Saturday, August 15, 2020

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Dear Mrs. Vaynman,

Thank you for your article last week concerning “The Humiliation of Applying for Yeshiva Tuition Assistance,” (July 16, 2020).

First, I am so sorry you are in this position and I wish you, as well as many like you, a quick reversal and a swift transition to a much better financial position. But while I am sympathetic to your situation, I got the feeling that your frustration is a touch misplaced. My involvement with the scholarship committee you’ve spoken about is peripheral. My husband has been on our school’s committee for several years now. It may even be possible that he leads the committee now. That’s how secretive it is. I don’t even know. I don’t know the other members of the committee that he spends so many hours with on the phone behind closed doors.


Recently, while out walking he said hello to someone I’ve never met, and when I asked who that person was, he brushed me off in a manner I have come to understand as the committee-related-don’t ask. I am telling you this so that you get an inkling toward the respect and decency given to everything related to this task. So that you don’t envision your specifics laid out with laughs around Shabbos tables. Far from it.

Over the years I’ve had many conversations with my husband about general tuition assistance. I do admit that before he got involved I made horrible assumptions about peoples’ spending—angrily envisioning those forced to ask for help lounging in luxury or even just dabbling in luxury. I very much regret that. But now I have a better understanding of how our community works. I know that this committee has the weight of the community on their shoulders. That every “invasive” question they ask is to make a calculation. A calculation that you might think only relates to you and you alone. But it doesn’t. It relates to every single other tuition application. Every single other family in varying degrees of need. Every single other family of the school involved. Every single community pocket that will then be asked to step in and bridge any financial gaps. And then, as a result, every single other tzedakah associated with those pockets.

That’s a heavy task. Were it that there was an unlimited coffer for these funds questions would need not be asked. Tuition assistance is not like the seemingly unending stores of government Paycheck Protection Program money that I only assume is being printed now nonstop. It is a finite pool. With a finite amount of sources.

The numbered list you added that you detail as the final straw to your humiliation is completely logical. Does the committee REQUIRE you to raise money from parents or grandparents—like ad selling in a yearbook—or simply ask? Is it so wrong for them to ask you to look for other sources of funding, taking some of the burden off the limited dollars of the committee? Is it wrong for the committee to ask you to limit your expenses to what is necessary? Would you agree that it’s not a great time to be doing a home addition/leasing a fancier car? Sleepaway camps are amazing. But there’s a huge difference in first month cost versus second month. Is it unreasonable for people who are now tasked with sourcing funding for this to request you choose the second month to send? Is it unreasonable for them to ask that you keep your simchas low key? Is it wrong for them to ask you to remember the institution that helped you through a difficult time when you find yourself in a better financial situation later in life? Is it wrong for them to ask you for your current tzedakah dollars while you ask them for the same?

I am certainly sympathetic and wish you a better financial state. I understand your feeling of exposure with all the seemingly invasive questioning about your spending. Were it that we all asked for what we needed and not a penny more. But again: this committee has the weight of the community on its shoulders. It can’t make assumptions like that. It needs to question. One can probably argue that its questioning could be even more invasive. Do they ask you for your credit card statements? Do they rifle through your wardrobe for costly name brands? Do they ask you what kind of roast —if any—you serve on Shabbos?

The sad truth is that people have to live within their means. And the other sad truth is that doing that is difficult for some and straight up impossible for others. The people sitting behind those phones are tasked with making that distinction. It’s incredibly weighty for them. I know for one that for the myriads of nights the office door is shut and muffled calls are made, my husband emerges more distressed and saddened, definitely disheartened by the task at hand.

A Scholarship Committee Spouse
Name Withheld on Request