This week and next mark the end of the school year for most of our children. Post-secondary students have already completed their academic year. Whether or not students have graduated and are moving on to a new stage in their lives or are advancing “merely” from one grade to the next, whether they have finished grade one or high school, it is a very sweet time of year for most.
School is not always pleasant. But it is always necessary. The school year is long, and always tiring. At all stages and all grades, it holds rewards and disappointments for our children. Self-confidence climbs; sometimes it stumbles. We must not underestimate how much of an achievement it is by our children to complete their school year.
Nor must we fail to acknowledge the profoundly important contribution of our teachers, school administrators and staff in helping guide our children throughout the year. This is true of all children, teachers, administrators and staff in all schools. We commend them all.
But we would be remiss if we did not make special mention of the well-documented worry taking hold in our community, and in other communities as well, over the constantly increasing, already super-high cost of sending a child to a Jewish day school. In the not-distant future, most middle-class parents will be unable to afford day school education for their children. Rather than decide to live perennially in overwhelming debt or to have smaller families, they will simply decide not to send their children to day school.
Chief U.K. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has eloquently explained why Jewish education and Jewish schools are so important to us.
“For Jews, education is not just what we know. It’s who we are. No people ever cared for education more. Our ancestors were the first to make education a religious command, and the first to create a compulsory universal system of schooling – eighteen centuries before Britain… The Egyptians built pyramids, the Greeks built temples, the Romans built amphitheatres. Jews built schools. They knew that to defend a country you need an army, but to defend a civilization you need education [emphasis added]. So Jews became the people whose heroes were teachers, whose citadels were schools, and whose passion was study and the life of the mind.”
Reining in if not actually lowering the cost of a Jewish education is a crisis-level problem that knows of no easy solution. But we cannot yet say it is intractable.
We do not point fingers. We extend a hand of concern. We call out to everyone who shares this worry to seek new, as yet untried ways of making Jewish education affordable once again to the “ordinary” middle class family.
Shrugging our collective shoulders in resignation – or worse, disinterest – will have a far-reaching and alas, harmful effect on our collective future as an identifying, aware, Jewish people.
In Rabbi Sacks’ words, we must defend our civilization.