For many years, the elephant in the room of communal Jewish life has been the cost of Jewish education. Tuition fees at Jewish day schools are deplorably and often quite impossibly high for the vast majority of young families. This is especially the case in Ontario, where the provincial government contributes nothing to the non-religious portion of private Jewish day schools. But it is also true in Quebec, where, even with governmental assistance, the tuition costs are severely prohibitive for most young people.
As if exhausted by the many valiant but failed efforts over the years – again, especially in Ontario – to help reduce the cost of Jewish education, the community is no longer even publicly discussing the situation. The elephant sits in the middle of our lives, uncorralled, adversely affecting our future.
But the silence is unacceptable. It is an abrogation of the collective community responsibility that was, not so long ago, the zealously implemented first priority of community leaders. It sends an unmistakable message to young parents that the community is indifferent and uncaring regarding the Jewish education of their children. It shouts, frankly, of community defeat. We must, therefore, break the silence, point to and rein in the elephant and at the very least, publicly resume the discussion. Three events in quick succession over the past two weeks provide the impetus for doing so. They are further compelling evidence that the subject is, and always will be, a high public priority.
In Las Vegas, billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, donated $50 million to the three Jewish day schools that comprise the Adelson Education Campus. The schools serve some 600 students from preschool to high school. In Toronto, the Leo Baeck Day School announced a unique tuition subsidy initiative of up to $5,000 per student for eligible families. In Montreal, the Jewish People’s and Peretz Schools and the Bialik High School in Montreal (JPPS/Bialik) announced a new policy of tuition reduction and freezes.
All three initiatives are aimed at preventing parents from removing their children from school and bringing new students into the schools. We commend the initiatives and their originators. However, a wider, more comprehensive, more imaginative, wall-to-wall, community solution is necessary to ensure that as many parents as possible can afford to provide a Jewish education to their children.
As a first step in devising such a strategy, we call upon our communal leaders to convene a summit meeting about Jewish education. The summit would examine Jewish education in all its future possibilities and would involve as wide a swath of concerned individuals as possible: businesspeople, academics, educators, policy-makers, parents, grandparents, industrialists, philanthropists, clergy, lay leaders and any one else with wisdom or experience to offer on the subject.
The status quo is an affront to conscience. We owe this search for solutions as much to our parents and our grandparents as to our children and our grandchildren. Inaction is not an option. Community leaders must remove the elephant immediately.