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Monday, August 16, 2010

Jews and Catholic Schools

Hat Tip: ADDeRabbi and TDR

The Boston Globe recently ran a story about involvement of Jewish Donors in Catholic Schools, as donors and contributors through board and fundraising involvement. I was asked by ADDeRabbi on my take and my take is fairly simple. The reasons listed in the article are very compelling reasons for a large donor to take an interest private education, even if Catholic schools and Jewish donors make strange bedfellows:

--excellent education for the neediest children
--"We like to get a good return on our investment"
--Academic achievement is measurably better than the alternative (inner-city public schools): . . . "Catholic school students have long outscored public school students on national achievement tests. In 2008, 98 percent of the graduates of schools supported by the Catholic Schools Foundation got into college."
--Investment is manageable: ". . . . . generally costs about $3,400 for elementary school and $9,400 for high school, according to the Catholic Schools Foundation’s website."
-- "It’s really attractive because it touches a couple of different things Jews tend to care about — number one, it touches the poorest of the poor . . . and it does it through education [called the "great equalizer" by another donor]." Others sighted the ideal of tzedakah, "the most virtuous of which was to help another person become independent."
--“beautiful children in uniforms, in relatively small classes, with big smiles, who were friendly and who were poised.’’

In other words, the donors see an ROI (Return on Investment) that is objectively measurable against the alternative. They are interested in helping families extract themselves from a cycle of poverty and they can relate to (predominately) immigrant families who are concentrating their efforts on education.

I'm sure plenty of people (not those readers who kindly pointed me towards this article, of course) might get a bit bent out of shape after they read this article, believing that this money is being "diverted" from our own tzedakahs. I'm beyond getting bent out of shape about such things and would rather just take notes because the bottom line is that when you are fundraising for a cause, you need to give people a compelling reason that your cause is worthy. Here the compelling cause is an opportunity to help students and graduates increase their educational opportunities and break out of a cycle of poverty for a fairly small investment.

My take is simple. Large donors think of themselves as investors. They see the result of their investment and they like what they see. So not only do they "feel good" about their investment, they involve others.


Miami Al said...

If you were to set up a similar school for poor Jews, charging low tuition, and designed to help poor Jews get educated, and either become productive members of society, or move on to college and enter the middle class, I think that you could get those same donors on board.

I think a Yeshiva to help Russian Jewish immigrant children succeed in America would also be a pretty easy sell.

Please note, this was how the first Day Schools were funded, with primarily non-Frum money.

However, a system designed to self ghettoize middle class children without any upward mobility but with the goal of in-marriage and maintenance of Frumkeit... that's a VERY different animal with a very different need.

You do not have a claim on another Jew's money based on kinship when your only similarity with them and their life is that you both had a Brit Milah.

JS said...

You quoted most of what I quoted in a comment from the post where TDR cited the article. :)

Here's the rest of my comment from that post:

The message I get from this is that the feeling is that supporting Jewish day schools isn't really helping out the truly poor. The Catholic schools are only $3400/$9400 versus $17k/$22k - someone who can't afford the former is likely genuinely poor and in need. Someone who can't afford the latter is often a family earning $100k. Those who patronize the Jewish day schools aren't sympathetic. It's hard to rally around the idea of helping people who are solidly in the middle class.

Another point is that the donors give to large, reputable organizations. They give to the Catholic Schools Foundation or to Combined Jewish Philanthropies. They don't give to some small yeshiva that has no accountability or transparency.

These people are donating their time and money. They want to know it's going to something valuable that is really helping people in need. The yeshivas don't do that.

I would add that many people who sent their children to yeshivas and would have the financial resources later in life to donate to the yeshivas refuse to do so because the process of paying that much money and struggling for so many years while being mistreated by the yeshivas has left such a bad taste in their mouth they swore the yeshiva will never see another penny from them.

Fruma Sara said...

The Catholic schools provide an essential entry point into middle class life for poor children. They inculcate values, discipline, and they teach work skills. At my firm we hire Catholic high school students in office jobs as interns, they are eager to help, and very nice young girls. They go on to Catholic colleges on scholarship. This takes them away from their poor neighborhood and gives them something to strive for. When we give to chareidi schools, we are investing in a form of religious life that is antithetical to men working, looks down upon earning a living as fit only for women, and tries to create as high a barrier as possible between themselves and the "outside world". The chareidi schools ban English books, art and classical music - very little finds its way past the censor. I find this rejectionism completely at odds with my own world view. They also don't allow their boys to learn modern Hebrew. Thanks for reminding me to contribute to the New York Catholic schools fund. As for contributing to modern Orthodox schools - as someone wrote, I don't find subsidizing people who are well to do particularly necessary.

Upper West Side Mom said...

This money is definitely not being diverted from our own tzedekas. The Jews who are donating to Catholic schools are almost all secular Jews. The vast majority of these Jews would never give money to Orthodox day schools or right wing Yeshivas. They do not care if our children grow up to be Orthodox Jews.

Bklynmom said...

Miami Al--
There are a few yeshivot in Brooklyn that attempt to educate Russioan Jewish kids. They fail. The level of education is abysmal.

Anonymous said...

This post and the comments, in a nutshell, explain why trying to raise money from secular/non frum jews for the current yeshiva/day school system is a waste of time. However, this also shows that if done correctly, money can be raised from outside of the community for food banks, care for the elderly, assisting immigrants and similar programs (but probably not for families who need assistance because the father refuses to work).

Miami Al said...

Anon 8:20,

Something to consider when doing it. Secular American Jews feel that we are well integrated in the country. The Jews that they know are University Educated to at least a graduate level, earn in the top 5% of income. If you want their money, it needs to be focused on helping people improve.

Education for young people will be popular, Yeshiva will not. Helping poor Jews stop being poor will do well, shoveling money at them will not. They will happily shovel money at causes in Africa where they think people do not have opportunities, but since they think that American Jews have opportunities, they are less likely to help in those programs.

Food banks will be harder than "care for elderly" or assisting immigrants. Immigrants are probably your best angle, but if would have to be a comprehensive program. A system that helps Jewish immigrants obtain an American education as well as support for their children will do better.

Basically, a program designed to keep Jews poor and on assistance (which sadly, the RW Yeshiva system appears to be) will NOT do well... Jews are liberals and happy to keep OTHERS poor and on programs, but not their own. In their world, every Jew can be a doctor or lawyer, so there is no reason for them to be on assistance.

Also, remember that secular Jews consider themselves VERY educated, but are Hebraicly illiterate. ANY use of Yiddish or Hebrew that makes them feel ignorant will turn them off like nobody's business. I understand that it peppers speech, but ditch it if you want non-Frum money.

If you understand that frame of reference, you can do very well raising money from secular Jews.

Anonymous said...

Al: Your stereotypes of secular and non-frum jews are misplaced. Although non-frum jews as a group may have average incomes higher than the average American and may be more likely to have a college education or an advanced degree, there are lots who don't and who are poor or just median income families. More to the point of donations, the non-frum jew does care about the elderly and understand that there are poor and lonely elderly jews who could use services, companionship, senior centers, kosher meals on wheels, etc. and food banks for anyone who can't feed themselves and their families, although it will be important that any food banks, soup kitchens or other programs be open to all, and not just to jews even if the focus is on reaching jews who need help.

Miami Al said...

Anon 9:29,

There are plenty of below average Jewish incomes. Those aren't your pool of donors. Your pool of donors are wealthy successful secular Jews.

While they might academically understand that there are poor/below average income Jews, they don't actually know any. The ones that they know are all professionals.

Anonymous said...

Al: You travel in very different circles than I do. In any event, its not very hard to educate people about the fact that there are poor jews in need of some of the basics. Anyhow, the point is, you can't raise money from non-frummies for schools designed to segregate the children of frum jews from the rest of the world and to keep them away from ideas like equality and an old earth and evolution, but you can raise money for lots of other things (elderly, food banks, immigrants, disabled kids (think Friendship Circle) and the like, which then leaves more money for the frum to fund their own schools.

Anonymous said...

but you can raise money for lots of other things (elderly, food banks, immigrants, disabled kids (think Friendship Circle) and the like, which then leaves more money for the frum to fund their own schools.

What percentage of tzedaka given by frum Jews goes to nonsectarian Jewish causes? Fairly low, I think. How much money do you think you're going to free up, and what makes you think people won't spend it on Pesach kitchens with granite counters and European hair custom wigs?

JS said...

"This money is definitely not being diverted from our own tzedekas. The Jews who are donating to Catholic schools are almost all secular Jews. The vast majority of these Jews would never give money to Orthodox day schools or right wing Yeshivas. They do not care if our children grow up to be Orthodox Jews."

I have to take issue with this. This simply wasn't the case a generation or two ago. Many yeshivas and other Orthodox institutions were founded by donors who were more traditional and would certainly not be considered Orthodox by today's standards.

Look at Steinhardt and Bronfman, two of the biggest Jewish donors around. They choose to fund Hillel and Birthright. They also are big funders of Jewish education, but NOT day schools directly (instead you have and PEJE). In fact, Steinhardt has stated publicly he thinks Hebrew charter schools are the solution.

I imagine the reason is a combination of wanting to help the most needy (needy in terms of financial wherewithal and in terms of Jewish background), the fact that the Orthodox are very demanding and hold people like Steinhardt (who is an atheist) in contempt, and the fact that the day schools are so completely mismanaged and abysmal educationally (PEJE's goal is to change this). It's simply not a good investment of their philanthropic dollars and they likely find dealing with the Orthodox to be more trouble than it's worth.

An example from my college campus where I was heavily involved in the Jewish student groups: The Hillel on campus was funded by a single, large donor. There was an effort to partner more with the college in order to get more kosher food on campus. This donor was going to help fund the religious aspects of the kosher food program (mashgiach, rabbi, etc) along with other Orthodox groups. In the end, the Orthodox groups (both student and professional) were so demanding and so unappreciative of what the donor was trying to do, that the donor decided to work parallel to the Orthodox groups instead of with them. For example, the donor wanted a rabbi to be there for all college students regardless of affiliation (the goal of Hillel). The Orthodox students and groups said that was inappropriate and the rabbi should be there to lead shiur for the Orthodox kids. You had stupid arguments like that back and forth until the donor threw his hands in the air and decided he couldn't work with the Orthodox.

In the end, he spent 2-3 times as much as was originally intended to build up the Hillel and provide more Jewish programming and rabbinical presence on campus. The Orthodox groups meanwhile now have a far reduced role on campus and are more insular. Oh, and they had to self-fund their rabbi.

That's just a microcosm of what's going on right now I would imagine.

Sima said...

Bklynmom: You may be right regarding some of the schools that educate Russian Jews, but Merkaz Bnos in Bensonhurst is doing a fine job of educating girls from all kinds of backgrounds (Russian, Israeli, Syrian, Persian) and many go on to prestigious colleges and respected professions. Anyone interested in donating?

Fruma Sara said...

Many Russian Jews are suspicious of religious schools because they believe the schools are trying to separate the children from the parents. My hairdresser, Ludmilla, told me that she took her daughter out of a Russian Jewish school in Brooklyn for the following reason. The teacher, a frum well meaning woman, invited Ludmilla's 9 year old daughter for Shabbos without her mother, called on the phone for the daughter without including the mother. Ludmilla said to me, "They are trying to take my daughter." I know the reason the teacher excluded the mother - the mother is totally not frum and does not dress in keeping with frum standards. This would create an insoluble quandary for the teacher, to have a woman over who dresses without the proper tzniut. But the 9 year old daughter would be permissible. Unfortunately, because the teacher excluded the mother from her invitation, she awoke suspicion from the mother as to her motives, and the Russian mother removed her child from the school and from the teacher's influence.

Anonymous said...

Fruma Sara,

And an adult asking a 9 year old for a sleep over without talking to the child's mother isn't a little bit suspicious?

Fruma Sara said...

I believe she spoke to the mother on the phone but did not include the mother in the invitation. The hostess is the child's teacher. The invitation is not suspect, but not including the mother (she was a single mother with one child) was misguided.

JS said...

"I know the reason the teacher excluded the mother - the mother is totally not frum and does not dress in keeping with frum standards. This would create an insoluble quandary for the teacher, to have a woman over who dresses without the proper tzniut."

Seriously? I'm sorry, that mother was right. Who thinks it's normal for an adult to invite a child over without the child's parent. This isn't some playdate between children.

And to have such distaste for the parents of the child is just abhorrent. Who cares if she's not frum or dresses untzniusdik? You make it sound like she's showing up in lingerie or something. Likely she's wearing pants and short sleeves with her hair uncovered. The horror. What a tramp. I don't see Orthodox Jews recoil in horror when they walk down the streets in Manhattan. When I'm in Brooklyn the Orthodox Jews walk right past those dressed "inappropriately". But this woman is so beyond the pale she can't even be invited to a Shabbat meal with her daughter? I'm disgusted.

Aside from that, from a practical matter, how do you expect to be mikarev the daughter when you shun the mother? And is part of the kiruv that your mother dresses like a tramp?

This is why the non-Orthodox won't give Orthodox institutions any money. This is Exhibit A.

tesyaa said...

JS, as you mentioned in a comment about seminary in Israel, schools and teachers feel justified in driving wedges between nonobservant parents and children, or even between MO parents and their children. This is not new. The story of a 9 year old is a little extreme because it's such a young age. But teachers and schools definitely take advantage of the normal parent-teenager friction, and what's more, they do it openly and proudly.

But kiruv itself would not exist in the form it does today if the money were not rolling in. Clearly baalai tshuva are bringing in money to the community.

Fruma Sara said...

I offered this example to explain the gulf in thinking between frum people who are trying to be mekarev secular Russians. Not to defend the teacher.

JS said...


I understood. Just pointing out, using your example, of how clueless Orthodox people are. Instead of looking inward, they blame secular society and secular Jews. It's not that Orthodox institutions are unworthy of tzedaka, it's that secular Jews understand so little about Yiddishkeit that they don't want to fund Orthodox institutions. The whole way of thinking is just backwards.


Very true. A friend recently pointed out what he felt was the worst part about what these teachers and rabbis do. They implant ideas in the child's mind so that the child will then fight his/her parent. The teacher or rabbi stays on the sidelines and has the child do the dirty work. They make the child risk everything (including the relationship with his/her parents) while the teacher/rabbi has no chips in the game and nothing to lose. The teacher/rabbi will rarely if ever contact the parent and berate them about their level of observance of commitment to the religion (though they'll say this to the child). They'll tell the child how important it is they go to to Israel, for example, but they don't view it as important enough to risk losing their job from an irate parent who won't put up with being directly confronted.

The friend told me that when he was in high school, his yeshiva's Israel guidance rabbi would call him in to lecture him about the importance of going to Israel and how if he didn't go he wouldn't be frum and wouldn't know how to raise frum children so they'd all intermarry. The friend kept saying his mom wouldn't let him go. So, the rabbi said he needed to argue with his mother and tell her he needed to go to remain frum. Anyways, the friend got sick and tired of this, so one day he said, I think you're 100% right, so I think you should call my mom and try to convince her. Here is her number, she should be home now. The rabbi kept hemming and hawing and didn't want to call. The friend kept telling the rabbi how important it was and the rabbi finally agreed to call. He got one sentence out about Israel before the mom said it was absolutely out of the question and she didn't appreciate such a phone call from the school. The rabbi apologized and hung up and told my friend he didn't have to go to Israel and he wouldn't call him in for meetings any more.

Miami Al said...


Interesting... so the Rabbis are telling the students to not honor and respect ones parents... that's not good...

The plus the constant coveting of nicer stuff you see promoted in the quest for wealth by these schools seems really bad...

Perhaps we should try being observant Jews before worrying about out-fruming each other.

Former Kiruv School Teacher said...

How do you know that the teacher didn't invite the mother because of tznius?

Most teachers at kiruv schools are young and inexperienced and it seems more likely that either it never occurred to her to invite the mother or that she was intimidated somehow by having an older non-frum guest.

Anonymous said...

Former Kiruv School Teacher -- if the Kiruv school was chabad, they definitely would invite the mom and ask mom to bring along any other family members and they would make her feel as welcome as could be regardless of her clothes, and even the most inexperienced chabad teacher would know this. This is not to promote chabad, but to show that being young or inexperienced is not an excuse. BTW, since the subject is donations and fundraising, a phone call of "Hi Mrs. X. We so much love having your daughter in our school. We would be pleased if you and your daughter would join us for a shabbat dinner," for some strange reason seems to work a lot better than "hey student, your mother is a sl*t because she doesn't cover her elbows or hair," and "you really shouldn't eat from your mom's kitchen."

Jake said...

JS - "In fact, Steinhardt has stated publicly he thinks Hebrew charter schools are the solution."

Actually, Steinhardt was the donor for the Hebrew Charter school in Brooklyn.

Miami Al said...

If the Orthodox Leadership got together to vote on a slogan for contemporary American Orthodoxy it would be, "Making the Perfect the Enemy of the Good!"

The goal isn't to raise Jewish children to be Jewish adults, it isn't even to raise Jewish children to be Frum adults, it's to NOT raise any children that are non-Frum.

So we want lots of children to increase the size, have zero room for error, therefore spend a fortune on maintaining insularity 24/7/365, with no margin for error.

Reducing your intermarriage rate from 10% to 3% was accomplished at the cost of 250k/child. If you goal is preventing intermarried children, it worked, but there is no way you didn't reduce birth rates more than 10%, given the massive difference between MO and Chareideim.

Steinhardt is smart, even if Hebrew charters are only half as effective as Day Schools, freeing up resources for camp, birthright type experiences, and having more children will be more effective than increasingly unaffordable day schooling.