‘There is fear in the air’

‘There is fear in the air’

I read Jonathan Silver’s Feb. 13 letter to the editor and Rabbi Shmuel Goldin’s article about the crisis in day-school education. My overriding impression is that there is fear in the air – fear that immobilizes, fear that negates will, and fear that will get us all nowhere.

What is the fear that Rabbi Goldin and Mr. Silver articulate? In the first instance, the fear is that our children will be exposed to cultural influences that will be deleterious to their religious upbringing. Secondly, the fear is that there will be a loss of control over the education of our kids.

Regarding the issue of negative cultural influences I ask: Do rabbis, teachers, and parents really believe that the schools play a more important role in the religious upbringing of our children than does parental influence in the home? Do we really believe that we can live in this society with its computers, television, radio, magazines, newspapers, and billboards and shield our kids from “bad cultural influences”? Upbringing determines whether a child will become a link in the continuity of the religion, and it comes from the home. The schools play an important role, but the buck stops with the parents.

To the issue of loss of control over the education of our children, my response is that organizations by their very nature are self-perpetuating entities that seek to increase their power, reach, and control. Religious institutions and schools are no different. No educational institution wants to cede its power, influence, and control to anyone or anything. What schools seek to do is acquire more students, larger campuses, as much money as possible, and all the control they can get.

No one wants to dismantle the day-school system. To the contrary, this writer appreciates the job that the present-day system does, albeit with some reservations. God forbid that we should return to the bankrupt Talmud Torah system of the ’40s and ’50s, but it is a sad reality that parents are overtaxed, yeshiva tuition keeps rising, and no one comes up with a cogent plan other than “let’s tax the kehilla,” the community. The kehilla is already overwhelmed with requests from all sorts of worthwhile organizations and institutions that find themselves in deep financial distress because of the general economic crisis in America and abroad.

And whom exactly are we going to tax? The grandparents of the children attending day schools? They are finally at the stage of their lives when they are able to save a little money for retirement, because they certainly couldn’t save any while they had children in day schools. Or perhaps the philanthropists who are about to go into hiding because they just can’t keep up with the requests and demands for their overextended dollars? How about the single Jews, who are struggling to establish themselves so they may someday be able to afford day schools for their future children? And how are we going to collect these taxes? Do we have a religious IRS lurking somewhere?

Why not give a fresh, not-so-new idea a chance? Why not appoint a committee of concerned parents, teachers, and school administrators who will examine the possibility that I suggested 32 years ago and was seconded by Amy Citron several weeks ago? Just imagine! No capital expenditures for libraries and labs, no need to pay secular teachers, who will find jobs in the public school system – and all these savings dedicated to hiring the finest and most inspirational rebbes and limuda kodesh teachers and paying them top dollar.

Certainly, this simple idea has many obstacles. Being afraid to study its feasibility should not be one of them. If the obstacles cannot be overcome, so be it, and some other idea will have to come to the rescue. But not to try at all is surrendering to fear.