The astronomical costs of private Jewish education in the US is the main motivator behind the decision to make Aliyah for American Jews, according to Zev Gershinsky, Executive Vice President of Nefesh B’Nefesh.
Gershinsky told Makor Rishon on Friday that many Jewish families are collapsing under the burden of paying private Jewish schools, and even take out loans they find hard to repay in order to be able to give their children Jewish education. Makor Rishon cited Maimonides School in Brookline, Massachusetts, where annual tuition per child is around $30,000.
“A family with three children attending private Jewish education in the US must budget on average $80,000 a year for tuition alone,” said Gershinsky, noting that a year in Yeshiva University would set parents back some $50,000, including food and lodging.
“We see more and more young families who make Aliyah with their kindergarten-age children,” Gershinsky said, attributing their decision mostly to the cost of Jewish education in America. “They would have to earn at least $150,000 annually to survive, maybe even more,” he pointed out.
Without spelling this out, it is clear throughout the interview that the families Gershinsky described are, for the most part, Modern Orthodox. He went on to say that many US Jews who are looking into Aliyah are often surprised to discover that the Modern-Orthodox education they seek is provided by the state, free of charge, in religious public schools.
“This is one of the central factors that attract families who weight making Aliyah,” according to Gershinsky. This gets even better “when they discover that as Olim they are entitled to free college education, rather than spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in a private US university,” he adds.
Gershinsky knows of many Jewish families living in the US who would like to make Aliyah, but aren’t able to, because “they’ve taken out loans in the US, and should they move to Israel and earn less, they won’t be able to pay off the loans. On the other hand, if they stay, they would continue to send their children to private Jewish education – and their debts will keep on growing.” Unfortunately, these families who are yearning to make Aliyah, are stuck, all because of the cost of Jewish education, says Gershinsky.
According to the CEO of the OU in Israel, Rabbi Avi Berman, the insane cost of Jewish education in the US not only encourages Aliyah, but also is a factor in reducing the Modern Orthodox birthrate in America. “With every new child you bring into the world will end up costing you half a million dollars, you ask yourself where you’re going to get all this money,” says Berman, whose nine children enjoy Orthodox education for free in Israeli public schools.
According to Berman, a Jewish family with four children must earn a minimum of $300,000 a year, which suggests the entire Jewish community in the US must be in the top 10% in terms of earnings. But that, Berman notes, is inherently impossible, “which is why so many Jewish children do not receive Jewish education.”
The OU is part of a coalition of religious organizations in the US that are working with the Trump Administration to promote state sponsorship of religious schools. Betsy DeVos, the new Secretary of Education, is a great promoter of school choice and school vouchers, which could mean that for the first time in US history, government might do something to ease the burden of religious education.
Which, obviously, is not great news for Nefesh B’Nefesh…