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The day school tuition crisis is not new. It has been brewing for years. School costs continue to rise while unemployment and underemployment remain high. And one also needs money to live in a neighborhood with shuls and mikvehs, to buy kosher food, to make proper simchas, to cover Yom Tov expenses, etc.

It seems that somewhere along the line it became mandated that in order to be frum you have to be rich – or at least extremely well off.


And of course you must keep your children in private day schools – or else, we are warned, you are putting your children’s Jewish future at risk.

We are told to sacrifice as much as possible in order to provide a Jewish education for our children. Give up vacations, cars, home renovations. Stop drinking coffee. Don’t send your children to camp. Don’t buy anything. Give all your tzedakah to the schools your children attend.

Give up everything that might bring you joy because there is no joy greater than your children’s Jewish education. This, we are told, will guarantee that our children will remain safely in the Jewish fold.

But what of families who have already sacrificed everything? What of families who are receiving financial assistance from the schools and still have trouble making those monthly payments? What of families forced to decide each month which bills to pay and which to ignore? What of families who risk losing their home to foreclosure or having their car repossessed? What guarantees do they get?

In an ideal world, families in need of tuition assistance would receive it and remain anonymous. In the real world, especially in smaller communities, this is impossible. The scrutinizing, the judging, the criticism of families who receive financial aid is intolerable and should be unacceptable. Those paying full tuition are frequently – and quite publicly – resentful, accusatory and spiteful.

The benefiting families are made to feel like a burden on their community. God forbid someone sees them eating at a restaurant. Heaven help them if someone notices them at the movies on Motzaei Shabbat.

Some parents no longer wish to be a burden. They want to pay bills when they are due without worrying where they’ll find the money for tuition. They want to save something for college or retirement. So they make the difficult decision to remove their children from day school and place them in public school. Other families opt for a Hebrew language charter school.

Here in South Florida, a number of Ben Gamla charter schools have opened in the past few years. The advantage of a Hebrew language charter over the local public school is that Israeli culture is taught alongside the language. So while the children cannot daven at school or study religious texts, they can learn, for example, about Chanukah and how the Maccabees fought and beat the Greeks. Just don’t mention the miracle of the oil.

Far from being ideal for frum families, the Ben Gamla charter schools offer an intermediate solution: free secular education for your children, with the added benefit of Hebrew language and Israeli culture and history, taught by Sherut Leumi (National Service) girls.

But what about Judaics?

You tell yourself you’ll send your children to the local Talmud Torah, but then you learn they no longer exist, at least not anywhere near you. You think you’ll hire a teacher from a local day school to tutor your kids a few afternoons a week – until you discover that not a few day schools have told their teachers not to tutor children who have transferred from day school to public school.

So these wonderful educators, who as it is are underpaid by institutions heralding Torah, mitzvot and midot, are threatened with job loss by those very institutions.

Perhaps the rabbis in the community would like to advise parents on finding tutors? Maybe they would like to facilitate a group-learning opportunity for the many children now in public schools due to the tuition crisis?

Some community rabbis seem to believe the majority of families with children in public school do not care enough about Judaics. I beg to disagree. For families who pull out of yeshiva for financial reasons, the cost of private tutors (if you can find one) is too high. For them, the idea of a communal Hebrew school program, geared specifically toward kids who began life in day school, is an attractive one. Something local, affordable and communal. A program like that will cost less per child, and even if it begins with just a few children the likelihood is it will grow in numbers as people see it working and parents are happy with what is being taught.


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Vanessa Brooks is a frum-from-birth mother of three in Boca Raton, Florida. After years of struggling to pay for day school, she and her husband have made the difficult decision to put their children in a Ben Gamla charter school. She blogs on Jewish education and other topics at


  1. Rabbi's can afford to go away all summer on vacation to Israel. Something we can't afford to do. Disney is full of Rabbi's on Chol HaMoed and Yeishva Break. Rabbi's don't live from hand to mouth, without retirement savings, without vacations and without a life. Perhaps if they lived like us tuition would be more affordable.

  2. As a 22 year old student who attended yeshiva's most my life. It's a very sticky subject on one hand I agree with you and the other hand I don't. Yeshiva instills values and morales but lacks education for the real world. Public schools are wild and a easy place to get lost in. It's very tricky as future parents we will be contemplating theses choices. ( I can assure you that I WILL NOT be sending my children to yeshivas. I will opt for a Hillel/Hebrew academy type schools. There they have successfully created a good balance of secular and judaic studies. Which I believe are both VERY important. Yeshivas focus way to mch on Judaic studies which does not give it's students a fair chance in the "real" world unless there Rich or VERY smart.

    P.S if u pay tuition, your always accepted Into yeshiva. Another huge problem.

  3. While I don't disagree that there are problems, Prosper, I too spent a large portion of my life in Yeshiva. And while I did not necessarily fully apply myself while in yeshiva, am not rich, and am not outstandingly smart, I have managed to succeed in the "real" world. I therefore don't think the problems lie in the schooling systems as much as they lie in a child's upbringing and community.

  4. The problems lie in the schools that are not accredited, be they art schools or Yeshivas.. If a school is not pushed to maintain a certain level of academic excellence.. They will not and leave the kids attending this school with limited abilities and skills that are necessary to succeed in the "real world" aka business world/ college etc.. It is important to set a high standard for both Judaic studies as well as academic studies ,in order for students from all financial situations and intelligence levels to find ease in future careers and what not.

  5. In Ohio, as in most states, it is possible to have Public School "Released Time", where the students can get religious instruction during the secular school day.
    Usually it consists of a small building next to the school property where classes are taught by non-school teachers chosen by the parents. It is especially good for grade-school students.

    There are also vouchers available for families in "distressed school districts" that can be used for Day Schools. As a result, some Jewish families have moved to areas with bad public schools so they can get the vouchers.

    If we could somehow physically separate specific religious education from the general education topics, the day schools could be set up as "Charter Schools" which do receive state monies.

  6. Sadly, we know Vanessa's story. She's been telling it on her blog and in the community for years. There is no question there is a high cost of raising a Jewish family in Boca Raton. Living on "the circle" and sending your children to a Jewish day school requires a significant income. In Vanessa's case, the school was ready to come forward with scholarship monies to insure her children to not lack a Jewish education. Unfortunately, she has chosen to send her children to a public school maintaining that it didn't affect her – 30 years ago.

    This public school, Ben Gamla, adds Hebrew to the public school curriculum. There is no mention of anything Jewish as there are many non-Jewish children in the school.

    There has yet to be a single child that has emerged from this school and maintained any level of Jewish observance and yet, Ben Gamla is being offered as a solution for Jewish parents. It is not. Just this year, a young boy in Ben Gamla committed suicide. Another was arrested (in school) for drug possession.

    If I suggested that you take your entire income and travel to Las Vegas and place a bet on the roulette wheel, you would look at me as if I was crazy.

    But if I take my children's future and put it on the spin of an unproven public school with no Jewish education, she would say, there is no other answer.

    Let no person think the Jewish community in Boca drove this family to the public school. She went out banners waving to let everyone know about it.

    The tuition crisis is nothing new. It's been covered in the Jewish Press for years as have been the alternatives. What is new is the idea that you can turn down generous assistance and still play martyr.

    And for the sick individual who took time to attack the Rabbi's in Boca Raton, as being responsible for this crisis, shame on you.

  7. You know nothing about me, other than what I have chosen to put on my blog.

    "In Vanessa's case, the school was ready to come forward with scholarship monies to insure her children to not lack a Jewish education. Unfortunately, she has chosen to send her children to a public school maintaining that it didn't affect her – 30 years ago."

    I don't know where you got this from. I did not go to public school, I just did not go to a yeshiva, and it certainly was not 30 years ago. In addition, the school has not come forward and offered me money to keep my children there.

    The boy who committed suicide, for your information, was a former student at BG, and had already left at the time of his death. I doubt highly that the school was responsible for his suicide, no doubt there were many issues. As for drug possession, at least in a public school environment it is dealt with properly, as are other issues that you might come up with, whereas in yeshivas these problems are often driven under the carpet as if they never happened. Take a good look around at many of the local yeshiva kids, you will see plenty abusing drugs and alcohol.

    "Let no person think the Jewish community in Boca drove this family to the public school. She went out banners waving to let everyone know about it."

    I have never suggested that the Jewish community in Boca drove my family to public school, only that the high cost of living an orthodox Jewish life has left us with little choice, and that a little less pressure from the pulpit would be beneficial to everyone. At the most, I talked about the reluctance of those who are better off to help those who are in need.

    Your are making a big deal over one person who made the poor choice to attack the rabbi of our shul, and yet, you apparently have no problem with attacking me, my family and the choices that we have made quite publicly. Shame on YOU.

  8. Again, your information is wrong. The president of the school did nothing other than say he hoped our children could remain in the school. We did handstands, and sacrificed further in order to keep them there for one more year. We went through the same channels as every one else who applied for assistance. Not sure why you think otherwise. The issue was the school claiming that they would not allow families back to the school who owed money from previous contracts. When they realized that they would have almost no students if they carried out this threat, they figured out a way to add back owed money into new contracts. That is what happened. Nowhere in my blog does it say otherwise.

  9. "Your are making a big deal over one person who made the poor choice to attack the rabbi of our shul, and yet, you apparently have no problem with attacking me, my family and the choices that we have made quite publicly. Shame on YOU."

    Now you're blaming me for taking this public? I suppose the Jewish Press FORCED you to take this public so you could be the poster child for parents justifying taking their kids out of yeshiva? For two years you pointed your finger. Imagine if you spent a fraction of that time working towards a solution!

  10. First I wasn't attacking the Rabbi of Vanessa's shul. Vanessa and I are members of different shuls and I wasn't even thinking of him.
    at the time I wrote.

    I was thinking of the time I was standing behind a good friend of mine who is a Rabbi in the local Kosher market and watched.
    with jealosly as he received his discount on Kosher food because he is a Rabbi.

    My Rabbi friends don't every have to pay a nanny on Chol Hamoed when the schools are closed. They don't even pay for a nanny.
    when the schools close a day or a week before a Jewish holiday or when it takes a few days for the school to reopen.

    They never go to a job interview and find out Shabbos is a problem. They never have to work to 4:00 on a Friday. Or scramble for.
    a Friday afternoon nanny because school closes at 2:00 on Fridays.

    My Rabbi friends can afford to go away for summers to Israel and Chol Hamoed to Disney because they don't ever use vacation time.
    for a Jewish holiday. And they all get more than the two weeks a middle class Jew gets.

    When I talk to them it often seems like we talk past each other rather than to each other. Often my Rabbi's friend parent are also.
    a Rabbi and Rebbetzim as is most of their extended family and children. And most of their working friends are not middle class like.
    me but the wealthier set that generously donates to their schools and shuls. And while I certainly am greatful for the tzedekah they.
    give that financially supports the Torah community, their lives don't have the same challenges as the middle class Jew.

    I'm glad Vanessa opened up this conversation. And I hope we make it a conversation and not a fight. If anything I wrote gave the impression.
    I was attacking anyone I apoligize as that was not my intention.

  11. No, this is not a new problem at all! As a former Yeshiva student, and Boca Raton day school parent, I can vouch for that. And yes, the scholarship system, as part of the global economy, is surely broken in communities across the U.S. Prosper, this includes "Day school/Hillel/ HA as well as "Yeshivot"! This is just one more of the challenges facing Religious families trying to raise their children in the diaspora. Stephen, you are absolutely right! While the cost of Jewish education is not the reason to make Aliyah, being able to raise and educate your family among Jews in our homeland is! Aliyah certainly should at least be part of any discussion related to this, and other challenges facing Jewish families! TIME TO COME HOME!

  12. You are correct Michael, the Rabbis don't have the same challenges as the non rabbi folks…they have different ones. Perhaps a day or two in their shoes would really open up this conversation. Truth be told I am one of those people who can't afford kosher food anymore, heck I can barely afford food at all. I can't afford new clothes for yom tov we manage to get a few new things once or twice a year, and many years ago when I divorced I could no longer afford to send my kids to Jewish day school. Thankfully they have done well in public school but I regret that decision to this day. I know exactly what you mean about talking past each other…

  13. For anyone at least in Boca who has issues affording food BRS has a program for the community called Tomchei Shabbos that delivers food to people in honerable way.

    Otherwise we need to work on ways of helping people find employment who need it. If self employment isn't working out get the resume out there. If it needs tweaking tweak it.(I've tweaked a few for friends and they all got jobs) We all need to remember the best way to give tzedakah is to help someone get a job. So networking in the community is a mitzvah

  14. This whole thing reminds me of when we sent our son to a special private school because of his symptoms of Autism and ADHD. 10 years ago, it was quite a hit to pay out 12K a year. Yet we sacrificed what we had to in order to make it happen.

  15. Rabbi Zalman Bukiet I hope you still are my friend. One of the hardest part of dealing with issues like this is how to have an honest and frank conversation about this issue without offending each other. For both Rabbi's and lay people this is a highly sensitive issue. Obviously Rabbi's especially in the field of chinuch are sensitive not only to the implied criticism of how they work but also the discussion of their salary, and lay people are frantic about the crushing expense of supporting the current educational system. There is not a easy, simple or obvious solution to this issue and we will need to continually remind ourselves of the mitzva to judge others favorably when feeling inadvertently get hurt as we go over this issue

    Rabbi you have known me enough years to know I am not always the most eloquent speaker but I hope you also know that I am sincere

  16. Right, now go read what you posted about how there's high tuition because Rabbi's spend a month in Israel or take their family's on vacation. Unless someone broke into your house and night and typed that on your computer without your permission. It's an insult to everyone who read it.

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