It’s true that the economic crisis has led some to decide that they can’t afford day school or yeshiva education. Nonetheless, I believe, at this critical time, that the leadership of Jewish movements and philanthropists who care about Jewish literacy in the future must be called together for a summit on the future of Jewish education. I also believe that courageous leadership, even in this downturn, should be guiding schools to merge and consolidate, in order to center the families who are still committed to a full-day Jewish education. If the open yeshiva is the model that will replace day schools or even yeshivas into the future, significant Jewish literacy will be lost.
How about finding the best and brightest lawyers in our midst to fight for tax credits? How about selling day school bonds through some Jewishly owned financial institution or other entity? How about re-organizing our Jewish community campuses to house the schools that can no longer afford their real estate? What about being a presence in a Jewishly owned real-estate trust? How about trying to save the system that puts Israel, Hebrew literacy, Jewish texts, and Jewish culture into the hands of the next generation instead of thinking about other models?
We have not done enough yet to make the day school case. Even the yeshiva case is not attracting the mega-donors from the Jewish community. Who will be the spokesperson who will break through? Do we need an actor whose literacy stems from his/her days in yeshiva, at Schechter, or at a Bais Ya’akov? What will drive the average American Jewish philanthropist to give to our cause? Will Lieberman convince them? Will Elie Wiesel? Will it be a rabbi? Is anyone talking about this anywhere? Please tell me that supplemental school yeshiva is not the only answer. Please tell me that I don’t have to cut music and art and guidance and the next program. Maybe non-Jews who believe in cultural diversity can step in. Someone, please!
If, as a third and fourth generation of Jews in America we have stopped caring about learning and the value of our 2000-year-old curriculum, to complement the latest fare in education, shame on us. Jewish illiteracy, in terms of our texts and culture, will be like confronting the poetry of our lives without understanding the poets’ metaphors.
Schools should try to work together more, before new programs offer alternatives. Donors should give now, and someone who can capture the attention of the Jewish world (with big reach) should be our shofar.