Trudie Pert

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Trudie Pert: Jack Wertheimer says it's expensive to be Jewish. The government must help.

Trudie Pert: The “High Cost of Jewish Living,” the feature article in the March, 2010, issue of Commentary Magazine, demonstrates how easily Jews will turn their backs on long held politically ensconced beliefs when it is to their advantage. 

 According to the author, Jack Wertheimer, the economic downturn has been rough on all but the wealthiest Jews.  In NYC alone, it is estimated that 350,000 of the 1.4 million Jews live at or below subsistence levels.  Synagogues and Jewish relief agencies have been overwhelmed with increases in demand for aid, while contributions to these organizations have steadily fallen.   At the same time, philanthropic agencies, often depending on the contributions of a very few wealthy benefactors, have seen their budgets drastically cut. 

Why is the cost of Jewish living so high? For one thing, the cost of eating only Kosher food, especially meat, can double the grocery bill.  Prices rise during holidays like Passover, when grocery bills can increase hundreds to thousands of dollars.  For a middle class family synagogue membership will run into the thousands, as will membership in social organizations like the nationwide Jewish Community Centers. 

However, the largest expenditures, and the area where contributions are lowest, are those for Jewish pre-college education. Ever more families have withdrawn their children from inferior public schools and placed them into Jewish day schools.  Depending on their quality these charge between $15,000 to $30,000 per year.  Add to that residential summer camps, at $650 to $800 per week, and the obligatory trip to Israel, the result is that many Jewish parents are over-extended.  

Whenever possible, however, they continue to make the expenditures, because they believe that only a thoroughly Jewish education will “increase the chances of children learning the skills necessary ….to identify strongly with other Jews…and retain their heritage in a society that exerts enormous assimilatory pressures.” According to Wertheimer, the affordability of high quality and total immersion Jewish education is essential for another important reason: the majority of Jewish leaders and activists have been formed by Jewish-only education.  Though Orthodox Jews often have lower incomes, they have continued to provide an education for their young because they pool their contributions, whether they have children or not.  It is the middle class that has been most affected by the economic downturn, and for whom Jewish education has become prohibitively expensive. 

Wertheimer proposes two solutions to solve the problem of the high cost of Jewish education. Both involve federal aid and the redefining of the previously strong wall separating church and state. 

Among Wertheimer’s suggestions for direct federal aid to Jewish schools are the following: 

  1. vouchers to include middle class families
  2. tax credits for individuals and corporate contributions
  3. a change in the tax laws so that families could deduct tuition on their federal returns.
  4. direct subsidies for tuition in Jewish day schools
  5. using public school teachers to teach general subjects in Jewish day schools at taxpayer expense

The second solution which Jack Wertheimer proposes uses as a model the federal “Teach for America” program. Wertheimer calls for the creation of a Jewish Teach for America.  This he envisions as serving a double purpose. Not only would it provide government-subsidized Jewish teachers for the national web of Jewish day schools, it would also strengthen the Jewish identity of the volunteers. 

Wertheimer’s politically expedient  proposal to substantially increase the amount and type of Federal aid to Jewish schools is quite surprising considering the decades long Jewish effort to build a strong wall separating church and state, and public and parochial schools.  His proposals should be closely considered and perhaps emulated by Whites, both devout and merely “cultural” Christians, who are also interested in preventing the assimilation of their children into the multi-cultural cesspool of public education and in establishing their separate cultural identity beginning in primary school.    

Trudie Pert is a pen name. Her most recent article for TOO is Birthright Israel. Email her.

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