Last night I read a blog post that spoke about a families decision to pull their kids out of private Jewish day school. It was a year after the decision was made, and the author spoke about all the wonderful things that family could afford because there were three tuition’s (for a total of $45,000.00) that was not being paid for ( http://www.alimartell.com/index.php/2013/07/12/the-jewish-day-school-elephant-one-year-later/). This brought a HUGE smile to my face because it hit so close to my home. I went to Jewish Day School (now to be referred as JDS) from Pre-Nursery through High School and I even spent a year before college in a Jewish Womens Seminary (although I spent more time partying then learning). As a child, I never thought how expensive it was, however, I do remember not being overly happy that I lived 30 minutes away from all of my friends. I did not live in a big Orthodox community so I had to either get a ride into school with my mom or take the bus to get there. By the time I got to high school I begged my parents to let me go the the local public school. I lived surrounded by kids my age, and I did not know even one of them. My friends lived either down the shore near my school or in Chicago. I even went to a sleep-away camp in Wisconsin where the majority of the kids were from Chicago, or went to school in Chicago. My pleas to let me go to the High School in Chicago went unheard and the only communication that I had with my best friend at the time was through letters-even my boyfriend was in school in Chicago and needless to say, that relationship did not work out for very long after camp was over. I swore that as a parent I would never put my kids in that situation. I wanted them to be able to walk to their friends houses and vice-versa.
So now I am a parent and the decision to put my kids in Public School was not as easy as I thought. I am not religious at all. My fiance is Puerto Rican, and although he is not a religious christian (I would say he is a more religious “Jew” than I am) I decided that I wanted my kids to go to a JDS so they could get a good base for some of the things they would not be getting at home. When my oldest (now 5) was old enough to go to Pre-Nursery I went to the open house at the school that I went to from grades 1-8. The principal, a very sweet older Rabbi made a compelling speech on how “No Jewish child would be denied a Jewish education based on finances.” I was super excited. At that point in my life, I was a single mom, living with my mom, and my only job was a waitress at a VERY slow diner, with those issues at hand, I knew I would never be able to afford to send my kids to a JDS. I enrolled my son in the half day program and filled out the scholarship application. I started to send my son for the morning sessions at school (my mom works there so she was able to drive him back and forth). My son loved it. The teachers were sweet, and loving (for the most part) and there was a personal attention that I did not think he would get from public school. He came home every week with cute Jewish themed projects and I was content. Until February. I got a letter stating that since he was in the Pre-Nursery program, he would not qualify for ANY financial help. I was shocked. Didn’t the principal say that would not happen? I appealed to the committee stating that in the financial situation I was in there was no way I could afford school and it was already halfway through the year. I appealed that my mom has worked in that school for 25 years, I taught and attended that school, was there nothing that could be done? I was told (and rather rudly if I might add) that it was just too bad and here is the bill. It was $6,000.00. Yes, you read that correctly. $6,000.00 for my 3 year old to go to school for a half a day (oh and that did not include, trips, special events or food-that was all extra).
It took 2 years to pay off that debt. So in the meantime I went looking for other ways to give my kids a “home schooled” Jewish education. My parents synagogue was a bit too religious for me (and to be honest, the members are way to judgmental for my taste) so I went to what I call “the best of both worlds” synagogue. It was a conservative temple where the men and women sit together during prayers and the woman get to be a part of the services as well. I like to call it, “Family style services” I had gone there on different holidays just as a visitor and decided to see what the Hebrew School program was all about. Once again, I was priced out of giving my kids this type of education. A family membership was more than I could afford, and again I would not really be going to services often enough to really make it worth it. I just wanted to send my kids once or twice a week for an hour or two to get some Judaism flowing back into their veins. All I can say is “Oy Vey” It was just not something that I can afford. Even if I took away our little trips to Chuck E Cheeses and the movies, it was still not affordable. We are a family of 5 living on 1 income ( and according to the State of NJ, I can not afford to live here). We are ok, I am an avid coupon-er and I love the thrift shop but still paying an extra $250.00 a week for 2 kids for 4 hours of programs is out of my league.
I know eventually, if I want my kids to have a “Bar/Bat Mitzvah” I am going to have to join somewhere, I just want to know when it became so expensive to be a part of this Jewish experience? As a parent, I now have the responsibility of ensuring that my have a strong Jewish identity. It will be my job to have Friday night dinners with my moms chicken soup and the prayers on the wine (or grape juice in my house). I will be the one to make the “Jewish themed” projects and remind the kids about the Chanukah candles and the Passover Seder (dinner). I, with a SMILE of my face and a sound heart take this responsibility because my kids will have a strong Jewish background, and I won’t go bankrupt to give it to them.