$80 million-a-year business deserves serious scrutiny

$80 million-a-year business deserves serious scrutiny

Beginning with this issue, The Jewish Standard begins a weekly column on issues of Jewish education in our area. It is written by noted educator Dr. Wallace Greene. In this first column, he explains why we believe this column is necessary.

There are many multi-million dollar businesses in northern New Jersey. When one considers the total amount of tuition and salaries paid, the cost of bricks and mortar, infrastructure, and other ancillary costs, the enterprise known as Jewish education is one of the biggest industries in our community. We estimate it at somewhere around $80 million a year.

Clearly, the staggering costs involved in maintaining our congregational schools, nursery programs, day schools, special needs programs, and adult learning make Jewish education worthy of our attention.

Every study has shown that the key to our Jewish future lies in Jewish education. Jewish identity and affiliation after World War II by and large was linked to supporting Israel, opposing anti-Semitism, and creating places for Jewish youth to meet and socialize.

That no longer works in the 21st century. Today, there are so many activities competing for our time, resources, and energies. There is not much in popular culture that is in sync with Jewish values. It is no accident that more and more Jewish communal professionals are coming from the ranks of day school graduates and Jewish camp alumni.

In fact, if we believe that there should be a Jewish future in which our grandchildren will identify as proud, literate, and engaged Jews, and if that requires an investment in some form of Jewish education, then the multiple portals of entry that comprise Jewish education in our community must not only be supported, but we as a community must ask the hard questions, critically (and lovingly) examine the issues, identify problems, and work together to maximize solutions.

That is the raison d’être of this column. Recognizing the multiplicity of options available and the equally multiple opinions of our readers, I shall endeavor each week to present points of view that will focus on specific issues and suggest various approaches to dealing with those issues. Input from readers is encouraged.

There are the big issues, such as the day school tuition crisis, communal priority setting vis-a-vis Jewish education, special needs, post bar/bat mitzvah Jewish education, the effectiveness of one- or two-day-a-week congregational schools, Birthright for teens, the importance of informal/experiential learning, the Jewish camp experience, the concept of community educators working in multiple school settings, and how to play the money game. There are also some nuts-and-bolts issues such as curriculum design, what should a student know when he/she graduates, gifted and talented, the average student, technology, homework, why Yoni can’t read (Hebrew), values-based education, bullying, and school mergers.

I will also discuss some philosophical issues, such as the status of Jewish educators, teaching Judaism vs. teaching about Judaism, innovative programming in synagogues and schools, adult learning, and parents as partners. The list is not meant to be all inclusive, and I am sure that our readers will contribute more ideas.

Not only is Jewish education big business, but it is a growth industry. Like any other business, many factors contribute to success. Sometimes populations shift, age out, and/or move, causing some schools to seek mergers to maintain viability. Other schools are experiencing growth spurts and increased enrollment. Demographics, birth trends, and population shifts will also be explored.

Dr. Wallace Greene, a veteran Jewish educator, has been a teacher, principal, professor, and most recently, the director of Jewish Educational Services for the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey. For many years, he also chaired the National Board of License for Teachers and Principals in Jewish Schools in North America.

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