Thursday, March 03, 2011
The Camp Battle
Hat Tip: A reader who asks her readers, where do you weigh in on the issue of expensive Jewish summer programs? Are they a luxury or not?
A boxing match has begun in Bergen County. Some high schools sent letters to parents stating the school considers summer programs (Israel and for 10th to 12th graders are discretionary expenses, not basic expenses and that families sending their children, regardless of who pays, may be jeopardizing some or all of their scholarships. Quite frankly, I think the letter lacks teeth. "You may be jeopardizing some or all of your scholarship?" The passive voice isn't particularly convincing, is it?
Following this letter, two editorials have appeared in the Jewish Week decrying such a policy. The first letter comes from the paper's editor, Tough Choice: School Scholarship or Summer Camp. The second from NCSY International Director Don't Make Summer Programs 'Luxury Items'. Both articles decry the policy. The first editorial makes the argument
Both articles focus on the expected, the value of Jewish camping. The CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camping is quoted in the first article saying "Families should not be "penalized" for wanting a full Jewish educational experience." In the second article the Rabbi begs that schools not be defined as "luxury items." Both editorials call for recognizing the value of the other, and working together.
Personally, I'm not so interested in weighing in on whether or not camp is a luxury or not? Let's just say that 99% of Americans would not even understand arguing over the necessity if a multi-thousand dollar summer "experience" is a basic expense or luxury. I hail from a working class town and can easily count myself amongst that 99%. Where I grew up, camp generally referred to spending your days at the Boys Club or the Girls Club (they've since combined). Other kids spent their mornings at (free pubic) summer school, followed by (walking to) swim lessons. High schools went to summer school/junior college, worked, and/or joined a sports league. If a high schooler mentioned going to camp, it most certainly met they went to a 3-4 day intensive for some club or sport. [Full disclosure: in elementary I had the one-time opportunity to spend 2 weeks in a Jewish day camp and it was absolutely wonderful].
To me the question is simply one of priorities and yashrut. Is it proper for some parents to enroll their children in expensive summer programs (or purchase other expensive consumer items or services) all while asking other parents and donors to subsidize their tuition? Is it proper and upright to take on another financial obligation when you can't meet your first obligation? One would think the answer would be obvious, but if it was obvious, we wouldn't be having this discussion, would we?
Frankly, I have little shaychus to the entire discussion. Paying $7000 for an Israel or other Summer experience for one, single child is about as relevant to my life as discussing purchasing a Rolls Royce (note to the second editorial author: I don't compare new cars to yeshiva education or camp. The reason people do compare to cars, imo, is that people save for a single car over several years, and yet have bills equaling the price of a new car arriving in their mailbox each summer. That is why an equivalence continues to be drawn).
It seems that while the school administrators and camp administrators duke it out over luxury camping vs. not doing so, there is a demographic that goes completely unnoticed (the demographic that doesn't get the experiences, only the bill). I'd consider our family part of that hidden demographic. We have a list of reasonably priced luxuries that might enhance our lives and our children's lives, but we are maxed out by tuition to the point where after-school gymnastics, ballet, art, or tennis is simply out of the question. We'd like to be able to take our children on road trips or go to an amusement park. But spending an extra low four figures would overrun the budget and make it very difficult to meet tuition on cash flow alone. Yet no one seems to recognize when parents ask for assistance to do what "everyone else" is doing, that they aren't just putting the burden on those who do, but those who will never do.