Jewish Education Should Be a Right Not a Privilege

I have a love hate relationship with my son’s Jewish Day School education.  I love that my son went through 10 years in a private school, and hate that it was a financial struggle to keep him there for so long.  In a time when there are a record number of inter-faith marriages, why don’t Jewish institutions for learning not fight to keep Jewish kids there?

I’m not saying if your kid goes to Jewish high school he is going to marry a Jew, but it matters.  To have a foundation about Jewish learning matters.  When you are in an environment for 50 hours a week, and your options for dating are all Jewish, it matters.  Even if you date someone who is not Jewish, your Jewish identity is solid.

When my son was 2 ½ he entered into a conservative Jewish ECC.  He was there until kindergarten, then entered into the Day School.  He stayed in the school until he completed 6th Grade.  My goal, from the moment he started at the ECC, was for him to complete his Day School, middle school, and high school education at a Jewish school.  It was my dream and what he wanted.

When my son left 6th grade he read Hebrew perfectly.  He embraced the Jewish learning that was a major part of his education, and there was a moment, around the 4th grade, when my son told me he might want to be a Rabbi.  He was just a little kid and he also wanted to be a fireman, but when he said it I was proud, and knew all the sacrifices were worth it.

My ex-husband did not participate in the payment of tuition.  He felt a private school, particularly a Jewish one, was a choice, not a requirement, and so he refused to pay.  I paid for 10 years all by myself.  My Jewish ex-husband turned his back on our faith and as I write this, is probably decorating his Christmas tree and counting all the money he saved.

I was lucky to have a Head of School who was lovely.  She fought for me to keep my son in the school.  There were years when paying the astronomical tuition was really, really hard, but she helped me.  She was on my side, and it made all the difference in the world. The decision to give me financial aid however, was not hers alone and I was forced to beg, more than once.

I was a single mother, who desperately wanted to keep my son in a Jewish environment as I felt I needed the back up.  My son was spending time with his dad, who was not a practicing Jew, and marrying a woman who was not Jewish.  When you are little, having one house full of dreidels, and one with a Christmas tree, it’s a struggle to know what your path is.

My son is a Jew.  By birth and by how he practices faith.  He will tell you he is a Jew and he will tell you with pride.  He is now in high school and thriving in a creative environment, but he would have thrived in a Jewish environment also.  He is not learning about Judaism in the same way he would have if he were at a Jewish High School and there is not time for Hebrew School.

This week the Jewish Journal printed a story about how The New Jewish Community High School bought the Milken JCC Campus.  You can read that article here: NEW JEW  I know people who have kids there, and they are happy and thriving in the Jewish environment.  At the same time, it makes resentful that my son is not one of the kids excited about their new campus.

My son was in first grade when New Jew opened it’s doors and my goal was to have my son there.  I had it planned out.  He would finish at his Day School, go to Heschel in Northridge for middle school, and then to New Jew for high school.  My plan was brilliant, until Heschel refused to give me scholarship money for my son to attend middle school.

They offered me a few dollars of course, but not enough for it to make Heschel an option.  I wrote letters to the Head of School, the director of Admissions and the PTA President.  If you had a job at Heschel, you got a letter from me asking for help.  I explained my situation and how important it was for me to have my son at a Jewish school.

My ex-husband even came said he would support the choice for our son to attend, but would not pay.  I never got a response.  Not one reply.  The same people, who are always complaining about how Jewish kids are opting out of Jewish education, did not think it was important to help a single Jewish mother whose goal was to have her kid remain in a Jewish school.

Here’s the thing, I get that it costs money to educate a child in this environment.  I was not asking for my kid to go for free.  I was simply asking for help.  I am blessed that my son is happy, healthy and doing well in high school.  I am infinitely proud of him, but if given the opportunity to have had him in a Jewish school, it would have been my preference.

At what point does being Jewish become important than money?  Would my getting financial aid have caused ruin to the school?  Would it not have been more “Jewish” to embrace my child, rather than send him the message that in order receive a Jewish education you need to have money?  Is that not selling the stereotypes we are all so offended by?

I imagine New Jew spent a pretty penny on their new campus.  They will be in a wonderful location, with beautiful facilities for their kids, but something will be missing, and that is my son.  They will not have the privilege of teaching this incredible child and that is a shame.  Heschel should be ashamed of themselves for putting money ahead of Judaism.

My son still reads Hebrew, just a little slower.  He stills goes to shul, just a little less often.  He still hopes to marry a Jewish girl, just with a little less conviction.  His life is different because of where he goes to school and I will always wonder how things would have been if I was able to provide him the Jewish education that I wanted for him, and he deserved.

I will be at shul tonight for Friday night services.  I will sit, pray, sing and be proud of my son.  I will be grateful that I was able to give him 10 solid years of Jewish education.  Will I be a little resentful of the new campus of New Jew knowing that my son is not there just because of money? Yes.  Will I be able to let it go?  I’m keeping the faith