Camp Scholarships For Whom?
As a regular recipient of scholarships for many years from yeshivas and days schools where I have enrolled my children, I take exception to the response from the panel of rabbis to the question, “Is It Proper To Send Your Kids To Sleepaway Camp If They Receive Tuition Assistance?” (July 28).
I get the concept that a family that spends a lot of money on certain luxuries should be able to afford to pay full yeshiva tuition, but this concept is limited by its subjectivity – who’s to say what is a “luxury?” Sure, families that spend extravagantly on multiple homes, exotic Pesach vacations, fancy cars, and lavish simchas could justifiably be perceived as clearly not needing scholarships, but I doubt that these are the types of families that generally apply for scholarships. I suspect that the typical family that applies for a scholarship spends a lot of money on goods and services that are more open to debate as to their status as “luxuries ” – like, say, sleepaway camp.
And yes, categorizing sleepaway camp as a luxury is debatable. Never mind the fact that not all sleepaway camps are particularly expensive and that some camps offer scholarships. Children generally age out of day camp (as campers) at about 11 years old. What are they supposed to do during their summers until they are old enough to work? How are working parents supposed to keep them occupied and supervised? Sleepaway camps offer a positive experience for many children and are generally considered one of the common trappings of middle-class existence.
But the issue raised goes far beyond sleepaway camps. I am sure that the vast majority of, if not all, scholarship recipients spend a lot of money on things other than yeshiva tuition that could raise questions about whether they really are “needy” enough to deserve scholarships: Questions like, “Do they really need to hire a cleaning lady when they can clean themselves? Why do they have to live in such an affluent neighborhood? Why do they spend money on music lessons for their children?” And so on.
The position of the rabbinical panel on the topic can be summarized as follows: (1) When it comes to spending money, paying full yeshiva tuition should take priority over all unnecessary luxuries (however you define them), and if you have to forgo those luxuries to pay full tuition, so be it. (2) If you accept a scholarship, you are receiving tzedaka at the expense of those who pay full tuition and you have no business spending money on luxuries. In the words of Rabbi Marc D. Angel, “If parents are in fact financially unable to pay full tuition so that it’s necessary to apply for financial aid, then they are not in a financial condition to afford sleepaway camp for their children.”
Thankfully, yeshiva scholarship committees take a more lenient approach than the rabbinical panel. Scholarship applicants are typically asked to identify any camps they send their children to and how much tuition they pay, family vacations they’ve taken, etc. If an applicant does report having spent money on such “luxuries,” it doesn’t necessarily exclude the applicant from a scholarship, but it is presumably a factor that is taken into consideration. In fact, on several occasions, I have received scholarships even though I reported sending my children to sleepaway camp. They may not have been the most expensive camps, but I’m not going to pass judgment on scholarship applicants who send their children to more expensive camps; it is at the scholarship committee’s discretion as to whether that should be disqualifying.
While I appreciate the scholarships that I am awarded, I take issue with the position expressed by the panel that a tuition scholarship is a form of tzedaka or charity. While a yeshiva has a sacred mission – to educate our children – it is also essentially a business in which the customers (i.e., parents) pay an agreed-upon price to the yeshiva. The yeshiva generally has a sticker tuition price but offers discounted prices (to be determined by its scholarship committee) to those parents who make the effort to submit detailed, personal financial information and satisfy the scholarship committee that they are in need of the discount. Presumably, yeshivas set the sticker price with the expectation that a certain percentage of the parents will be provided scholarships, and the sticker price is inflated accordingly. Thus, scholarships are a factor in the price structure of the yeshiva and if I am paying a price discounted per scholarship, I am not receiving a hand-out; I am simply paying what the yeshiva requires of me to pay them for educating my children.
Accordingly, I don’t feel that I am morally obligated to forgo expenses for certain things that might be considered “luxuries” so I can pay full tuition, so long as I am honest in completing my scholarship application, and pay what I am required to pay on time. And by the way, my lifestyle would not exactly qualify for “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” If it did, I wouldn’t bother applying for scholarships.
Sure, there might be some families that receive scholarships and live like kings, and there might be some families that scrimp and save and live like monks to pay full yeshiva tuition, but I suspect that these are rare exceptions. The responses from the rabbinical panel suggest some moral failure on the part of scholarship recipients who spend money on what they broadly define as “luxuries,” but I think the only clear distinction between those who don’t pay full tuition and those who do is that, as a general rule, the latter happen to be wealthier.
Thank G-d, there is a lot of affluence in the Orthodox community, populated largely by “haves” (who are more likely to be scholarship recipients) and “haves-more” (who are more likely to pay full tuition). The downside to this is that you can be a “have” and still feel like a second-class citizen within the community. It doesn’t help when you feature a rabbinical panel that dismisses scholarship families as a bunch of “welfare queens.”
Whether those families who spend money on summer camp – or other comparable “luxuries” – should receive scholarships is, in my view, not a moral question for rabbis, but a financial question best left to the discretion of scholarship committees.
The Other Catskills
Regarding “Hunter Expulsion of 2023 In Context,” (July 28), in my experience vacationing in the Catskills, I’ve felt that there are two distinct sub-regions to these mountains. There are the “Route 17 Catskills,” which are heavily Orthodox, where there are multiple minyanim, camps, bungalow colonies, and kosher restaurants. Then there are the “Route 23 Catskills,” which are so far north that they are within the Albany area code – towns like Hunter and villages like Tannersville. The communities up there are less crowded and there are fewer kosher food establishments, but there are still plenty of Jews during the summer who stay there for its sense of space, nature, and history.
West Hempstead, N.Y.
Talmud vs. Guns?
In the August 4 edition of The Jewish Press, Rabbi Yehuda L. Oppenheimer expressed grave concern over the timing of legislation of a Basic Law which would enshrine military service exemption for “those who dedicate themselves to studying Torah for an extended period (and therefore) should be viewed as having served a significant service to the State of Israel and the Jewish people.”
There is no doubt that exemptions from military service must be made available to better develop the talents of Torah prodigies. Such gifted Talmudic and rabbinic students should be encouraged to continue mastering their knowledge for the benefit of Klal Yisrael. My concern (and I hope I am wrong) is that such a Basic Law could be interpreted to give carte blanche military exemption to most applicants who would then be encouraged to remain full time in the study halls when they and their families and country would be better served if they contributed military service and eventually established a career in the workforce. It has even been proposed that the last year of military service could be used to provide an opportunity for young Israelis to learn a trade.
M.K. Rabbi Meir Kahane proudly served in the IDF after making aliyah. He often cited King David as a role model for religious Zionists. Certainly the “warrior king” did not apply for a military exemption so that he would have more time to write the Psalms. Rabbi Kahane described “happiness” for a religious Zionist as “watching the soldiers with beards and yarmulkas showing that mastering the intricacies of a mere sub-machine gun is child’s play for a Talmudic scholar.”
Moreover, just as most religious Jews are not exempt from military service, so too, career soldiers are not exempt from Shabbat or kashrut observance, just because military service is also vital to the country’s survival.
Perhaps the consensus solution to the Basic Law dilemma would be a recognition by all that studying Torah is of extreme value to the Jewish people, as does the maintenance of a mighty Jewish army. To once again quote Rabbi Meir Kahane: (Happiness to a religious Zionist) “is watching the Jewish army and knowing that the spirit of Zion cannot live without a body and that this army is the guarantor of that body’s existence.”
Great Neck, N.Y.