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Your Neighbor’s Children Need You

on Tuesday, August 13 2013. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

It has been said often and by many that its cost is the greatest influence on the Jewish birth rate. Others have identified this expense as part of the reason for a recent increase in Aliyah. Without it, it is statistically unlikely that one will keep Shabbos, kosher or even marry a Jew.

Jewish education. Hardly a Shabbos table exists in any Jewish community in which it hasn’t been discussed, debated, dissected, and analyzed. Sadly, the Jewish education conversations parents are having don’t revolve around pedagogy, educational methodology, or creative curricula. Instead, for the last several years, the pressing topic has been what is most commonly referred to as “The Tuition Crisis.”

I don’t need to elaborate on the challenges; we all know them. Tuition has risen faster than salaries and income levels while, at the same time, a slowly recovering devastated economy continues to leave many incapable of paying full tuition. Just ten years ago, our generous Federation was able to cover 100% of the scholarship needs, but today, due to increased demand and diminishing resources, they can only cover less than 20%.

A number of ventures are currently being worked on in an effort to influence this issue in a meaningful and impactful way. For example, there are selfless members of our community who, working with the Jewish Leadership Coalition, are interacting with and lobbying State Representatives on issues of school choice and tax credit scholarships. They have made significant progress and are hopeful their work will yield tuition relief in the not-too-distant future. Additionally, a new effort is underway to get a large group of people to make small monthly donations adding up to a communal fund that can be divided among our schools, thereby hopefully lowering tuition. (I encourage you to learn more at http://jdsp-spbc.org)

However, until the benefits of these efforts are felt, we have a very real and present need. Our local Boca day schools are extraordinarily generous. Combined, they provide more than 6 million dollars of tuition assistance a year. They, and you by paying tuition, are doing your part. Nevertheless, there are families that cannot meet the generously discounted tuition contract they have been offered and, without assistance, will simply have to remove their children from Jewish schools. There are legitimate reasons to leave Jewish day schools, but money cannot and should not be one of them. I strongly believe that a Jewish education is a necessity, not a luxury, and every Jewish child deserves a chance at one.

In 2009, we created the BRS Jewish Education Scholarship Fund to provide modest support to struggling families and help close the small gap and keep their kids in Jewish schools. In the last four years, the generous donors to this fund have helped literally dozens of Jewish children stay in Jewish schools. The fund does not support the operating budget of schools or make donations to their fundraisers. The fund exclusively provides money on behalf of specific children in specific circumstances to ensure that they can remain in a Jewish school.

Helping the youth of our community is not the job of schools alone or of other parents who happen to have their children in the same school. It is the job, responsibility, and halachic obligation of each and every one of us alike, whether we have young children at home or are empty nesters.

Put simply, supporting the fund is an investment opportunity that is guaranteed to pay a return. The dividends are informed, inspired, passionate Jewish children who are committed to Torah, the Jewish people, and the State of Israel. With all of the challenges we are having inspiring our youth, the research and statistics don’t lie. One cannot compare the Jewish identity of a child that attended a Jewish day school with one who didn’t.

In a couple of weeks, we will stand in Shul and emotionally proclaim – “U’Teshuva, u’tefilla u’tzedaka ma’avirin et ro’ah ha’gezeirah – repentance, prayer, and charity remove the evil decree.” The Machzor is not suggesting that we bribe God with money in this High Holiday season. It is suggesting that we show an understanding of the true definition of net worth with a commitment to invest in God’s children generously.

Allow me to close by sharing the top two reasons I hear most from some people who think this fund and appeal for support doesn’t apply to them, when in reality it does.

MYTH #1 – “This is important, but it is someone else’s responsibility, not mine. I have been there and done that. I have built my children and grandchildren’s schools and now it is time for the next generation.” This is myth and fallacy number one. During the time of the Second Beis Ha’Mikdash, there lived a Kohen Gadol named R. Yehoshua b. Gamla. In the year 64 C.E., he introduced an idea that would revolutionize the world, not just the Jewish people. He identified a crisis in which Jewish children, particularly orphans, were not being educated by their parents at home as they had been traditionally until that time. He left his post, stepped down from his prominent and prestigious duties, and founded the very first public school in history. He ordered each community to take responsibility for providing and supporting public Jewish education for its children. The Gemara in Bava Basra 21a tells us that this vision and this effort saved our people. Amar R’ Yehuda amar Rav – zachor oso ish l’tov v’Yehoshua b. Gamla shemo she’ilmalei hu, nishtakeid Torah mi’yisrael. While R’ Yehoshua ben Gamla may not be a household name, at least until charter schools, our Rabbis credit him and his approach to saving Jewish identity and Jewish continuity. His contribution was to view Jewish education as a communal responsibility and not on the individual alone.

You may be surprised to learn that his approach is actually quoted halacha l’maaseh in Shulchan Aruch. You may be even more surprised to learn in which section it appears. The funding of yeshiva education appears not in hilchos tzedaka, the laws of giving charity, but in hilchos shutfim, the section that lists all of the communal services funded through community taxes. The Rama, Rav Moshe Isserles who lived in the 16th century in Poland, says, “In a place in which the residents of a city establish among them a teacher, and the fathers of the children cannot afford tuition, and the community will have to pay, the tax is levied based on financial means.” From the Rama it is absolutely clear that subsidizing the tuition for poor families is a communal obligation independent of voluntary tzedaka. I am not suggesting creating a community tax. But we must all be aware of the seriousness of this obligation and participate in this community fund.

MYTH #2 is “My children or grandchildren are struggling and I am helping them with their tuition.” That is fantastic, virtuous, meritorious, and noble. If this applies to you, you must continue to do it. However, it does not exempt you from giving locally as well. If someone is helping his family, that is certainly a priority, but so is aniyei ircha, the poor of your community, in our backyard. Poskim are clear that local schools have the status of aniyei ircha, local indigent, and there is a halachic imperative and priority to give to them before giving to every envelope that comes in the mail and every knock that comes to the door. If for years we send at least something to every yeshiva, kollel and charity that contacts us, how could we not participate in our local communal obligation!

Historically, most of the donations to the BRS Jewish Education Scholarship Fund come from families who are concurrently paying tuition to a Jewish school. I am deeply grateful to them for their support, but it isn’t nearly enough. We need the rest of the community, those who are not otherwise giving to our schools right now, to participate in this fund. Whether you are single, married, young, old, an octogenarian or newlyweds, these are our children and our responsibility.

Please give what you can and be counted among those who can proudly say they did everything they could to make sure that no Jewish child was left behind because of an inability to pay

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