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Jewish Day School Fears

Jewish Day School Fears

Answering the commonly asked questions about sending kids to Jewish Day school.


“How will your kids get a good secular education?”

“They can learn everything they need to know in Sunday School!”

“It’s so expensive. How can you afford it?”

The questions came fast and furious. When it came time for my husband and me to choose an elementary school for our oldest child, everyone had an opinion. For some of my friends, our decision to send our kids to a Jewish school smacked of elitism. Wasn’t the local public school good enough for us?

Read related article: Why I Send My Kids to a Jewish Day School

Others warned us of the lower standards we should expect at a Jewish school.

My relatives were even more concerned. Everybody was used to me being “the religious one,” keeping kosher and Shabbat. But now I was about to pass this “eccentric” lifestyle on to my children.

All the negative comments left me a little worried, even after we found a wonderful school. Was I denying my kids the very best?

My Specific Answers

It’s been a few years since we made the decision to send our children to a Jewish school, and we feel we made the right choice. In fact the benefits have been greater than we ever could have imagined. Here are our answers to some of the most pressing concerns we faced.

You went to public school, and you have a strong Jewish identity!

Many people pointed this out. Both my husband and I attended public schools as children, and as adults we embraced a religiously-observant Jewish lifestyle. Wouldn’t our children retain similarly strong Jewish identities going to a non-Jewish school?

Unfortunately, probably not. While every person is different, and there are exceptions to every rule, statistically Jews who do not attend full-time Jewish school are much less likely to identify Jewishly once they’re adults. One measure of this is intermarriage rates. While Jewish adults who attended weekly Sunday School as children intermarry at rates over 70%, Jewish adults who attended full-time Jewish schools intermarry at rates well below 10%.

I can see the roots of this strong love of being Jewish in the students at my kids’ school already. As the kids learn to pray in Hebrew, celebrate the Jewish holidays together and learn Torah, they become immersed in a loving Torah atmosphere. They will be able to draw on the knowledge and the memories they are gaining all of their lives.

How will your kids get a good secular education?

This was my greatest fear. As it turned out, this fear was the one most quickly banished. All parents want good educations for their kids (including those who send them to Jewish day schools), and they demand their schools adhere to the highest standards, employ the most up-to-date teaching methods, and use the latest equipment. My kids’ teachers attend regular best practices conferences and classes, along with their public school and non-Jewish private school counterparts, and ensure that their students' curricula and test results measure up to the highest levels in our state. This is true for many other Jewish schools, as well. In fact, in my state, Illinois, the majority of Jewish schools rank near the very top of schools in the state.

They can learn everything they need to know in Sunday School.

Judaism is a 3,500-year-old religion. There is an infinite amount to learn! In Hebrew no less. The Five Books of Moses, the 613 Commandments, the 62 volumes of the Talmud, the Prophets and Writings, just to get started… I wonder how my kids will make a dent in all the Jewish knowledge there is to learn, even going to a full-time Jewish school!

Yes children can learn a great deal in weekly Sunday School classes, but even a good two-hour program can’t possibly convey the same material as a full-time curriculum.

“It’s so expensive! How can you afford it?”

Many people I know say they would consider sending their kids to Jewish schools but are put off by the thought of making yearly tuition payments.

Surprisingly, the cost of Jewish day school is often less than many people fear. At many schools, a majority of families receive financial aid. There is even a movement in many communities to raise communal funds to help subsidize the cost of day school tuitions. Some schools offer discounts to siblings. Others allow some of tuition to be worked off through parents’ participation in school events.

I don’t mean to sugar-coat things (too much); we definitely struggle with our yearly tuition payments. But when I calculate what we would be paying for Sunday School and supplemental Jewish activities for our kids, our tuition payment don’t seem quite as bad. We’re paying more, but I think we’re receiving an exponentially larger pay-off in terms of our kids’ learning and identities, too.

Don’t you want your children to learn about other peoples, other cultures? How will they do that in a Jewish day school?

What do parents really want when they encourage their children to make new friends? Presumably, they want their children to learn respect and tolerance, and these qualities are taught very strongly in Jewish schools.

I remember how surprised I was on the first Martin Luther King Day that my child went to school. The local public schools were closed, but my kids’ Jewish school was open, featuring a major assembly each year to mark the holiday.

I discovered that Martin Luther King week is one of the major curriculum events of their Jewish day school year, and their teachers weave together lessons in Jewish values like equality and justice as they teach about Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges and other figures in the Civil Rights struggle. The Jewish character of their school informs and enriches their study of the world.

And as these children are learning about different cultures, they are doing so with a firm understanding of who they are as Jews, as well.

I want my children to be taught our rich Jewish history, our own beautiful songs, our own Jewish languages, our own holy books, our own warm traditions. I want them to learn about the world, and also learn who they are in it. Before we send them off into the wide world as adults, let us first give them that foundation, that knowledge of where they come from and who they are, as Jewish people.

Every day, Jews throughout the world recite the “Shema,” recalling the words God said to the Jewish people after He gave us the Torah: “And these words (of Torah), which I command you this day…you shall teach them to your children….”

We are gratified with our decision, knowing we are creating the next strong link in the chain that stretches back 130 generations to Sinai.

March 13, 2010

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 36

(36) JewishInsurgent, January 3, 2011 6:41 PM

Questionable statistics

I have a question about the claim that 70% of Jews in public school intermarry. Is that the percent of ALL Jews in PS, or a percent of the Orthodox Jews in PS? Orthodox are more likely to send their kids to JDS, but they are also less likely to intermarry. This may skew the results. You cannot compare a religiously dedicated family that sends their kids to Yeshiva to a secular Jew who sends their kids to PS as proof that PS kids are more likely to intermarry. It is not honest. I wonder what the real statistics would show and whether the numbers are truely that grim. I'm willing to bet it is not even close to 70%, especially since, according to the NJPS 2000, the intermarriage rate for secular Jews was only 49% and i doubt that enough secular Jews send their kids to JDS to account for the remaining 21%. It leads me to believe that you are counting even unaffiliated Jews, which would be severely dishonest.

(35) Ken, April 6, 2010 6:03 PM

Trying to make the best choice

I have a daughter in JDS. She has been there for 2 years, after spending K-2 in public school. She loves her school, but may not be able to attend next year due to funding. Here is my dilemma. The more I think about the option of public school, the more I think it may be better overall. I am a firm believer in meeting people from all walks of life. I do not feel that a JDS allows for that. At a JDS, students learn all the secular subjects, along with strong Judaic studies which is great. But, at least at our school, the students do not get a strong ARTS and music education, short of learning typical Jewish songs. They are offering 10 weeks of music lessons, but you have to pay $150 which is $150 more than any ARTS program in public school. Also, the fact that there are only 6 kids slated to be n her class next year, also doesn't sit too well. It lowers the number of children she has to make or be friends with. She will be in class with these same 6 kids, assuming no one else leaves, until the 8th grade. I think she needs more options in many areas. Don't get me wrong. I appreciate what the JDS has done for my daughter, but I feel they may have done all they can. We will see.

(34) Chaim, March 21, 2010 9:36 AM

Response to Stephen

Unfortunately there are exceptions to every rule. Generally, JDS's are much better for a person to retain his Jewish identity and live in the world as a proud, spiritual and often observant Jewish person. Agreed, it doesn't work like that for everybody, but because for the majority it does, I wouldn't be so quick to blame the system. Perhaps, there are other factors as well?

(33) Anonymous, March 21, 2010 6:08 AM

there is really no choice

I have 4 grown children who are all products of the day school system. Two have masters degrees. None are high earners, because all 4 chose to go into "service professions" - all are idealistic about using their gifts for a greater good in serving their fellow man, despite a smaller salary, and I attribute their extreme desire to do chesed to their day school upbringing. However, I don't think we can minimize the extreme toll that tuition takes on Jewish families, and the sacrifices made to pay for Jewish education. We cannot underestimate stress it places on one's health, relationships, marriages, etc. I agree with Comment #29 who states, "It is unfortunate that tuition should function as birth control in our community " - a most ironic and counterproductive result of day school tuitions. It is also shameful that our local Associated (Jewish Federation) pays such a minimal amount to subsidize Jewish education in my city.

(32) Hillel Fleishman, March 20, 2010 6:26 AM

Some memories of my JDS days in Montreal in the 1960's: A rabbi taught me Latin, a stern Englishman carrying a heavy cane taught me French, Israelis taught me physics, Hebrew, Tanach and Mishnah, a "regular" rabbi did his best to explain the intricacies of secular laws expounded in aramaic Gemarrah, a cute young lady in a short skirt drummed algebra into me, and the principal had me reading English lit and composing compositions. In between we played some vicious field hockey and learned how to handle a Hebrew prayer book. Anybody want to claim I didn't receive a universal education?

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