Jewish day school is an incredible thing. Children get Judaic and Hebrew studies right along with their regular school subjects, many times beautifully integrated (a science lesson about recycling is connected to the Jewish value of shemirat hateva, for example.) They are part of an everyday Jewish prayer and learning environment that also imparts a strong sense of community and love for your fellow Jew.
We are definitely sending our children to Jewish day school. It is important, and we are very principled about that. Wait. It costs how much?
We kept having the conversation about whether to send them to day school, until we said the one thing that pretty much ended the conversation for me: "Maybe we should just stop at three children, so that we can (maybe?) afford Jewish day school." Uh, what? Was I seriously letting the cost of Jewish day school dictate the size of my family? This was the turning point for me. Now, whether we go on to have a fourth child, obviously, remains to be determined. We did conclude, as a result of the fallout from that comment, was that we believe it is possible to raise happy, Jewishly-identifying and knowledgeable children without sending them to day school. So, here are the three reasons we are okay with not sending our kids to Jewish Day School:
1. You can give your kids much of the Jewish education and experience that Jewish day school can.
I truly believe that any family can impart a sense of love for being Jewish and tidbits of Jewish and Hebrew learning in their home if they are even a little bit determined. It takes hard work, yes:
- You have to to celebrate Shabbat - every week.
- You have to read Jewish books and listen to Jewish music - all the time.
- You have to take your kids to shul, and not just for their friends' bnei mitzvah.
- If you keep kosher, you have to pack lunch for them - every day.
- Jewish values language has to become part of your everyday vocabulary.
- You have to make a big deal about preparing for and celebrating the holidays - every holiday.
- You have to prepare yourself to answer your kids' questions about Judaism and God, or at least know how to find the answers with them.
- When you send your children to Hebrew school, you have to make it a priority, take it seriously, review/reinforce at home, and make sure they attend - every class.
These are things I would like to see every Jewish family doing regardless of whether they choose to send their children to Day School. (I'm not saying that Day School families don't do these things, and in fact, when Day School families do them, their children's takeaway from Jewish Day School is that much higher.)
2. It is just not in the budget.
We simply don't have the cash to send all three of our kids to Jewish day school.
At the end of the day, it is more important to us to provide a strong financial foundation for our family and teach our children about financial responsibility - not spending beyond our means - than it is to keep up with the Cohens and spend more than we can afford sending them to day school. Financial responsibility is just as important a Jewish value as providing a Day School education.
3. When forced to choose between Day School and Jewish Camp, Camp wins hands-down (for our family.)
Jewish camp costs about one thousand dollars per week per child, making it about as expensive as Jewish Day School at the very low end. So, obviously, it's a luxury, right?
Well, to us, no.
We have slowly been realizing just how expensive child care is. When there are two work-outside-the-home parents (and I hope to be one of those again sooner rather than later,) you have to pay someone to take care of your kids during the summer, because school isn't in session. Day camp is nearly as expensive as sleepaway camp, and doesn't offer the same Hogwarts-like magical experience.
Kids almost never L-O-V-E going to school every day. Almost every kid I've talked to who went to sleepaway camp L-O-V-E-S camp and everything about it. Forced to choose, I would rather pay for my kids to have an intensely positive takeaway from the Jewish educational experience I pay so many thousands of dollars for. And I do believe that Jewish camp is an seriously educational endeavor, for all the reasons Rabbi Sommer discussed in her post here.
I am 100% that the Jewish Camp we've chosen for our children will give our kids a rich Jewish experience, teach them a lot, and go a long way towards making them into adults who are knowledgeable and strong in their Judaism, respect others, and, above all, love their fellow Jews. What more could you ask for?
And now for the big fat final disclaimer, copied from my friend Mara's post that inspired this one and discusses almost-the-same-but-totally-not topic:
Hopefully I didn’t step on any toes. Obviously the conclusions that I draw are for my family – and my family alone. I’d love to know how you all are dealing with Jewish Day School (vs.? and?) Jewish Camp decisions.