September 13, 2016

Lighting a Fire

Education is not the filling of a pail, 
but the lighting of a fire.

I just read an article about the cost of giving a child a Jewish education. I read over the chart listing the tuition of Jewish day schools and then multiplied these enormous sums by the number of children born to families who send kids to these schools.

Based on having five children, the size of an average modern Orthodox Jewish family,  I came up with $100,000 per family per year.  If you live in Manhattan, you could spend as much as $40,000 as year to send your child off to grade one. These figures are, I imagine, similar to the prices of a Jewish day school education in Canada. Correct me if I am wrong.

portion of the recently published chart

I fall off my seat because, guess what? Jewish education in Israel is free! Our salaries may be lower and our grocery bills higher; our vacation bills are most likely lower (with heat and Mediterranean beaches close by, who needs to escape to the sun?) and gasoline is higher. Thankfully, the quest for acquiring is lower here. 

Our cars are dented and scratched. We do not fix them, preferring to hang onto them for well over a decade. Most of us live in apartments and we hand our clothes, schoolbooks and furniture down to the next in line. It’s a kind of Israeli recycling.

All in all, life here is less expensive and less overflowing with peripheral stuff that is distracting. Now back to school.

School in Israel is not exactly a discipline. As our cars, the classrooms are not fancy. The classes are oversized, bulging at the seams. The kids are irritating, rambunctious, chutzpadik and the teachers cannot control their students. On top of this, the Israeli school curriculum, tangled by bureaucracy and egos, seems to change as often as Americans go out for fast food.

Yet what really is education? Is it all about many hours of cramming, stressing out our children, making them competitive and then bragging about their degrees and high salaries so they can acquire stuff?

Israeli children run amuck in schools (that are free) yet somehow end up earning Nobel prizes, inventing and investing in technology and improving the world.  Their education gives them a sense of confidence, team spirit and ignites their souls. The army that follows high school, along with national service, enables them to be leaders and aids them to contribute to society in meaningful ways.

Moreover, Israeli children, by default, grow up in a Jewish world where the majority of the population (secular and Jewish) learns Torah in school (that is free), celebrates the Jewish holidays and marries Jewish.

This, I feel, is the better investment for the Jewish people.  

So why not invest our Jewish families’ futures in Israel instead of pouring our life savings into the pails of Jewish schools abroad? 

Is life all about 'stuff' or lighting a fire?

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