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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Guest Post: Headed Off a Cliff

Thank you R. Chaim B for letting me use your post as a guest post. See original post at Divrei Chaim. Also see notes from Rav Schachter's talk about what constitutes kehilla and how tzedakah should be allocated. Also see post on the Baltimore Initiative which is an attempt to keep tzedakah in the community.

Guest post follows:

You are probably better off reading a blog like Orthonomics rather than mine for discussions of the financial crisis in the Jewish community, but I want to rant about a recent event in my community which I thought illustrative of some of the larger problems. Two newspaper stories that appeared about a week apart: the first about a Rebbe from Boro Park who was hosted for a fundraising breakfast widely endorsed by askanim and Rabbanim on behalf of his yeshiva [Orthonomics: see link], the second about a local girls' high school which the board of directors overseeing it decided this week to shutdown ostensibly because of financial difficulties [Orthonomics: see link]. Question: how can it be that in one of the wealthiest Jewish communities in the Unites States, a community that has the resources to fund yeshivos far afield of its geographical location, yeshivos which will not have kollelniks saying shiurim in that community, which will not have graduates moving back to that community, will not even have graduates who teach in that community's schools, how can this community allow a high school which services its own to collapse? How does this make sense?

But who am I to dictate how tzedaka should be spend -- who indeed can set such terms? The answer is the Torah can. Is there not a halacha of "aniyei ircha kodmin", that the poor of your city take precedence? Is there not a halacha that when hundreds of boxes are being packed on Thursday night for Tomchei Shabbos because people in the community literally need help putting food on their table and there is a shortage of funds and manpower to make that happen that fixing that need should be a priority vastly more important than insuring that a Rebbe from some other community can keep his yeshiva running? I guess you need to be a semi-anonymous blogger to get away with saying these things.

In my not-humble opinion the primary tzedaka directive of any community should be to make sure people have food and shelter. The second most important tzedaka is to make sure there is a place to daven, a mikvah, and schools. Only when those needs are met should members of the community be pouring funds into outside charities, which I have no doubt are worthy and important, but must take a back seat to the community's own needs.

And when I say needs I mean needs. A shul can get by without stained glass windows and a high school can exist without offering 10 AP courses and having a full gym program. A school cannot function without paying teachers and a shul cannot get by without paying its electric bill.

Just like the meaning of "needs" has been forgotten the meaning of the word "community" has been lost. It would perhaps require a miracle for the directors of a shul to say to a person giving a check for those beautiful stained glass windows, "Thank you, but that yeshiva really needs to make its payroll more than we need that window, so maybe you would like to give your check over there..." It is very hard to do that even if that school is just blocks away from the shul... after all, how many of our mispallelim really send to that school? And doesn't that school have its own supporters? And who is managing the money there? etc. etc. And let's face reality: your name looks really nice in stained glass, but no one really knows who helped the yeshiva make payroll.

Even if the community pooled its resources effectively, institutions need to become leaner and better run. The tuition at one local high school is posted at $24,000. Question: when the average wage in the United States is about $42,000, how does it make sense to expect a parent who may have 2 kids in high school to have $48,000 in excess income just to cover both tuitions? It's just not possible. A more affordable program may require sacrifices in terms of courses offered and extra-curricular programming, but it must be done or that school deserves to fail.

The first steps to re mediating issues like these are obvious. How about audits by a community va'ad of rabbanim and professionals, much like annual reports issued by public companies? How about schools sharing resources to garner the savings of economies of scale? How about handling tzedaka through a pool which then is distributed to local institutions based on proven need rather than the whim of individuals? How about reconsidering whether a new shul or new kollel is really needed and can be sustained or whether it amounts to being poreish min hatzibur from existing institutions and robbing them of funding? There are many other good ideas out there which need to be explored.

I'm too cynical to hope discussions about these issues will do much good because the people with deep pockets who have political and financial power will determine their own course of action. We are communally headed off a cliff -- that's the real crisis.


way to go said...

Yasher koach Chaim and SL.

Maybe the 5 towns school should make an appeal in BP. Let's see how much the Munkatchers donate.

The Munkatcher release in the 5tjt is way exaggerated in the picture it paints of that sect, the school and its leaders. It is written in the typically exaggerated style used by writers such as Gershon Tannenbaum in the Jewish Press. It is actually a relatively small and minor sect. What seems to have happened is that an affluent Munkatcher moved to the 5 towns to escape the 'ambiance' of the borough where the headquarters of his sect stands, but has nevertheless brought his leader to his new area for a fundraising outing.

As an aside, just because there is a fancy press release and coverage in the 5TJT, doesn't mean that the outing was a roaring success. Ditto, the impressive looking list of 'Rabbinic sponsors' for the event doesn't really mean much. It can be difficult for Rabbis to turn down requests to let their names be used for fundraising. Just because they allowed (or maybe they didn't, but that is another story) their names to be used in an advertisement, doesn't mean that they actively support such an incursion into their territory by a BP Hassidic sect.

P.S. It is interesting that while usually they spell it Chaim V'Shulem, for the 5T crowd it was changed to Chaim V'Shalom.

Ahavah Gayle said...

Relocalization of one's giving is certainly a sound principle of sustainability for our communities, but the fact is relying on charity in the first place is a non-starter. Yes, the tuitions are impossibly high for the average household income. Yes, housing is also orders of magnitude beyond average wages in affordability. And food continues to rise and rise... There are only so many people with excess wealth out there, and their investments are tanking along with the rest of the economy - yet the need for tuition assistance and charity continues to grow. In spite of that, or perhaps because of it, most institutions are simply going to HAVE to adopt a pay-as-you-go balanced budget, and NOT rely on charities for their core expenses, such as payroll.

The suggestions you made might work in an ideal world, but this isn't. A communal structure for funding of schools or charities simply won't work, because the Ravs will not approve having any of "their" money sent to schools where the people won't observe their stringencies. Nor will they accept equality with Ravs whose schools and shuls don't cater to the "chumra-of-the-week" and who aren't upset about the "indignation-du-jour." The Ravs have their little fiefdoms and will not willingly give them up, nor will they share power with those "sinners" down the street. It's just not going to happen.

Anonymous said...

I suppose the last phase before breakdown is "eating your own". So, maybe there will be a few bouts of this type of cross-neighborhood fundraising, but it isn't going to work and eventually a bunch of [expensive] institutions will close down anyway. Ironically, that is part of the cure - closing down expensive institutions and starting new less expensive ones.


ProfK said...

Chaim B makes the following statement early in his posting: "Question: how can it be that in one of the wealthiest Jewish communities in the Unites can this community allow a high school which services its own to collapse? How does this make sense?"

Towards the end of the posting he says: "How about reconsidering whether a new shul or new kollel is really needed and can be sustained or whether it amounts to being poreish min hatzibur from existing institutions and robbing them of funding?"

It would seem that his first question may be answered by his second question. Was the new high school needed and was it "robbing" funds from an existing institution? We know that it was not the only girls high school of its type in the area since girls from the closed high school are going to HALB and to Shulamis. They would not be going there if the two schools were not similar to the one that is closing. Nor are these the only girls high schools in the area to choose from. So, perhaps Shalhevet should not have been begun to begin with? Perhaps it was duplicating a type of school already available? Perhaps a school whose policy is such that, according to the newspaper article, all girls were on full or partial scholarship, while being supported financially by another school was "an idea whose time had not yet come" but was started anyway?

I'd also ask this: do yeshivas have a "right" to being? Once they are begun is there a moral obligation to see to it that they continue, regardless of fiscal policy or backing? I can think of lots of yeshivas that have opened and closed over the years, with a lot less public fuss than what is being made over Shalhevet. I ask myself "why?" And I'm thinking that the answer will contain more than just "not enough money" in it.

Chaim B. said...

>>>since girls from the closed high school are going to HALB and to Shulamis.

Shulamis does not have a H.S. in the 5T and the one is Brooklyn announced much earlier this year that they would not have an incoming 9th grade class.

Secondly, but taking two sentences out of context you distort the point. Yes, if the community was already overburdened with the task of supporting existing schools, then a new one should not open. But if there are enough funds to spare for an outside kollel, then there are enough funds to give girls within the community another option. Do you mean to say that the M.... (I prefer to leave out the name) kollel is so different than other kollelim that it deserves not only the support of its community but ours as well, but Shulamit, HALB, Shalhevet are all pretty much the same and we can throw one overboard without much worry?

>>>because the Ravs will not approve having any of "their" money sent to schools where the people won't observe their stringencies.

Firstly, "Ravs" have really very little say in where the money goes, at least not in a community like the 5T. It is boards of laypersons who make those decisions.

Secondly, if "chumra" oriented schools can offer a decent education for less than half the tuition of other schools, then why should they share funding with institutions which offer at best a margainally better secular education (at the cost of far less limudei kodesh) at enormously higher costs? Do you support proping up GM and Ford with government money when Toyota makes a better car?

Anonymous said...

Please. Yussie O. can create any fundraiser that he wants. Doesn't mean that your regular Joe (or Yankel) is going to give. Consider it more like a Socialite event that a Tzedaka fundraiser. Many of the Rabbonim in the Five towns have already discussed the importance of giving within the community. Doesn't mean the "events" are going to stop. The super rich still need their Kavod and entertainment (perhaps deserved, as it is tzedakah, but not what they should be doing with their excess funds that they want to give.)

SephardiLady said...

I concur with Chaim about similar kehillah structure. If anything, our Rabbonim are so giving that they simply don't understand that there are limits to the structure that can be supported.

ProfK said...

Chaim B, re your statement "But if there are enough funds to spare for an outside kollel, then there are enough funds to give girls within the community another option," this assumes an either/or proposition. Either the funds should go to the local school or they should go to the outside kollel. During this economic turndown in particular, there are other choices which may have a more urgent need than "giving the girls another option." People are out of work, some have lost their health insurance, some have seen their income cut beyond bare bones. Some who were previously the "givers" may now be in a position where they have to be "takers."

Before funding a new school, which is one of many schooling options in the community and slightly outside of it as well, there are those who may feel that the extra funds from keeping tzedaka monies in the community should go to helping out people/families in need first. There are some who will feel that feeding people comes before yet another yeshiva, in the community or outside of it.

I don't have a "horse" in this race so maybe I'm looking at it just a tad more objectively than those in the community where the school closed. If a new school had attempted to open in our community during this past year they would have been told point blank "don't bother, community monies aren't going to be flowing to you. We have other priorities RIGHT NOW."

Honestly Frum said...

Thank You. I ahve been saying this for months but to no avail. When a school cannot meet its payroll and teachers are being fires we should not be bringing in guest rabbonim from outside communites to host parlor meetings, regardless of how important that organization may be. Our community as a whole has a problem in that, as you said, we want to give only to the places that are attractive and that will put my name in lights regardless of what is going on around me. It's time to start rethinking how we handle tzedakah in our community. Shnorers that come in the morning to collect should be shown the door just as quickly as the outside organization. I hate to sound heartless towards our brethren but our schools and shuls come first and every dollar is currently needed. Put a pushkah in the front of the shul for the local schools.

Ahavah Gayle said...

I am not in favor at all of propping up failing automakers or investment firms. And it hasn't escaped my attention, either, that this economic crisis would already be over if that "stimulus money" had simply been divided between every taxpaying citizen household instead of given to a handful of robber barons.

That being said, a community cannot become reliant on having others provide for its basic needs - education obviously being one of those needs.

I think your example is backwards, though: it is the ultra-UO and Chereidi schools that are the worst at having balanced budgets and rely heavily on charity instead of sound business planning to meet their goals. Rather one should ask why a school with good academics and parents who are actually employed should share money with schools populated for the most part by people in no danger of being able to support themselves or their school.

And the answer, of course, is that they won't. Either way, they won't. The families for whom kids who are adequately educated for parnassah are a priority are never going to have a meeting of minds with families who despise honest labour and see it as a sell-out of "Torah" values. So it's a non-starter - I was simply stating a fact, not endorsing it. I don't think the school system can hold out much longer the way things are, but the truth is that there are those, and plenty of them, who would rather see the schools go out of business than give kids an adequate academic/secular education and they're likely to get their wish.

Chaim B. said...

>>>Rather one should ask why a school with good academics and parents who are actually employed should share money with schools populated for the most part by people in no danger of being able to support themselves or their school.

I'm not sure what facts you base this on. In the 5T the school which closed is governed by the board of HAFTR, the most LW among all the schools in the neighborhood. Orthonomics recently linked to an article ( regarding the financial woes of day schools in NJ - Kushner, JEC, etc. These are far from "ultra UO" chadarim, yet, despite the support of families which often have two professional working parents, these schools are in hot water. It seems like the left is hurting at least as badly as the RW, which leads one to wonder what evidence there is to brand one system as any better than the other.

Miami Al said...

At this point, the left of Orthodoxy is being financially decimated in a way the right isn't. This makes sense, a dual income family, more likely to be exposed to the financial industry (working in it, or servicing those in it), was devastated. OTOH, those on the right are more likely to be receiving government benefits (increased in the stimulus package), employed in a religious capacity (as we saw, the schools were still talking raises), etc.

In a need to cut costs, it becomes more likely that a MO family will save money sending the children to a RW Yeshiva, which saves them money, but flows money MO -> RW.

In the current economic times, the MO institutions are FAR more vulnerable than the RW ones.

ProfK said...

Yes and no Miami Al. It is the RW schools which are way behind on teacher salaries or aren't paying them at all. As a parent I wouldn't touch a school for my kids, no matter how much less the tuition was, which is known not to pay its staff on time or ever.

And just a historical note. We seem to think that the present financial crisis is what is responsible for the RW yeshivas not paying their teachers. Not so. Many, many of them have been laggards when it came to paying salaries for many years. When I was interviewing to teach at one such RW high school in 1984 the first thing they told me, to get me to come, was that they paid every month and never missed a paycheck. There were plenty of the schools even back then that balanced their budgets on the backs of their teaching staff.

Anonymous said...

Over 30 years ago, my father, Rabbi Arye Kaplan O'H, and many other frum people were victimized by a group of Monkatche chasidim (who seemed to have the support of the entire Munkatche community behind them) who ran a massive charter airline tickets (to EY) swindel and made millions.<

Even worse, were the posters that went up around BP shouting, 'Mir toon nisht maseren' and saying they (RAK, my father, Rabbi Bichler o'h, etc.) were deserving of death.

From what I recall, approaches to Bais Din were fruitless as these people had very powerful people behind them. My father and some others scrambled, the very night they found out about the fraud and were suppose to leave JFK t ocome up with thousands of dollars to buy regular tickets to EY. I remember it so clearly.

btw, when it all came to court years later, I remember my father coming home one day all distraught and stating that the Assistant DA (who stated that his father had been frum) was extremely flabbergasted when, in passing, mention was made of underground 'znus' rings active in those Munkatche circles.

Miami Al said...

ProfK, exactly, they didn't pay their teachers when times were good, and aren't when times are bad. As a result, I don't see a change.

While to us the idea of showing up to a job that may or may not pay is absurd, that is their job. Trying to shoehorn it into the normal economy is silly.

Clearly, they continue to work for free because it is better than their alternative, so they have no other job prospects. The teachers no doubt take tuition out of their paychecks, so really when the school misses payroll, it's just some spending money, since the real payment is schooling.

In the MO world, we seeing teaching as a profession with qualified practitioners. In the RW world, whatever protests to the contrary, teaching is seen as a quid pro quo for women whose husbands are unable to pay for their children's education, or have the connections/background to not need to pay. They may talk about the importance of education, but follow the money.

mlevin said...

"...and a high school can exist without offering 10 AP courses ..."

I have a problem with that comment. Yes, on a short term high school can exist without 10 AP courses. But such HS will not be graduating students with bright future. Their graduates will lag behind and will have a limited choice or colleges and careers. Even if they insist on certain careers, it will take them longer to graduate with desired degrees because they would have to spend time taking prerequisite courses which their counterparts took in High school. Each additional year in college equals not only more tuition money, but it also means one more year without income. Income is what brings money into community, not Tzedokah, not savings or anything else. So, investing into a HS with AP classes is insuring the future of your own community.

Chaim B. said...

Looking at the local paper, a number of high priced MO H.S.'s congratulate their recent graduates on their acceptance to prestiges colleges like... CUNY, SUNY, Touro, and other state universitites. Precious few are attending the Ivy Leagues. Is it worth doubling down your tuition over 4 years just to wind up in Touro or Queens College anyway?
Seondly, it is only the top 10% or so of students who take APs and/or pass. I went to MTA and was one of only 4 students who took AP history. I was the only one in a class of 20+ to receive a 5 in AP English and earn college credit (at the time YU did not give credit for a 4 in English). Where was the net gain for the rest of the students? It is next to impossible to actually accrue a full year's worth of credit through AP courses alone.
If saving money is the goal then better students can simply shoot for early admissions into college instead of a senior year of H.S.

mlevin said...

I agree with your point about going to college a year early, but how many administrators will be willing to let their students graduate early. Majority will make it very difficult to apply early. You are forgetting that the senior year is designated to brainwashing studentbody into spending a year in Israel.

But, instead of saying that only 10% take APs so we should abondon them, we should instead figure out on how to increase that 10% number.

While it is true that most students don't have enough AP credits to cover a year of college, these classes provide a base so they could manage a heavier school load, also the knowledge aquired in these classes gives them the edge to get into the honors programs. (I'm not talking about Touro, because in my opinion it is a joke of a school. And I used to work there.) As you know, there are many who take over four years to graduate. One of the reasons is conflict in schedules. Having these AP classes behind, free students from some of these conflicts. Also, having taken these classes in High school opens a wider variety of career choices, which affect the choice of college. If a student decides in his/her sofomore year that their path of career is not available in Queens colledge, he/she would have to transfer to another. As you know there is always a credit loss during transfers. And credit loss always equals more semesters in college, later graduation, more money in tuition, postponement of a good salary.

As I pointed out before, each year a student saves on education, be it in high school or in college, is a year sooner, this student gets a job and becomes a productive member of the community. Meaning, istead of spending parent's money, he/she is now contributing by paying maser and shul fees, having fansier weddings or other celebrations, giving costlier gifts, eating out more and etc. So, yes, it will cost parents a little more in the short run, but in the long run, there will be more money circulating in the community and diminish the need for more reduced tuitions.

SephardiLady said...

As far as I am concerned, AP classes should be a joint venture of various schools in an area or should be outsourced if they cost the school too much. Personally I'd like to see more coorperation between schools and this would be an opportuniy, but given the collapse of this partnership, I'm not optimistic of schools partnering up.

My own (public) high school of over 1200 students was unable to offer a full load of AP classes because you need a certain amount of students. So students that were ready to advance into areas like Calculus BC or even higher levels of science went to Junior College in the evenings. There were also vocational classes and extracurriculars like orchestra that were joint ventures between area high schools.

bklynmom said...

I have been reading this blog for a long time, and now feel compelled to comment.
It is entirely possible to accrue a year's worth of college credits via AP courses. I did. I came into Columbia with 5 AP's under my belt, got credit for all, graduated in three years, and went to medical school. Many of my college classmates came in with credits obtained through APs and other college-level courses and graduated in three years. And a year of private college tuition costs more than a year of yeshiva tuition. In addition, having taken those higher-level courses helped me get into Columbia in the first place.
Even if your child is only looking at less-competitive schools, he/she may be able to save a year, or semester, of tuition, place out of lower-level courses, or create a bit of room in the schedule for electives if he/she has AP credit.

Ariella said...

"If saving money is the goal then better students can simply shoot for early admissions into college instead of a senior year of H.S."
Indeed, it used to be the thing for the brighter students to leave on early admissions at MTA and even HAFTR. But now the high schools want to hold on to that fourth year of tuition and are reluctant to let students leave.
In fact students are graduating at older ages from schools like HAFTR which put the cut off date up to October. That means that someone born in November would graduate high school only months before turning 18.
You do't need AP classes to finish college at a young age. I graduated at 19 by taking the maximum load of classes for each semester plus summer courses. I also left on early admissions -- to Israel, where I earned 36 credits at Michlalah. The real motive to offer AP classes should be to enhance the educational experience of students who can rise to the challenge -- not just to expedite finishing the degree.

To shift to the RW solution to the question of college: If you want a fast degree, then you would do the Adelphi program at the New Seminary. One year and one summer on top of having registered your Israeli seminary in Touro gets you a BA. Thy only require 120 credits and grant at least 6 of them just for a Hebrew exam. The young women "earn" something like 40 credits a semester while enrolled in the Brooklyn seminary program. So they get the piece of paper really fast, but do they get educated along the way? The question is, apparently, irrelevant. They get their degree at 19 or 20, preferably after having gotten married in the middle of the semester.

mlevin said...

SL - Good point about letting HS students take classes in college. However, how many schools and/or parents will agree to send their children to the mixed enviroment, where they would be interacting with not only opposite sex, but goyim, too?

Ariella - Touro college does not provide real education, and those quick RW schools don't do it either. All they are accomplishing is providing a piece of paper so that some girls are qualified to be government employees. (PTs, STs, OTs and etc.) These jobs don't really contribute to the community. These people are relying on jobs which exist only if goverment deems them necessary. But as we follow what is going in in California, it is safe to assume, that govermnet will decide that it is too expensive to pay for OTs and STs and PTs and they will cut these programs off. What will all of these uneducated women with a household full of dependents do? And due to the lack of funds goverment support programs such as welfare, foodstamps and wic will also be cut down.