Scholarship committees of two modern Orthodox day schools in Teaneck wrote to parents earlier this month that if their children attend on scholarship and the family can afford to send them to a summer program – including an Israel program – their scholarships may be in jeopardy.
This move has set off a controversy among professionals in the world of Jewish day schools, Jewish summer camps, and Israel programs.
Torah Academy of Bergen County (TABC), a boys yeshiva in Teaneck, and Ma’ayanot, a girls yeshiva a block away, released a joint statement regarding the letters: “Ma’ayanot and TABC are proud to offer a quality yeshiva high school education on a need-blind basis while remaining fiscally responsible towards our parent body and donor community. Our letter to parents represented a restatement of long-standing guidelines shared by many, if not all, area yeshivot and was intended merely to ensure transparency and predictability in the scholarship process. Of course, each unique situation is evaluated based on individual circumstances.”
The statement was attributed to Dr. Howard Friedman, president of Ma’ayanot, and Etiel Forman, president of TABC. Arthur Poleyeff, TABC principal, told The Jewish Standard on Tuesday that he was “unable to comment at this time,” and telephone calls to Ma’ayanot were not returned.
Jewish summer camp professionals expressed dismay at what they characterized as the letter’s threat to penalize parents seeking a Jewish summer camp experience for their children, stressing that Jewish summer camp plays a strong role in cementing communal identity.
“Families should not be penalized for wanting a full Jewish educational experience for their children,” said Jeremy Fingerman, CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC). Fingerman, an Englewood resident, said Jewish summer camp is a “proven building block” for creating a strong sense of community, and that “summers at Jewish camp are a valuable component of a child’s Jewish education and the creation of [his or her] Jewish identity.”
Lee Weiss, vice chairman of the board of the FJC, said that his organization does not view this as a widespread trend, but stressed its disappointment in what he characterized as an either/or mindset on the part of the schools’ decision-makers.
“We have not seen this in any way shape or form as a model across the country,” Weiss said. “Obviously, we believe Jewish education expands beyond the classroom, and informal Jewish education is incredibly important. We are disappointed it is being looked at as a zero-sum game.”
He added, “It’s disturbing the value camp can bring to a high-school or grade-school child isn’t being recognized the way we’d like it to be.”
Israel programming professionals voiced the concern that, should paying to send their children on an Israel program mean that a family could risk losing financial aid for day school, hard-won gains in Jewish-identity formation provided by Israel programs could be lost.
In particular, some stressed the potential threat to Jewish leadership.
“It would be a bad development for Jewish education if this policy became widespread,” said Omer Givati, Young Judaea shaliach for the Northeast.
Givati, whose work includes recruiting Jewish teens for participation in Young Judaea’s Israel programs, stressed the value of a three-tiered educational template – Jewish day schools, Jewish youth groups, and Israel trips – for cultivating future Jewish leaders.
“Future Jewish leaders will be those who start in Jewish day school, go through summer camps and Jewish youth movements, and spend significant time in Israel,” Givati said. “Those are the people who will be pluralist enough to see all aspects of the Jewish community and lead the Jewish community in the future.”
While Birthright Israel, which sponsors Israel trips for Jewish teens and twenty-somethings, has eased the cost burden for some, more Reform and Conservative families send their children to Israel via Birthright than Orthodox ones, according to Stuart Levy, community shaliach for UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, whose work includes advising families about Israel trips for teenagers. While cautioning that he does not have a “crystal ball” and can’t know whether pitting day-school scholarships against Israel trips will become widespread, Levy said that should such policies result in fewer Jewish teens being sent to Israel, it would be unfortunate.
“I would not want to be in the position of having to choose between a Jewish day-school experience and Israel experience,” said Levy. “Both have very important value in shaping Jewish education for all ages.”
The FJC plans to announce the findings next week of a study it commissioned on the influence of attending Jewish camp on Jewish community affiliation among adults.