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The Jewish Costs of Jewish Education

My husband and I long ago decided that a Jewish day school education was a top priority for us. I attended Jewish day school from pre-school through high school, and I feel that the daily immersion in Jewish texts and a Jewish environment during my formative years continues to enrich me spiritually and intellectually. My husband attended Hebrew school through his bar mitzvah. He found it stultifying, and he learned little. While he has spent time during his adult life studying, he feels like he can, in his own words, “never catch up,” the way a language learner who begins study in adulthood might feel impossibly behind next to someone who has been speaking a language since the age of three. He envies me the knowledge I wear like a second skin. And so, we decided we wanted our children to attend Jewish day to school to have the opportunity to rigorously delve into the Jewish texts, rich in their nuance and complexity; to be immersed in Jewish traditions, from the laws and rituals to the songs and symbols; surrounded by a love for Israel; steeped in the importance of giving and contributing to society. We wanted them to spend their days as part of the Jewish community. We found a school that reflected our world views, combining a liberal, progressive pedagogy with deep learning and a commitment to religious egalitarianism.

But then I became pregnant with and delivered our third child, and we became engulfed with worry about how we were going to afford tuition for all three girls. My husband and I began to examine the changes that we could make in our lives in order to be able to afford astronomical tuition costs. We already live fairly modest lives, and we knew that the change would have to be something significant, beyond cutting out the occasional dinner delivery. There were only two real places we could make such a change. We could move to the suburbs, where both living costs and tuitions would be less expensive, or I could stop freelancing as a documentary film producer, writer and editor, and go back to work full time. Since the birth of my first child I first worked part time and then moved to freelancing, with an extremely flexible schedule. This has enabled me to spend days at home with my children, as well as go on class trips and to doctor appointments, to be with them when they are sick, to be home when the babysitter is sick. It has enriched our family life and our individual lives in many ways – but not financially.