My older daughter will turn 5 at the end of October, which means that this is her last year of preschool. It also means that my husband and I have an important decision to make about where she will go to kindergarten.
Do we send our girls to Jewish day school or not?
We are among the few Jews living in the diaspora who are lucky enough to have several options for Jewish elementary school education. We live outside of Boston, so we are within striking distance of four day schools: pluralistic, Conservative, Reform, and Orthodox.
It truly is an embarrassment of riches.
Riches are precisely what we are going to need if we are going to send our kids to day school. Roughly speaking, the cost of educating both girls through 8th grade could add up to $500,000. That’s half a million dollars. Needless to say, that’s a lot of money. I know there is financial support available from the schools and the local Jewish community, but let’s be clear: No matter how many ways you slice up that pie, we’re still going to end up eating a big chunk of it.
Even if the money weren’t an issue, the question of how and where we will educate our daughters is one we don’t take lightly. Of course, we want the best for them, but there are so many different ways to define “best.” Is it about the best Jewish education? The best Jewishly infused, secular education? What about the benefits of public schools? Are we more interested in their experiences in the classroom and the playing fields, or are we more interested in outcomes – whether they get into college and get a good job?
I don’t know about you, but my head is spinning. It gets even more confusing when I consider my own family’s backgrounds.
My husband is a product of Solomon Schechter (a Conservative Jewish day school), and he is nothing short of a mensch. He received an excellent Jewish and secular education, which set him on a path to a great college, graduate school, a strong career, and the ability to whip up a beautiful, preschooler-friendly haggadah in just a couple of hours. He can walk into any synagogue and know exactly what is going on.
I am a product of the public schools in New Mexico and California. I also got into a great college, completed an MSW and PhD in clinical social work, and have a solid career. My Jewish education is not nearly as strong as my husband’s, but I have been able to learn a lot on my own, mostly thanks to my husband, our synagogue, and the amazing resources in our community.
One day-school kid, one public school kid, and we’re both doing fine. That doesn’t help.
You may be asking yourself (as I certainly am) why we’re even considering Jewish day school at all. It could end up costing more than our house, and the girls will get a strong Jewish identity and education from being raised in a Jewish home, attending Hebrew school at our synagogue, and spending time with their Bubbe and Zayde and extended family at holidays and lifecycle events.
While I haven’t lived it myself, my hope (and belief) is that a Jewish day-school education will give them more than just a thorough understanding of Tisha b’Av and the order of Shabbat-morning services. My hope is that our entire family would experience the gift of a strong community, one that shares our traditions, our beliefs, and our values. My hope is that our daughters would grow strong roots in Jewish history, culture and ritual, even as they branch out into the worlds of science, math, literature and social studies. What I am looking for in a Jewish day school is something that can’t be measured on any standardized test or report card; rather it is something we will see over time in the communities our daughters choose to connect with, the families they create, and the values they live.
There is no doubt in my mind that we can find all of that at any of the Jewish day schools in Boston. But I also believe that my husband and I can provide that to our daughters, with the help of our synagogue, extended family, and the numerous Jewish summer camps and other resources available to us.
Unfortunately – and I wish this wasn’t true, but it is – it all comes down to the money. Yet how can we possibly put a price on our daughters’ education?
Well, at half a million dollars, how can we not?
This piece was originally published in The Jewish Advocate on August 16, 2013.