Friday night at our Shabbat table we eagerly announced that we would likely be spending next weekend at a campsite on the beach in the South. After much whooping and fist-pumping, discussion turned to logistical planning, which prompted a lesson in the halachot of Shabbat in wilderness. Food prep without electrical hookup meant cold cuts on rye, sleeping under the stars without a nightlight on a Shabbas clock, and most important, erecting a makeshift eruv at the site.
The questions of playing on the beach sparked a conversation on the ruach of shabbat. Were we going to let our kids dig in the dirt and skip in the surf? Our precocious first-grader piped up: “Well, guys, at my oneg Shabbat in school, the rabbi told us that we have to be holy,” referring to Parsha Kedoshim. My wisecracking fourth-grader piped up with her Amelia Bedelia-like interpretation, Band-Aids and all. Ignoring her sister’s remarks, the first-grader continued, “You know, being holy means stepping it up, taking it to the next level” – at which she lifted her downturned hand above our heads and gave a stern look. Chagrined, my husband and I gave each other a knowing glance and smiled proudly at our daughter’s wiser-than-her years comment. It became immediately apparent to us that we were going to have to either stay put on the campsite, playing cards and reading books, or scratch our plans altogether.
Later that evening we patted ourselves on the back for sending our children to day school – not that there was any other choice. But wait, there is now. Over the past few weeks, we heard from several friends and Internet chat sites the arguments for and against the Hebrew-language charter school.
Our close friends in Brooklyn send their first-grader to HLA, the Hebrew Language Academy Charter School. After much soul searching they elected to send him despite some reservations. When we met with them months later, we were instantly impressed with their son’s Hebrew skill and even his level of Yiddishkeit. As active parents they daven daily with him – often with a minyan – review brachot in practice, and are even teaching him to lein, well before bar mitzvah. True, their school is free, but their lifestyle is anything but free from effort. Both work out of the house and they have a toddler to attend to as well.
The advantage of the day-school model is that our children will occasionally remind us how to be holy. The responsibility for their spiritual health is not left solely on our shoulders.
When asked, we advise our friends who are considering the charter school that it does seem like a viable tuition-free option – one that will take daily reminders and enormous effort. It will need modifications to your current lifestyle in order to imbue the same holiness. In essence, you will have to step it up and if you don’t, well, it might just cost you.