It was with great interest that I read Amy Citron’s courageous Jan. 30 article. It reminded me of my efforts 32 years ago to accomplish what she is suggesting.
In the early ’70s, I moved with my family from New York City to Teaneck. Our children were enrolled at the Moriah School in Englewood and their educations were proceeding well. We parents were pleased.
After about a year or so, our property taxes increased, which engendered some investigation on my part. I was amazed to learn that approximately 60 percent of every tax dollar was being used to fund the Teaneck public school system, which benefited the Orthodox community almost not at all. To be sure, we appreciated the fact that it was important to live in a town with a fine public school system, if for no other reason than to stabilize home values. Notwithstanding that, I was still troubled, so I made an appointment to visit the superintendent of the Teaneck public school system.
I found the then superintendent to be an open and friendly individual.
As I sat down, he asked, “How can I help you?”
I asked, in turn, “What would you think if the Orthodox Jewish community sent its children to your school system?”
Leaning forward in his chair, he answered, “That would be great, but what are you proposing?”
“Well,” I began, “let’s say we sent our kids to school at 8 a.m. every morning. Their curriculum would be basic instruction without enrichment programs other than gym or some exercise activity. At 1:30, after a half-hour lunch break, buses would be drawn up to the school to transport our kids to Hebrew school, where they would get their religious education and enrichment programs. The kids who were left at school could go to their own religious training or they could have enrichment programs along the same lines that you now offer in your normal school day. It would be a relief to the Orthodox community if we didn’t have to build and maintain infrastructure for libraries, labs, and gyms, all of which you have in abundance.”
“Wow,” he said, “What a great idea. I love it and I’m going to bring it up to the school board at our next meeting.”
“How come you like it so much,” I asked him. “Won’t it strain your system?”
“Yes,” he said. “That would happen in the short run. But the thought of having all those bright kids and their involved parents is extremely appealing. Those parents care deeply about their kids’ educations, and the entire school system would benefit from their input and involvement. I’ll get back to you on this, but know that I am very interested in furthering this idea and I would hope that we could work it out.”
I left the meeting thinking that the implementation of this idea would be a boon to the Orthodox community. The savings that we made on costly infrastructure could in some measure be redirected to hiring and handsomely paying the finest lemudei kodesh teachers and the other savings could be passed along to the parents. I also believed that our parent body could work through some of the obvious problems.
Several weeks after my meeting with the superintendent, I was disappointed to learn that he was leaving his post. I waited patiently for the replacement superintendent to assume his position. After about four months, I called and made an appointment. The new superintendent had almost the same reaction to the idea as the previous superintendent. Asking me to give him a little time, he promised to bring it up to the school board at a propitious time and to get back to me. I remember leaving his office and thinking that if two superintendents thought it was a workable idea, it probably was.
Three weeks after our meeting, I opened up the local newspaper to read “TEANECK SUPERINTENDENT ARRESTED FOR DWI, TO BE REPLACED.”
At that point, I figured that someone was trying to send me a message and retired my idea.
The time has come for the community at large to embrace the possibilities that Amy Citron suggested last week and that I tried to explore 30 years ago.
Yeshiva tuitions are overwhelming and out of control. Parents are taxed and the situation causes family strife and agony. It is time for the community to recognize that the cost of yeshiva education plus the extraordinary tax burden that young parents must shoulder has to end. The federal, state, and local governments provide free education for all. Our community must find a way to educate our children using the resources that only government can provide, and supplement that education with the religious training that only our community can provide.
Amy Citron is right. It is impossible to be a light unto the nations if that light can’t be seen. With the input of an involved parent body, our children will survive and flourish, and impart our special values to a world that needs them now.