Friday, January 21, 2011

Saying it Like It Is: An Obvious Solution to the Tuition Crisis

Kol Hakavod to Rabbi Alan Haber of MMY. In response to this article in the NY Jewish Week about the crazy cost of Yeshiva tuitions, Rabbi Haber posted:
Interesting article; real dillema.
I would like to remind American Orthodox Jews that there is also another option! There is a country over here in the Middle East where day school tuition is funded almost entirely by the government. And alt×™ough salaries are lower here, other expenses (like health care) are also much lower than they are in the States. I am well aware (from personal experience!) that the decision to make Aliya is not an easy one, and that there are many factors that can legitimately affect the decision. Still, it is worth pointing out that there was a time very recently when the single most important reason NOT to make Aliya was the fear of not being able to manage financially. Today, however, for Orthodox families in America struggling with tuition and other expenses, the reverse is often true: you will be much better off financially here than you are there.
So at least give it some thought! Make a phone call to Nefesh b'Nefesh and at least consider your options!
We're waiting for you over here....
Rabbi Alan Haber
Alon Shvut
I was thinking of writing the same thing, but he got there first. And Americans are by now clearly sick of hearing the same aliyah mantra over and over. But at some point, maybe the message really will sink in. Perhaps that's the direction NBN should go in as it considers its marketing of aliyah. Instead of "Living the Dream" (they've already picked off all the dreamers), they should start targeting the Orthodox Jews living in Teaneck by explaining that if they're going to stress over the expenses of Jewish life, they might as well do it from the Jewish State.


  1. I agree that aliyah needs to be promoted in any article on the tuition crisis. But I have two problems with telling NBN to highlight this issue specifically.

    1. Speaking of Teaneck MO families, if they aren't willing to consider increasing their kids' commutes by 10 - 20 minutes to JFS in Staten Island to cut tuition costs in half, what makes you think they'll uproot their entire family and move to Israel? This is a community which is still in full-on complain mode. Oh, they're hurting. But they're not hurting badly enough - and the scholarship dollars are still flowing freely enough - to actually do anything about it.

    2. The job markets in the U.S. and Israel are markedly different. Jews (particularly in the NY area) are overrepresented in fields such as law and medicine which require massive student loans for graduate education. Those fields offer lucrative salaries in the U.S. which can be used to pay off the loans, but they don't pay well in Israel or exist in the same numbers (how many firms specializing in commercial real estate litigation or retail bankruptcy are there in Israel?). A better approach would be to talk to students in college and get them to focus on fields that are better represented in Israel and don't require years of expensive graduate education.

    In short, NBN can use the tuition issue as a way to ease fears of those already inclined to make aliyah, but if economics are really a reason to move to Israel, no marketing campaign will be needed - people always move to where the money is. Why do you think Israel got all those Russian olim - because they wanted to practice Judaism without persecution? No, they moved for economic opportunities - some of them weren't even Jewish.

  2. I'm sorry, while I live in Israel and would recommend Aliyah to all Jews, this isn't an answer to the problem. It's a fact that not all Jews are going to make Aliyah or can make Aliyah, for whatever reasons. Telling people that they should make Aliyah to solve the exorbitant tuition costs in Jewish schools in America does nothing to bring those costs down. It's like telling someone who's not happy with their job that they should just get another job. It's not an answer, and it's honestly not very helpful to people who are really struggling to pay for their kids' tuition.

    The fact that in some places, the cost of Jewish school tuition for kindergarten rivals the cost of tuition at some Ivy League universities is a serious problem that must be addressed by the Jewish community in general, and the leaders of the Jewish schools in specific. It's come to the point where parents have actually told me that the cost of tuition for Jewish schools has become a very effective method of birth control. When parents have to contend with $20,000+ tuition costs per child per year, even with 6 figure salaries, how can parents afford to have more than 2 or 3 kids if they want to send their kid to Day School and still pay all their other bills? Where will Peru U'Revu go? And people wonder why the Jewish birth rate in America continues to spiral downward. What's the wonder about?

    As a Jewish community trying to stave off increased assimilation, how can we tell parents, with a straight face, to fork over more than half their income to send their kids to a school with a Jewish education? Of course, that's how they get parents, by preying on these fears. Do you want your kid in a public school, where they're likely to barely keep anything, let alone Shabbat or Kosher, by the time they're in high-school, or do you want to give your kids the tools to succeed as a Jew in a secular world? Well, then it's worth paying $20,000 to give your child the best chance to stay in the tribe.

    Give me a break. I'm sorry, but telling people to make Aliyah is the easy answer. You can say that you've made a plausible suggestion without actually doing anything. Instead, come up with ideas of how parents don't have to break the bank to give their kids a Jewish education. Let's be constructive, not obtuse.


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