit anybody in a different position.

Now, to get to my long-winded point, I think that if we actively tried to be aware of the diversity of positions of the members of our community, we cannot only be more inclusive, but we can be more likely to see the problems others face, and be more likely to find solutions for them.

This isn’t asking those who are wealthy to feel guilty about it. It is simply asking for awareness and perspective. Perhaps talk to your children about how fortunate and blessed they are, and how there are others within the community without the same means. Have the perspective that many in the community are affected by the tuition crisis, and perhaps think for a couple minutes if you know of any possible solution or way to help, no matter how small.

A more aware community is a more inclusive one. I truly believe that with this perspective, our community WILL solve this crisis, and we WILL be better off for it. Am Yisrael has shown time and time again that we get through our challenges together, no matter how big or small.


Meir Brodsky is a graduate of Rutgers, Class of 2020.

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