As my second daughter prepares to travel to Israel for a year of study, I can only wish that monitoring were my biggest worry. Unfortunately, just days before she was due to depart, we received a message from the seminary with which she’d registered informing us the school was closing due to financial constraints. We are scrambling to find a replacement.
It’s a strange and alarming predicament to be in, and it’s made me ponder the enormous challenges that face Orthodox parents as they struggle to raise their children. Is it really supposed to be this complicated?
First, there is the enormous cost of tuition that all of us struggle with. It’s not farfetched to say that approximately one-third of my income goes to paying for my kids to attend Jewish schools and universities. For a family with nine children, thank God, the burden is considerable and made all the more difficult because America punishes parents of faith who want to give their children a values-based education. We pay high property taxes and not one penny is allowed to even subsidize secular subjects like math at our kids’ parochial schools.
Then there’s the cost of Jewish camps, Jewish after-school activities, bar and bas mitzvahs, kosher food, religious celebrations, and, God willing, weddings. Look, I’m not complaining. If only the biggest problems in all of our lives were purely financial.
But after a while, you begin to wonder how we are supposed to afford all of this.
And the challenges are not just about money. In secular homes, life seems pretty straightforward. You have, usually, two to three kids max. They go to school around the corner, they finish high school, choose a university, graduate, get a job, date for several years, and, after they have some money, settle down (hopefully) and get married.
In the Orthodox Jewish world, it’s much more complicated. Your kids often go to schools that are quite a hike from home, which involves logistical nightmares related to transportation. Suddenly, you’re not only a chauffeur but a management guru coordinating complicated carpool schedules. And rather than two or three children, you usually have five or six. Then, when your kids finish high school, it’s not simply off to university. You have to help them find the right seminary or yeshiva in Israel first, which brings a whole new round of challenges.
When they return from Israel and start college, you are opposed to dating recreationally (as you should be). Your kids date to marry. But when they marry young they usually have nothing to start life with, so you have to help them get started, which is a pleasure, of course, but just adds more pressure to your existing burden.
And these complications do not even include the reality that when you travel on a family vacation, you generally can’t eat at a restaurant – you have to bring pots and pans and frozen bread and meat.
We do this because we believe in it and because we see with our own eyes how, even with all the complications and colossal expenses, it removes from our lives far greater complications. Since our kids are raised with real values and divinely-inspired wisdom, they make healthier and more mature decisions in life.
I wouldn’t change it for the world. I would not only die for my Judaism, I live for it. I will accept all these challenges and break my back to see my commitment through to my very last breath.
Even so, it should be easier. In our technologically advanced world, where everything is being streamlined and communication has become effortless, leading a religious Jewish life should be just a wee bit less complicated.
The fact that it is not is a testament to the lack of coordination among the various Orthodox communities around the world. If Jewish philanthropists can come together to offer a free trip to Israel to every Jewish young person on earth, then surely we can make attending Jewish day schools more affordable and the availability of kosher food more widespread (which it is, to some extent, due to the miracle of organizations like the OU, but still not enough).
Here are a few suggestions:
1) Orthodox Jews must team up with Catholics and evangelicals to put real pressure on our politicians to make subsidies for parochial schools a reality. Our tax dollars should be used to pay for our children’s secular education in our private schools without it constituting a threat to the separation of church and state. It is our money, after all, and we’re not asking the government to pay for Bible studies.
2) A global fund must be created to give every Jewish child on earth $5,000 per year toward tuition for a Jewish school or university.
3) Orthodox leaders should come together to achieve a consensus on Jewish weddings that do not spill over into the elaborate and overly materialistic. While this is important for its own sake, as it is a reflection of true Jewish values, it also serves the purpose of parents being freed from feeling they have to mortgage their homes in order to keep up with the Schwartzes.
4) In California, The Coffee Bean, a mainstream and highly successful franchise run by my friend Sonny Sassoon, has made its hundreds of branches entirely kosher. This means you can find kosher cakes, sandwiches, and bagels all over the West Coast. The American Jewish community should build on this model and create at least two national franchises that cater to the mainstream non-Jewish public but that are also kosher, so that Jewish families can eat wherever they travel.
None of this is impossible. Creating the State of Israel was a lot more difficult, and it was set into motion because one visionary Jew said, “If you will it, it is no dream.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the international bestselling author of 20 books. His website is www.shmuley.com.