Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Prioritizing Our Tzedakah
Is it Enough?

A close friend of our family asked a great question after reading the last post where I lamented the fact that Jewish Education continues to increase in price with no end in sight as the tuition increases appear to be part of a vicious cycle.

The question is a good one and I'm curious what my readers think is the correct answer. I believe that the answer is clearly a no. But, I do believe that prioritizing our tzedakah is part of the solution. However, we need to bravely look far beyond this piece of the puzzle.

Jewish education has always been costly and has always come at great sacrifice. But, today the situation looks particularly troublesome for young people who not only have to contend with tuitions, but with a housing market that has reached enormous proportions (woe to those who are still renting). Young couples today are contending with massive mortgage payments if they are lucky enough to have made it into a home, and oftentimes they are paying off massive amounts of student debt (something that is unavoidable when parents have been unable to save).

So, I ask my readers, do you think that finding ways to get the general Orthodox public to prioritize their tzedakah towards Jewish schools enough? If yes, why? If no, what do you think must be done to help rectify the situation?


Ezzie said...

No. Increased focus on responsible spending is more important; when people see that, they'll be more willing to give.

The Jewish community in Cleveland does an excellent job, without a large number of wealthy people, of supporting just about everything there. The Federation apparently has the most money per capita of any US Jewish community. I think this is because of decades of responsible spending by the organizations and (primarily) schools that take the largest chunks. Instead of constantly needing more money, they do things smartly to begin with.

Anonymous said...

Spoken like a true Republican, Ezzie.

I disagree. Most people have no idea whether a school is spending responsibly or not. Most people don't have access to sufficient data to assess that issue. In my out-of-town community (I'm an ex-NY'er, everything is out of town), there was a brief brouhaha when it turned out the head of one of the schools was getting paid about 300k. Turned out the info was wrong and took into account salary and benefits. Not to mention that most people didn't understand what it costs in the market to attract a person of his experience to a school.

It boils down to this, l'fi aniyas da'ati. People are tapped out. You talk about tzedakah priorities, but how much disposable income does one have to give after paying tuition. Think about it, SL, if you have two kids in HS in your community, you're paying $34k in post-tax dollars in tuition alone (and most Orthos have more than 2, I'm already paying 3 tuitions and have a 4th kid on the way). Mortgage, food, clothing and other necessities mean that the pot of available tzedakah funding is small.

This isn't an issue of will to give, but ability to give. Ezzie, when you are out in the real world, working and paying tuition for your many kids (who should be zocheh to attain Torah, chuppah, and ma'asim tovim), you'll see that school's economic efficiency is irrelevant to your will to give.

Now, I don't disagree with SL basic premise, that we should fund our schools, but this isn't sufficient, nor does it permit us to ignore the other important social issues in our midst, including people who don't have enough to eat or pay their housing costs because of job losses, or hospital bills, etc.

I don't have a solution. Just venting because I worry.

Anonymous said...

However given the the extreme financial strain paying yeshiva tuition places on people, responsible spending would not only be in order but should be demanded. While a schools effciency might not impact your choice of giving they should recognize the disparate impact their ineffciency has on many famalies.

Orthonomics said...

JDub-Correct me if I am wrong, but I thought I was quite clear that prioritizing tzedakah is NOT enough.

I think that much, much more must be done. One of the things that I think will be absolutely necessary is to consolidate schools.

If I wasn't clear, let me know and I will add a clarification.