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I have always been disturbed by the fact that while millions upon millions of dollars are poured into the construction and programs of synagogues, the support received by our yeshivas and day schools is so meager in comparison.
One would expect that a place of learning would take precedence over a place of worship – after all, it’s in our schools that the future of our people is being nurtured and cultivated. Why, is it, then, that vast amounts of money are raised for synagogue edifices and services, yet yeshivas and day schools receive so little?
The same question could be posed regarding Jewish Community Centers throughout the United States. Federations traditionally have earmarked millions of dollars to maintain them, providing opportunities for all types of sports and recreation. Many Jews apparently consider the maintenance of these institutions to be a primary goal of the Jewish community and give accordingly – again, at the expense of the educational institutions that truly represent the hope of our people.
It seems to me this phenomenon exists primarily because those who use synagogues and community centers are adults, and adults, of course, have the means to donate the money necessary to keep them afloat. While many of these same people may also send their children to day schools and yeshivas, they themselves generally are not involved with, and gain no direct benefit from, these schools.
Adults pray in synagogues. They are called to the Torah for an aliyah, daven before the amud and give a Kiddush in synagogues. And adults enjoy the programs and facilities provided by community centers, working out, playing squash and socializing with other members.
Children, on the other hand, are the ones who make use of yeshivas and day schools. All too often, parents are only passively involved in the education of their children, dropping them off at the door of the school in the morning but otherwise maintaining little if any communication with teachers or administrators. Except for periodic conferences or progress reports, the only connection they have with the school is through newsletters or if a child gets into some kind of trouble and a crisis ensues.
To counter this state of affairs, all day schools and yeshivas should make a serious attempt at providing parents and lay leaders with opportunities for a more direct involvement in the educational process.
It irks me, for example, when first graders receive their first siddurim – usually in an elaborate ceremony that took the children weeks to prepare – and the school schedules the program on a regular school day, creating hardships for parents who work. These programs should be scheduled on a Sunday, when parents and grandparents can easily attend.
Should not all programs in which a school’s students shine and take center stage be scheduled when the school can receive the most positive exposure – and when parents, the financial mainstays of the school, can experience firsthand the enthusiasm and excitement the school instills in its students?
Involvement is the key word for generating additional support for yeshivas and day schools. While there are philanthropists who understand the importance of Jewish education, most do not because they are not there to see what is going on in the schools.
The formula is simple: Engage more adults in the activities of our day schools and more financial support will be forthcoming. And more support means more successful schools and a brighter future for our children.
About the Author: Rabbi Mordechai Weiss has been involved in Jewish education for the past forty-six years, serving as principal of various Hebrew day schools. He has received awards for his innovative programs and was chosen to receive the coveted Outstanding Principal award from the National Association of Private Schools. He now resides in Israel and is available for speaking engagements. Contact him at email@example.com or 914-368-5149.
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