89. The percentage of Orthodox families who, according to a recent poll, point to yeshiva tuition as their number one issue of concern.
35. The number of people who bothered to show up at last Sunday evening’s “Tackling the Tuition Crisis” talk, offered free to the public at Congregation Beth Aaron of Teaneck.
The number of empty chairs set up in anticipation of a much bigger attendance.
By Sunday, we’re guessing that most everyone had their sukkahs taken down and put away. We were entering our second week free of holiday food shopping and meal preparations.
So if concern over tuition is by far our number one concern, and the Orthodox Union’s expert on how we can better access local and state funding to defray the high costs of education was addressing the issue, it seems as if a better showing was merited.
If there was a good sign, Maury Litwack, executive director of the OU’s Teach Advocacy Network, spoke to a group consisting of several school presidents, rabbis and heads of schools. The perception was that consumers, better known as yeshiva parents, were noticeably missing from this learning opportunity
Litwack saw the evening, despite the turnout, in positive terms. He said that Teach NJS, the New Jersey arm of the Teach Advocacy Network, really only needs a handful of people to get started and form a core group within the community who can work with him, with the schools, and even in Trenton.
He pointed to four obstacles Teach NJS is facing. Its “voice” in New Jersey government is weak; the achdut or togetherness of the different educational communities is also weak; there must be more of a united stand with Lakewood and other communities; and Orthodox Jews don’t actively participate enough in local and state elections.
Litwack pointed to an example of how the New York yeshiva communities’ work in Albany contributed to legislation granting STEM funding for religious schools.
Last week, Litwack told The Jewish Link that the day school education funding issue can be described as a “crisis.” A crisis, he continued, requires a serious investment of time and involvement, meaning the conversations and concerned voices around Shabbat meal tables have to transcend to action.
Yeshiva communities in Pennsylvania and New York are receiving benefits from their state governments that dwarf the situation here in New Jersey.
Litwack, a Teaneck resident, said he needs area residents to be “doers, donors and door openers.”
But if we can only muster up 35 people to participate in the very meeting that addresses opportunities of tuition affordability, maybe we’ve brought this crisis on ourselves.
We have to do better.
We can start by showing up.