I attended the Englewood meeting earlier this month about a proposed Hebrew immersion program. I was joined by 400 other concerned parents, and the only reason we were concerned as a group is the rising cost of our day-school tuitions.
I would categorize myself and my family as modern Orthodox. What does that mean, exactly? It means we keep Shabbat, eat kosher in the home and out, and emphasize prayer and learning religious texts. It also means that we send our children to a religious day school to ensure that the same values we practice at home are being instilled in our children at school. We do this by choice, not out of religious necessity. We do this, however, by taking on a heavy burden. We do this and cut down on family time. We do this and forsake retirement plans, home repairs, vacations, new cars, and many other “standard” needs, all for the benefit of having our children learn of their ancestry and people. God help me, but the time has come to say enough – because this is choking us.
Continuing the Conversation I understand the people who have come forward to more or less condemn the idea of a public school followed by a Talmud Torah program. I realize that withdrawing children from day schools will tremendously affect their populations as well as the economics of the current yeshiva day-school system. There are several area rabbis connected to day schools and/or yeshiva high schools (including my own) for whom it would be against their better interest to promote this idea. I respect that. However, it does not help my situation. God knows I’m doing my part to foot the bill. My home is for sale, in a downsizing effort to stay afloat. I cut coupons. I bring lunch to work. I carpool to save money on gas, tolls, and parking. I have not made an IRA contribution for some time now. I have nowhere left to cut.
I have read several articles in this newspaper about how something must be done, but no one seems to offer what that something is. The collective message I hear is “Be tough and take one on the chin for the team.” We have more than 2,500 religious families in Teaneck alone. Can you imagine flooding the public schools with our children? Can we honestly say that a Talmud Torah model would not work with these children whose parents go to shul, learn at whatever level they can, and eat kosher both in and out of the home? The old Talmud Torah of the Conservative and Reform movements is not a valid analogy here. Here, what is being taught is being re-enforced. A colleague of mine reflects on how, when he belonged to a Conservative shul in Florida, he and his wife fought to have youth groups on Shabbat. On the first Shabbat they were in place, parents gladly came, dropped of their children, and walked right past the sanctuary en route to other destinations. In our Teaneck community, we re-enforce our actions in home and out.
When all is said and done, I want my kids to love Judaism and respect where they came from. It is my responsibility to enforce Yiddishkeit in my children – but if they never go on vacation, never get to wear the good sneakers, and are constantly being told, “No, we can’t afford it,” how much will they love and understand our sacrifice?
Being Jewish comes at a price. We don’t need that price to be paid over a lifetime. What we need is for parents to stand up and say enough! Be brave, and fight for the Hebrew immersion program. Write to the school board. Stand up and let your tax dollars work for you. Stop living (and complaining) in the problem and start architecting a solution.
To all my friends, rabbis, and administrators of day schools, I apologize in advance of Yom Kippur if this offended you.