April 18, 2024
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April 18, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The Emperor’s New Clothes

Everyone knows the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes. In short, no one wanted to tell the emperor what he didn’t want to hear, until a naive child pointed out that the foolish emperor was in fact naked. I guess I am that naive person who seeks to point out what should be obvious to everyone regarding day-school tuition.

New Jersey is not New York or Baltimore, and Bergen County is sui generis. We are unique in many ways, which makes our tuition issues unique, requiring unique solutions. We are unique because we have so many day schools in a suburban community. We are unique because our community is one of the wealthiest in the country. At the same time, many, many families are struggling to live in our densely and very committed Jewish community, which makes rising tuition a challenge.

Bergen County has an active UJA Federation that supports many worthwhile Jewish causes locally, nationally, in Israel and overseas. Unfortunately very few day-school advocates are among their volunteers. Those who are “day-school people” are understandably focused on their schools, but this lack of involvement in the broader Jewish community is noted. The UJA Federation supports Jewish education in theory and with some very limited funding. Services to day schools as well as the Teachers’ Center were eliminated six years ago.

There are many compelling and competing needs in the Jewish community. The Jewish dollar only goes so far. Many good ideas have been presented and some have been implemented to raise funds for day schools in our community. Much more needs to be done. A great deal of Jewish money goes to the JCC, the Bergen Performing Arts Center and many other worthy cultural institutions, hospitals, museums, universities etc.

If we are in the education business, we need to educate the broader Jewish community about the importance of day-school education. Studies are available, statistics can be cited; look at the backgrounds of the leaders of most Jewish communal organizations and you will find a day-school education. It’s a hard sell. Those devoted to secular Jewish causes are not easily swayed. We need to be bold and assertive.

Some undeniable and unchangeable truths: Day-school tuition will go up, day-school costs are legitimate (with the possible exception of overabundant administrators and their inflated salaries), parents cannot keep up, UJA does not have the needed resources even if they were inclined to contribute, government funding is not available, tuition tax credits are viable but have not received much traction in this community and there does not seem to be much interest in taking over the UJA by sheer numbers to change their priorities—after all it is a volunteer organization.

There have been many grandiose schemes presented over the past few years. Many would actually work if there were the will to implement them. My suggestion is a saturated marketing and PR blitz to inform the broader Jewish non-day-school community of the importance of intensive day-school education with the goal of a one- or two-year moratorium on non-day-school charitable contributions. UJA captures maybe $10 million for Jewish causes in a good year. It is estimated that in Bergen County alone, non-UJA Jewish giving exceeds $100 million annually! If a properly managed day-school endowment fund were to be established with this income the tuition burden could be addressed in a serious and meaningful way.

I am convinced that based on the following factors this is a viable approach: There is much Jewish wealth in our community; some of this wealth belongs to day-school parents and grandparents and there is much Jewish marketing talent and business savvy in our community. First and foremost, people give money to people; those who “get it” and have the resources, talent and connections, can reach out and start the exponential process. It can be done. It must be done.

They laughed at Herzl’s dream. Our dream, of affordable day-school education, must become a reality.

By Wallace Greene

Rabbi Dr. Wallace Greene has had a distinguished career as a Jewish educator, administrator and fundraiser. He is currently the Executive Director of the Shulamith School of Brooklyn, the oldest religious girls school in the US.

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