A Commitment toEducation

In a move that many see as a turning point for thefuture of Jewish education in Los Angeles, the Jewish Federation ofGreater Los Angeles board agreed last week to almost double theamount that the Federation gives to Jewish day and Hebrewschools.

“I am elated,” said Dr. Gil Graff, executivedirector of the Bureau of Jewish Education. “I think that itunderscores the reality that the community recognizes that Jewisheducation is an important and essential issue that requires moresupport.”

The 1998 Planning and Allocations (P&A)report, which the board approved at its Jan. 20 meeting, calls for a$1 million increase to the BJE budget. Half of that money will beadded to the existing fund of $1.1 million and disbursed among theSouthland’s 37 day schools and about 50 “supplemental” Hebrewschools. A task force chaired by Mark Lainer, president of the JewishEducation Service of North America (JESNA) — the national educationarm of the Council of Jewish Federations — will decide how theremaining $500,000 should be spent.

The Federation’s allocation of an average of $100per day-school student is among the lowest in the country, saidP&A director Carol Koransky. The average in other communities isabout $490 per pupil. Additional funding still will not narrow thegap completely, but it will almost double the per-student amount, shesaid. The hope is that possibly a new endowment program, createdthrough the Jewish Community Foundation, will be able to come up withmore funding.

Federation President Herb Gelfand, whom some havedubbed the “education president” because of his vocal determinationto increase funding for Jewish schools, has met, along withFederation Executive Vice President John Fishel, with day-schoolprincipals on several occasions. He spoke strongly in favor of themove to board members. Los Angeles now needs to pay attention toeducating its Jewish children for the future, Gelfand said. “It’s adisgrace that we spend $100 per child.”

There is no debating the need: The cost of Jewisheducation is extremely high, and many families, particularly thosewith several children, simply cannot afford to send their kids toJewish day schools. At Emek Hebrew Academy, an Orthodox schoolserving about 600 children in preschool through eighth grade, as manyas 40 percent of the students at the two campuses in North Hollywoodand Sherman Oaks need some kind of financial aid, EducationalDirector Rabbi Yochanan Stepen said. “We have to raise more than$500,000,” he said.

According to much-quoted research, a Jewishday-school education is an excellent way of ensuring Jewishcontinuity, which accounts for the high premium that the Los AngelesFederation — and others around the country — has placed onincreasing the amount spent to support the schools.

At the Jan. 20 board meeting, no one disputed theneed for providing additional support for Jewish education; thesticking point was where the money would come from. According toFishel, about $430,000 would be subtracted from the Federation’soverseas allocation to the United Jewish Appeal, with the other$470,000 coming from unspecified additional funds. “It’s a matter ofpriorities,” said Fishel, in response to concerns about reducing aidto Jews in Israel and elsewhere overseas. As important as theoverseas agenda is, adding $1 million to the fund for Jewisheducation “is making a strong statement that without assuring thestrength and viability of Jewish education, in our community,particularly among our kids, the whole concept of Klal Yisrael is atrisk.”

The $1 million increase, while not solving allproblems, “is a very significant statement of recognition thateducation is a key area of community concern,” said Graff.

In the 1997-98 school year, 9,375 students attend37 Jewish day schools in the greater Los Angeles area, and about13,500 students are in the Hebrew schools, Graff said. Costs for dayschools range from about $7,500 to $12,000. Nearly 80 percent of theBJE allocation goes to day schools, with the remaining 20 percentearmarked for supplemental schools, which cost far less but are stillout of range for some Jewish families. “There is no such thing as aJewish school, either supplementary or day, that is operating in theblack,” Graff said.

The cost of day school has become prohibitive formany middle-class Jewish parents and completely out of the questionfor poor families, said Dr. George Lebovitz, headmaster of KadimaHebrew Academy, a Conservative day school in Woodland Hills. About120 of Kadima’s 350 students receive some form of scholarship, saidLebovitz. He said the school’s allotment from the BJE is about$28,000, and it expects to receive an additional $13,000 or $14,000from the first $500,000 the Federation distributes. Last year, theschool handed out $375,000 in scholarships, so, even with increasesfrom the BJE, it has a lot of money to raise.

Rabbi Stepen of Emek Hebrew Academy called the $1million increase “a new beginning.” Since 1991, when the BJE budgetfor Jewish schools was at a high of about $1.6 million, “there havebeen tremendous cuts made because the Federation campaign didn’t goso well,” Stepen said. “Now there is recognition that instead ofcutting, they’re going to add $1 million. They’re going to put theirmoney where their mouth is. I think that it is a tremendousaccomplishment.”