Elephant in the room
Your editorial calling for a searching discussion about “the elephant in the room,” the unsustainable cost of Jewish education, deserves attention and action (“Summit on education,” Feb. 14). Since 2007, when Ontario voters decisively rejected public funding for religious day schools, Toronto’s Jewish leadership has dropped the ball. There has been no public process and no serious search for ways to relieve the intolerable burden of day-school tuition on middle-income families. Since 2001, day-school tuition increases have been more than double the rise in the cost of living. Cost is a huge barrier and the situation is getting worse.
Research shows that attendance at Jewish day schools exerts the most powerful influence over subsequent life choices. After-school classes, Israel trips and summer camps also have measurable positive effects. We need to involve the whole community in a thoughtful review of the issues. We need to ask hard questions, including:
• What principles should guide the community’s approach to funding Jewish education?
• What goals should the community adopt in Jewish education? For example, as a target, how many Jewish students should we aim to see enrolled in the day schools? In supplementary schools? In Jewish camps? In heritage-language programs in the public schools?
• What exactly is the affordability problem? How will it change, given the demographic outlook?
• What could market research tell us about the preferences and decision-making of parents?
• What share of community funding should be allocated to education and subsidizing tuition?
• Can day-school costs be constrained or reduced?
• What is the appropriate level of community support for all the forms of Jewish education?
• How can we raise the funds needed to provide meaningful relief and achieve better outcomes?
I support the call for a summit to come together and examine Jewish education in all its future possibilities. But this should be a process and not a one-shot event. It will take preparation to put facts and not just opinions on the table. I call on UJA Federation of Greater Toronto to take up the challenge and create the serious, inclusive and fact-based process we need to answer the hard questions.
* * *
Israel treated wounded Syrians
One has to be proud of the Israel Defence Forces soldiers who brought the seven wounded Syrians into Safed’s Ziv Medical Center for treatment on Feb. 16. Perhaps, when they sufficiently recover from their wounds, might I suggest they be taken to the school in Ma’alot, some 35 kilometres away, where in 1972, 22 Israeli Jewish schoolchildren on a school trip from Safed were massacred by the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. I am sure this experience for them will be, one hopes, a fitting conclusion to their brief visit to Israel.
Alan L. Simons
* * *
I was dismayed by Norma Baumel Joseph’s column, “Death with dignity,” (Feb. 7), against doctor-assisted suicide. I am a social worker who initiated Jewish Family & Child’s Jewish Hospice Program in Toronto in 1993 and co-ordinated it for 13 years. The hospice program consists of a multi-disciplinary team of social workers, doctors, trained volunteers and a rabbi. Our mandate was at the beginning – and still is in its continuation today – to help people die in the comfort of home with family and friends. During my tenure as the hospice’s co-ordinator, I worked with 1,300 dying people and their families. My experience taught me that most people value life to the last minute and do not ask for assisted suicide. On the other hand, there is a minority of people whose suffering is so great that they beg for help to die. I do not call doctor-assisted suicide “dying with dignity.” I call it relief from unbearable suffering.
Sheila May Walker
* * *
Israel’s water worries
Please refrain from printing headlines such as “Israel’s water worries are over” (Feb. 7). That’s irresponsible and damaging reporting, and pure nonsense. Our water issues are at the forefront of our national agenda.
Bet Shemesh, Israel