‘Let us discuss and debate these issues with mutual respect’

‘Let us discuss and debate these issues with mutual respect’

I have watched the continuing discussion on the day school tuition crisis and proposed Englewood public school Hebrew immersion program with avid interest. Responses to my earlier op-ed piece in the Standard and to other such pieces have been generally well thought out and the discussion has been, I believe, very healthy.

The op-ed piece in last week’s Standard by Mark Kirsch warrants clear response on a number of levels.

Continuing the conversation…
1. Rabbis, educators and communal leaders are acutely aware of the overwhelming financial pressure being placed upon families today – due, in large measure, to day school tuition. We have, as a community, been remiss in not addressing these issues earlier. That omission, however, should not stop us from addressing them now.

2. Mr. Kirsch claims that the collective message parents hear today is: “Be tough and take one on the chin for the team.” Not so! Active efforts are now under way to determine the feasibility of a communal mega-fund for Jewish education, seek governmental relief through vehicles such as tuition tax credits, examine cost-cutting measures within day school budgets, and more. There is no guarantee that such efforts will be successful. Even if successful, they are long-term solutions and will not supply immediate relief. To ignore the flurry of activity now under way, however, is to deny the seriousness with which this problem is being approached.

3. All communal leaders with whom I have spoken welcome the Englewood public school initiative and similar initiatives as mechanisms for attracting greater numbers of students to Jewish education.

4. Any parents who decide, for financial or other reasons, to pull their children out of day school should not be “judged” by anyone else in the community. Times are truly tough and each parent must act in accordance with his/her own family’s needs. To expect rabbis and educators, however, to applaud such action is wrong. A leader’s task is to point out the truth as he/she sees it. The Englewood immersion program as now constituted is far from “apples to apples” when compared to a day school education. The day school social, educational, and religious experience can simply not be replicated in a program of this type, no matter how dedicated the parents are. The risks of choosing such a path are manifold. Parents need to understand the situation clearly as they make their decisions.

5. Finally I must object to Mr. Kirsch’s substance and tone when he states “There are several area rabbis connected to day schools and/or yeshiva high schools … for whom it would be against their better interest to promote this [the Englewood public school] idea.” Rabbis have a right to speak their consciences without being accused of acting for personal benefit. I know of no Bergen County communal leader whose motivations concerning this all-important issue are not of the highest order.

Let us discuss and debate these issues with mutual respect.