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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Tonight You Belong to Me

I love this song

This is an excellent version of it.

Some Ideas for Funding Jewish Education

Original Draft of Emes Ve-Emunah Post

There is a lot of wisdom out there.

In a recent post I wrote about the overwhelming expense of Jewish education and the underwhelming resources available to pay for it. That post drew a lot of responses. 89 comments have passed moderation thus far. Many of them contained various suggestions - both good and bad - on how to improve things.

I thought it might be useful to review some of them and to include of my own ideas.

First I should define the type of school that I think is indispensible for a successful Jewish education. I am not necessarily suggesting an ideal school. Nor am I promoting a specific Hashkafa. I am only suggesting that it is at a minimum - what is needed.

First I am limiting this to elementary and high schools. Post high school is a stand-alone subject that deserves its own treatment.

Here is the model. A school should have both a good religious and secular studies program. It should have the religious studies in the morning and secular studies in the afternoon. Both religious and secular studies faculty should be well trained and paid in accordance with their talents, skills, and level of education. There ought to be one principal and two vice principals –one for religious studies and one for secular studies. The Religious curriculum should be geared toward advanced Yeshiva learning and the secular studies should be an academic one. In high school there should be a college preparatory type curriculum. The building facilities need not be lavish but do need to be in good repair, clean, and user friendly.

That is the basic outline that in my view would produce a well rounded, educated, and productive Jew.

Obviously a good faculty and administration will necessitate teachers being well paid. You will not get good people to work in a school for peanuts no matter how dedicated they are. Nobody wants to struggle just to pay for their food bills. Nor should they have to. Good teachers deserve to be paid well so they can live like the rest of us. There is also a competitive market out there requiring every school to compete for its teaching talent. Housing for the school is not free either.

How to pay for it.

A huge portion of course comes from tuition paying parents. But as I said - that can only pay for a part of it. Almost all parents are on at least a partial scholarship. And the current economy has caused increased scholarships.

Then there are the general Jewish community dollars that religious schools receive via Jewish federations. Some cities do better than others. But none get full funding for the budget gap. It has been suggested that federations should be scrutinized to explore ways to better prioritize their financial allocations.

I suppose from an Orthodox perspective - that’s right. But it is not a realistic option. Most federation members are not orthodox and do not have that perspective. Trying to convince them otherwise would be an exercise in futility and would be counterproductive. Factoring in the fact that federations are not orthodox - they are very generous to religious education. At least here in Chicago. I would not want to jeopardize that.

That leaves fundraising events to fill the gap. But that too is not enough as the increasing budget deficits of day schools and Yeshivos show. Due to the state of the economy philanthropy dollars are decreasing too. In that regard it is usually worthwhile hiring a good executive director who can raise more than his salary. He would also add tremendously to all fundraising events by organizing them to run smoothly.

There is one idea that is being tried here in Chicago that adds annual revenue to al the religious schools. It’s called The Chicago Kahilla Jewish Education Fund. Jews are asked to pledge a monthly amount that is distributed annually to all the schools. Donations can vary anywhere from 10 dollars per month - and up. All donor amounts are automatically deducted from checking accounts. Most people will not feel a ten dollar monthly deduction. Those who are more affluent they will not feel their higher monthly deductions. There are currently over a thousand members distributing about $600,000 per year to the schools here. And the list keeps growing.

Another thing would be to reduce costs. But how does one do that without reducing the quality of education?

I have long proposed that religious studies teachers be trained to teach secular studies. That would not only reduce costs but it would increase the quality of the education. Doing this one thing would have multiple benefits not the least of which is financial.

Schools could reduce the overall expense of teachers’ salary packages. Instead of having two teachers with two expensive benefits/health care packages we would have one teacher with one health care package. Addionally it is always cheaper to have one salary than two.

What I am saying is that a religious teacher who teaches secular subjects in the afternoon would not necessarily need to be paid the additional full salary of an afternoon secular teacher. He or she would get a sizable increase but less than a separate teacher would.

This is fair because it does not involve a separate commitment from someone outside the school, nor is transportation an issue. They are already there. Religious school teachers are already making relatively decent salaries and health packages. And if they have children in the schools that usually includes hefty tuition discounts for their children.

In my view afternoon secular teaching duties should not require the salary demands a teacher from the outside would make. That’s where dedication to the ideal comes in. The resulting salary increases and tuition reductions would provide a very decent middle class lifestyle and it would significantly lower costs for the school.

Not only would you decrease the size of the budget – but you would have religious teachers there for the entire school day. They would not only be role models in the mornings, they would be role models in the afternoon. What better role model could there be than a Rebbe or Morah who teaches Gemarah or Navi in the morning and math, science, or English in the afternoon.

Another good idea in my view is increasing the class sizes. I’m not sure what they typically are now but I’m sure they can be increased slightly without sacrificing the quality of the education. If even one teacher’s salary package can be eliminated that would help.

What would not work in my view is using the public school system. The idea would be to have an afternoon school system for religious studies. While saving money it is a very risky move. I realize it’s possible but it has not worked well in the past. Even if we were to try eliminating the deficiencies of the past or improving the quality of education in religious afternoon schools, I don’t think the odds are very good for a successful Jewish education. No child is happy to see their public school classmates go home and have fun while they are forced to go to another school in the afternoon. I think most kids will end up building resentment toward religion.

Nor is home schooling such a hot idea in my view. True that it has been successful in a few cases but it requires a lot of time and dedication on the part of parents who are generally ill-equipped to do it. And the very important –in my view – social component is missing. Interacting with peers during a school day is an important part of a child’s education in my view.

Going back to the era of the 1950s is not a good idea either. The idea that teachers do not go into education for the money but for the ideal sound goods, but starvation wages will chase even the most dedicated teachers away.

These are but a few ideas that I have either thought about or have gleaned for the collective wisdom of the readership here. There is more but I do not want to make this post too long and cumbersome to read. I do however want to thank all of those who made positive contributions to this very difficult issue.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Exemplars of the Jewish Faith

Post from Emes Ve-Emunah

It’s nice to know that the Edah HaCharedis has an e-mail address. One can send them comments about their activities. Of course that doesn’t mean they will pay any attention to them or even read them. But at least they give you the address.

Here it is: edaharedit@gmail.com

How do I know this? It was sent to me by several people - accompanied by some photos presumably published and distributed by the Edah.

The most fascinating photo is the one where you see a caricature of the section process at Auschwitz. Hitler is standing at the gate while he selects who goes right meaning death by gassing. There are signs posted that obviate the selection process though. Once points to the right and says Charedim. The other points left and says Chilonim.

Chilonim get to live. Charedim get to die.

Aiding Hitler is a hospital worker - presumably from Hadassah Hospital. Next in line standing before them is a Yiddshe mama with her two children clinging to her shivering and sweating in fear. Hitler seems to be listening to his ‘advisor’ as he points his long finger to the right.

This - my friends - is what your Edah is doing for you. I strongly urge that you show your support for this lovely organization and send them your dollars right away.

Hat tip: Marty Bluke

Monday, August 24, 2009

Paying for Jewish Education

Original draft of today's Emes Ve-Emunah post

It’s that time of year again. In a few days the new school year will begin. Tuition and scholarship committees are in full gear right now dealing with a record number of applications.

That there is a financial crisis in American Jewish education is not news. This has almost always been the case. I recall many a strike by Rebbeim at my elementray Jewish day school because they hadn’t been paid in months. And that was in the late 50s when tuitions were actually more or less affordable (and teachers salaries embarrassingly low)!

Fast forward to 2009. The current financial crisis is greater than ever. Tuitions are at record levels and teachers still do not make enough – although their situation has vastly improved since the fifties - even since the seventies. Although tuitions are at record levels so too are the deficits of nearly all the religious educational institutions.

The financial situation of most religious schools is as follows.

Tuitions generally represent the cost of education per child. Simply stated - the entire budget of the school is divided by the number of students enrolled and that should more or less equal tuition – plus a slight excess to cover scholarship children.

Most parents of the parents I know cannot possibly afford full tuitions arrived at by this formula. If a tuition is $12,000 per child (a low figure for most Yeshivos and day schools if I understand correctly) then a family of four children pays $48,000 per year; a family of five children - $60,000. So it is quite understandable that the typical parent rarely pays full tuition. Deficits run up pretty quickly if the student body is large enough.

In the past fund raisers like banquets and concerts helped make up the difference. Some cities like Chicago have generous allocations from their Jewish federations as well. And there are always the ‘sugar daddies’ – those generous Jewish philanthropists who are always turned to in order to save an institution form going under. But all that is not enough. Religious schools are not solvent. Most of them are in debt and getting deeper into it.

And the current economic situation is accelerating that. Some parents have lost their jobs. Some cases two income families have become one income families. Some philanthropists’ finances have actually crashed and burned and others have had their incomes cut severly and their donations reflect that. School budgets have increased - but so have scholarships.

Looking at these factors it is not all that difficult to understand the crisis that we are in.

As a result the unthinkable – at least for a religious Jew -has happened. Religious parents are starting to seriously consider public schools as an option. It is unthinkable because the history of publicly educated children in the past is not a good one. The vast majority of students who attended public school in the past are today not religious at all. Many of their children are intermarrying. While there are ogther factors that contributed to this – the lack of a good Jewish education is not the least of them.

The influences in today’s public schools are far worse than ever. Being religious is no longer the only concern. The deeper you go - the worse it gets. Just look at moral standards of any college campus. Not to mention the rather casual attitude on these campuses about illegal drug use.

But I digress. The point here is losing Jewish children from Judaism. That - for the first time in decades – is a real concern.

This concern was a while back. I recall a story published about a religious parent deciding to pull his kids form a day school and send them to public school. It was an anomaly then - but it seems to be taking hold somehat now - as the Jewish Star recently reported. Parents struggling severely with their finances to the point of dire need are pulling their kids.

Let us look at the budget side. Why have they increased so drastically? There are many reasons - most of them good ones.

Teachers in the past were paid near poverty level wages. This meant that very few qualified people were getting into that field. Of the few who did get into Jewish education and were good at it - demand for their services was high. Competition for them between schools ended up raising their salaries.

Benefits packages have increased too. Health insurance premiums have gone up dramatically and that has increased the budgets without teachers even feeling any benefit. They still get the same coverage. Only it costs the school more.

Administrative salaries are much higher now than in the past. Good principals are hard to find and if you want good people in education running your child’s school your are going to have pay for them. Good pricipals will be recruited from outside education with tantalizingly higher salaries being dangled in front of them for their talents. Dedicated as they are they stay in education even though it usually means they still make less than they would in the business world. But they would not stay for peanuts!

The there are special educations programs offered dealing with LD children or gifted children. There are teacher’s aides, small class sizes, good secular teachers… on sight psychologists, physical education teachers, music teachers, theater productions ( e.g. Erev Shira), expansion costs …it all adds up to something the community cannot afford. But where do you cut?

There is an idea floating around about a no frills day school. If I recall correctly it was an initiative proposed by a Rabbinical Council of America committee who had worked on it. It would eliminate some of the expenses by increasing class size, doing away with enrichment programs and other cost cutting measures. But I doubt that a school budget of even a no frills day school will be reduced by all that much. The lion’s share of any budget is teachers’ salaries. Teachers and principals still need to make a decent living. The era of poverty wages for educators is over. Thank goodness.

That is the ‘Reader’s Digest’ version of why the budgets have increased. And why the deficits have too. And it is why in part the Jewish community is in biggest educational crisis since World War II.

As I said I have no real solutions. We can neither afford to lose students to public schools nor good teachers and administrators to the business world.

But if things keep going the way they are... we may lose significant numbers of both.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Extremist Mainstream American Charedi

Original draft of today's Emes Ve-Emunah's post

As many know from reading this blog, I am a fan of Jonathan Rosenblum even though our Hashkafos are different. He is a Charedi with strong ‘Torah Im Derech Eretz’ leanings. I am a Centrist who believes in Torah U’Mada. Even though we may occasionally disagree - that does not diminish my respect and admiration for him.

On the contrary. I find him to be honest and forthright proponent of his Hashkafos. He is both an intelligent and erudite writer with few peers in the Charedi world. In fact I find myself agreeing with him more often than not.

In a recent article published in Hamodia, Jonathan took issue with the current custom of automatically going to learn in Israel for a year or two which has created an explosion in numbers of American students now learning in Israel. Specifically - he lamented the fact that this has given rise to a significant increase in the risk of young people going ‘Off the Derech’ to one degree or another. He therefore admonished parents to be more aware of these risks and be more hands on in selecting a Yeshiva. Perhaps more importantly he urged parents to realistically evaluate their child’s commitment to the beliefs and values in which they have been raised.

This certainly seems like a quite reasonable concern to be vigilant about.

But Jonathan seems to have been victimized the same as I have been when criticizing the Charedi status quo. The minute one takes a critical view of things Charedi one becomes subject to attacks by Charedi Kannoim - usually anonymously. But there is a difference when I get it. My criticisms are usually met with comments like ‘Who are you to criticize? You are an outsider?’ That is followed with the typical ‘You’re nothing more than a Charedi basher!’

That of course is a false reading of my motives and a gross misrepresentation of my views. Nevertheless I can certainly understand that a given Charedi might make that assumption . The thinking goes: I have an agenda to promote my Hashkafos. And it serves my purpose to put down other Hashkafos which automatically builds up mine. Understandable but wrong.

But Jonathan can certainly not be criticized that way. He is ‘one of them’. But that didn’t stop it from coming:

Here is an excerpt from his recent article:

My op-ed " " in the July 23 Hamodia has occasioned more than the usual amount of comment, both in the form of an unusually large outpouring of published letters to the editor and in phone calls and private comments conveyed to me. Some of those comments have been favorable, even effusively so, and some no less critical – at least one anonymous caller took the time to call from the States to convey his opinion that I had lost my Olam Haba, chas ve'shalom.

He loses his Olam Haba. This is how some in that world see it. They will not accept any criticism at all. The slightest suggestion by anyone that something is wrong rewards them with this kind of retort – even when the benevolent intent is clear.

This response was not from some fringe fanatic. There are obviously some Charedim who believe that what Jonathan said was absolutely wrong in the extreme. Were this comment from some hot-headed fanatic Jonathan probably would have ignored it. The only difference is that he went so far as to ‘inform’ Jonathan that he actually lost his Chelek in Olam Haba – his portion in the world to come.

Based on my own experience there are indeed many Charedim who think this way: One may not criticize the status quo. One should leave any criticism in the hands of ‘the Gedolim’. If they haven’t said anything there must be nothing wrong. So any criticsm is - not only not warranted but – but it assures that one will lose his place in the world to come.

I have asked this question before. But I raise it again. Where do these poeple get these ideas from? How can anyone criticse another for expressing a heartfelt suggestion clearly made in the best interests of that very community? By one of their very own?

They want to criticize me? OK. I understand that they might see me as ‘the enemy’. But Jonathan Rosenblum?

The only answer that seems to explain it is that this is how they are indoctrinated: The world of Torah is holy. Don’t dare tamper with it – if ‘the Gedolim’ haven’t said anything is wrong then we are not permitted to entertain that notion… Not without risking our portion in the afterlife.

There are sincere constituents of the Charedi world that think this way. I used to get a lot of them commenting right here on my blog – in far less flattering ways than Jonathan did.

I can only surmise that there are competing versions of Charedi Chinuch. There are Mechnchim that advocate the approach of Jonathan’s critic. And there is another – far more realistic Charedi approach that is more self examining - willing to listen to criticism.

The question arises, which Yeshivos teach their students to think in this Kanoistic way? And why? And how many students as a percentage of all Charedim get indoctrinated this way?

My guess is that they are in the minority. I believe that moderate Charedim are indeed in the majority.

But that doesn’t elimnate the problem. There seems to be significant numbers of Yeshovos and Mechnchim that indoctrinate their student like this. Left unchecked their numbers will grow.

The battle lines are drawn. I really do feel that there is a war between the two Charedi approaches even if many Charedim would disagree. It is the moderate Charedi world against the extremist Charedi world. And by extremist I am not talking about the Meah Shearim types. They are a horse of an entierly different color. I am talking about mainstream, American Yeshivos that teach this rigid kanoistic version of Charedism.

It is imperative to fight this mindset. I will continue to do my part. But it is far more important for the moderate Charedi world to fight this with every ounce of strength they can muster. They cannot afford to sit on their hands and say. ‘Not to worry - the majority of us are not like that.’ There are enough Kannoim out there like Jonathan’s critic to intimidate the system into their world view. Moderate Charedim need to realize that the determined response of a zealous minority can be far more effective than the complacent attitude of the majority. And they need to fight it.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

What Do Women Want?

Original Draft - Post for Emes Ve-Emunah:

What do Women Want? This is title of an article in Ynet - a question that is ostensibly answered by one Shimon Stern who is a spokesman for some sort of Rabbinic Committee for Transportation Affairs in Israel. One wonders exactly who comprises this committee. I doubt it would be anyone who I would see as my rabbinic authority.

Be that as it may, his answer to the question is that women want to sit separately from men on the back of a bus. I wonder how women that I know would respond to that question. I doubt that a single one would respond the way he says they would.

Mr. Stern ‘proves’ his contention from other countries that have gender segregated buses. This shows it to be a universal and not necessarily religious goal for women. Women who therefore want to eliminate sex segregated buses in Israel are dismissed as obsessive radicals! Here is the way he describes them in an article in Ynet:

(They are) reformers and other radicals (who) are suddenly coming up with ridiculous claims in order to tease and destroy something that only has to do with the ultra-Orthodox community. We are dealing with a handful of people who are obsessed with the haredim.

Right! He read their collective minds and knows their motivations. He goes on to claim that protests against gender segregated buses have been meager compared to thousands who rallied in favor of the segregated buses in Jerusalem…

His answer to those who say that segregated buses have led to violence is that violence occurs in non segregated buses too. And in any case when laws and regulations are established such violence will end. Tell that to Mrs. Miriam Shear who was beaten to a pulp for sitting in the men’s section of a mixed gender bus that was only unofficially used as a segregated bus. The rules and regulations were on her side!

Another assertion he makes is that it is a universal Halacha to segregate the sexes:

Every haredi, man or woman, follows Jewish Law – which according to all rabbis rules that segregation is mandatory.

He also claims that even some secular women have communicated their preference for sex segregated seating.

What he fails to understand is that sex segregated buses are not a Halachic requirement despite his claim to the contrary. If it were you would never see any Charedi Rabbanim on non sex segregated buses. Nor would you see Teshuvos by such eminent Poskim as Rav Moshe Feinstein who does not insist that segregation is mandatory.

What he additionally fails to understand is that the democratic concept of ‘the majority rules’ should not deny the rights of the minority. That the majority of his community wants this arrangement entitles them to have it - destroys the rights of the minority who do not. It is wrong to force your religious standards of the majority upon minority that does not want it.

Mr. Stern does come up with one intelligent statement:

Each person has the right to decide, for themselves, what constitutes humiliation or respect.

That is absolutely true. But he uses that to springboard to his unsustainable conclusion:

I therefore think that it is clear that a community espousing gender-segregated systems at schools, synagogues, and celebrations is also allowed to decide that sitting separately is not humiliating…

The conclusion should be exactly the opposite. Different people have different attitudes about what constitutes humiliation or respect. And the rights of all should be protected. One segment should not have their way if it sacrifices the rights of others. If there is a woman who feels humiliated by being forced to sit at the back of a bus her rights ought to be protected. Not that he cares.

One might ask what about those who feel humiliated by sitting in a mixed gender bus? They are certainly the majority in those neighborhoods.

There is only one answer to this problem. They should have their own busing system. And in this I sympathize with this community’s past efforts to have one. The powerful government owned bus monopoly thwarted all their past efforts in doing that. The government did not want to lose the business. I can’t imagine why though. They are so heavily subsidized - they would probably save money by allowing them their own buses.

If the Charedim want to have their own bus lines, I think the government ought to let them. Public on the other hand buses should be as they always have been in Israel since the beginning of the State (until about 15 years ago). Mixed gender. In the long run I think that would make everyone happier.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Dependency Class

Original draft of Emes Ve-Emunah Post

The world of Charedi Avreichim – married students who spend many years in Kollel - has evolved into a dependency class. They survive almost entirely on government handouts. This is true for both Israel and the United States. It was not always this way. Avreichim in Europe of less than even 100 years ago were an small but elite group of brilliant students that were supported by their communities. The vast majority of Charedim worked. But now there are huge numbers of Avreichim that cannot survive without some sort of government handout.

But government handouts are not enough to maintain an even modest middle class lifestyle. So other handouts are sought usually from parents and grandparents who have made money the hard way – by working for it.

In most cases parents supporting children with large families is a near impoverishing exercise. They have worked a lifetime to pay for the Jewish education of their children; to pay off a mortgage; to have a retirement nest egg. But supporting multiple large families in a Kollel empties out bank accounts; re-establishes mortgages; and even life insurance policies are cashed in - all so that their sons and sons-in-law along with their large families can be free of the burden of work and learn Torah full time for many years. All while putting many middle income parents into the poorhouse in their golden years.

This gross injustice to these hard working parents is unconscionable - even though they may be willing participants. But that is not the only problem. This cannot go on forever. The next generation of Avreichim will have even poorer parents to rely upon since they will have been in Kollel and end up with lower paying jobs not requiring higher education. Nor are government handouts a sure thing for the future. In this economy government handouts are not guaranteed. The government may legislate stricter guidelines for welfare which will be detrimental to Avreichim.

What makes this type of dependency class even worse is that many Yeshivos and Kollelim - not the least of which is Lakewood - actually encourage it. They pressure parents for support and examine every possible way to get money out of the government. They will utilize every loophole so that their married students can somehow survive without working.

Charedi Yeshivos like Lakewood see welfare payments as a sort of government based stipend for their ‘graduate students’ (Avreichim). This abuses a government program designed for the poor - not for middle class Avreichim.

This is not only a Chilul HaShem in my view but lends itself to tremendous abuse. It is not a big step from legally abusing the system to illegally abusing it. How many Avreichim who come from middle class backgrounds and live basically middle class lifestyles – and nonetheless use every possible loophole of every government welfare program to help finance their learning in Kollel? While they may be technically eligible – it is an ethical lapse of monumental proportion in my view.

They will rationalize and say things like: if a common neighborhood crack-head mother gets welfare checks - why shouldn’t I?

It is not hard to see how this kind of thinking leads the justifications of massive frauds like the recent cases of money laundering by ‘religious’ Jews. They think the government wastes so much money on useless projects and lowlifes anyway– why not divert some of that waste it to a better use in one of their holy institutions?

Dina D’Machusa Dina? Phtttt! What’s that?! - compared to the need to keep Yeshiva X open? Or to make sure that teachers are paid on time? Or to help a community of poor Avreichim can survive? -especially in these economic times

Chilul HaShem? ‘That’s ridiculous’ - they will tell themselves. ‘We will never get caught!’

Well guess what. There is no such thing as a free lunch. And the proverbial chickens will come home to roost. But don’t listen to me. Rabbi Berel Wein said it so much better than I can in last Friday’s Jerusalem Post.

There is, however, a light at the end of the tunnel. My constant harping on the need for Charedim to get a decent secular education seems to be shared by over half of them - even in Israel - according to another article in the Jerusalem Post:

The Shiluv Group, the Israeli representative of the Millward Brown research company, asked a sample of 500 haredim if they would be interested in earning an academic degree in preparation for professions such as medicine, nursing, economics and law.

53% said they would be interested. Among Chasidim the percentage rose to 59%! On the other hand among the non Chadsidic ‘Lithuanian’ Charedim the percentage is only 42%.

This is good news. My only question can these numbers be translated into reality? Can we turn desire into actual attendance? Can we get 53% of all Charedim in Israel and the US to go to college? I sure hope so. Because that would mean a major change in the way things work in the Charedi world – for the better. This may not be a win for Torah U’Mada - or even classic Torah Im Derech Eretz. But it is a major win for Torah U’Parnassa.

We need to make it happen. Because the dependency class is doomed to failure.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Grrrrrrr!

I have tried several times to get haloscan on board here. ...followed the instructions each time. Each time they told me I should see haloscan here. But got absolutely nowhere.