As I see it, the discussion about the sense of responsibility regarding tuition assistance really revolves around a larger question: What do we want our communities to look like? Option one is for frum communities to be populated based on socioeconomic status. Those who can afford, belong, and those who can’t, do not.
If so, those in need of tuition assistance should feel indebted to those who pay in full. The beneficiaries of such kindness should feel as if they don’t deserve luxuries, and the well-off should have no responsibility to live more modest lifestyles to make others feel comfortable. In such a case, people who fall on hard times will feel compelled to leave town or must come to terms with the fact that they will never feel comfortable in their home communities unless things turn around. The undertone of such sentiments toward tuition assistance recipients has been gaining momentum within the pages of this newspaper. It is therefore essential that we identify the assumptions about the community on which these arguments are based.
The second option is to populate communities based on common values and goals, and not based on finances. In such a case, socioeconomic diversity becomes unavoidable, as values aren’t dependent on money. Even more so, financial diversity becomes an ideal, as varied financial lifestyles often provide diverse perspectives on life and Judaism. Financial diversity then facilitates a deepening of Jewish values and identity.
If we populate communities as such, the whole picture changes. Those who can afford full tuition must accommodate those who can’t, either by creating lower-cost institutions or by supplementing cost through tuition assistance and scholarship funds. The more wealthy must try to live more modestly, as to make a wider range of families comfortable within the same community. These accommodations become necessary to create the communities everyone––rich or poor––desires. A values-based approach avoids feelings of indebtedness and shame that are often felt by scholarship recipients. If those more fortunate want a financially diverse community, providing financial accommodations is for their own benefit as well.
Of course the second option doesn’t remove the responsibility for those on the receiving end to contribute to the community in other ways. It also does not remove the requirement to feel and express gratitude. However, this option avoids such tactless questions as “Who deserves the vacation more?” and shuts down the finger-pointers who say “You should be willing to sacrifice more for Jewish education” while not needing to do so themselves.
If we want communities distinguished by factors more meaningful than tax brackets, we must be willing to meet somewhere in the middle. I hope this discussion keeps moving in that direction.Yair Daar