14 August 2009

The Recession and Jewish Day Schools

The Jewish newspaper Forward has a recent article describing the difficulties the recession is creating for Jewish day schools. Donors are reducing their gifts and even pulling back on commitments, creating real hardships for many of the schools and their students.

One advantage these schools might have over other schools facing similar difficulties, however, is the relative cohesiveness of the Jewish community. Even across the spectrum of Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox, the Jewish community often sees itself as being in a common enterprise, and it will join together to help one another when hardship arises. The Forward article mentions several such efforts. It is a powerful example of the beneficial potential of civil society.

(On a side note, I cannot resist adding a personal anecdote. A little over two years ago, when I was contemplating accepting a position at Yeshiva University (which I subsequently accepted), an Orthodox member of the community told me that, if I were Jewish and given the size of my family and the ages of my children, I would need to make $183,000 per year in order to provide properly for my family. His calculation of 'proper provision' included the considerable cost of sending my children to Jewish day schools. At the time I was astonished, not only at the number but also at its precision--$183,000, not 180 or 185. He assured me that it was not uncommon for Jewish heads of households to calculate things like this with such precision, and he further argued that indeed it was their moral and religious responsibility to do so.)

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