It is time to “tax” the Jewish community to pay for Jewish day school. [The document] should also say that every Jewish professional should be protected from being fired if they advocate Jewish day school vehemently from their perch, bimah or position. I also thought the statement should explicitly call for more Hebrew education. The downward spiral in Jewish literacy and making informed Jewish decisions is leading us to define a new genre of Jewish life: Assimilationist Judaism. Even if one would argue that Jews have always assimilated local tunes, ideas, aesthetic ideals and thought-frameworks, we have done so with an ongoing commitment to Jewish literacy and cultural connectivity. Letting our children generate grassroots approaches in the context of day school will allow them to integrate into a more diverse American society with an identity and a language of their own! If cultural diversity is established through living cultures meeting each other in the marketplace of freedom then we must ensure the ongoing commitment to a Jewish literacy that includes Hebrew, sacred sources, poetry and art of our people, historical connection and actually dancing the dances. Jewish day schools are the incubators for Jewish cultural custodians and creators.
I am not surprised by your seeming dismay at a Jewish tax policy to support, or offset, day school tuition. As a former head of school who tried to keep tuition rates reasonable and Jewish curricula central to the liberal day school project, I know the challenges that board members and parents took on to raise enough tzedakah to keep school running and to answer their friends who could not understand how they could pick Jewish schools for their children. We must support schools, families and community leadership with a strategic plan that calls for funding for any students who wish to attend, and we must promote the idea that day school education is the best insurance policy for a vibrant, literate Jewish future.
Are we afraid of giving our children too much Jewish literacy and Hebraic knowledge, because not enough of the current generation is literate in such way? If we are afraid, as American Jews, that our children might become too particularistic in their outlooks, or too observant and, additionally, hopeful Zionists, I pray we overcome those hesitations as well. It turns out that Jewish literacy combined with modern curricula is the best insurance policy for growing creative innovators, team players and university scholars of the future. The alumni I know take on communal – both Jewish and non-Jewish – leadership positions more than their peers, and the research shows this is the case around the nation.
To complement endowment building that a few forward thinking Federations and philanthropists have started, the time is now to create the tax, or tzedakah policies, that ensure the vitality of the day school system for American Jews. It is counter the Jewish culture to shy away from the responsibility to educate the next generation and those thereafter. The tax for day schools should be a deductible donation, in my opinion. It is in our people’s and this nation’s interests to have literate Jewish citizens.
As a rabbi of a maverick congregation now, the leaders of our mostly lay-led congregation are educated in our people’s texts, poetry and language. The adults who attend our services are willing to grow their literacy, and the day school students, with a few wonderful exceptions, are those who take on leadership roles time and again for Jewish ritual and for general welfare organizations around New York City.
We grant scholarships to children whose families have a hard time affording day school, but there is absolutely no way to send all children in our community to day school or substantive educational programs that teach Hebrew literacy and Jewish history without community taxation.
There are many other important strategic directions for Jewish vitality that must be energized; it starts with education.
Rabbi Scott Bolton