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Saturday, November 18, 2017

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Please excuse any stereotyping or broad statements. My opinion is formulated from my own anecdotal observances and experiences and may not reflect reality.

Thank you, Jewish Link, for being the platform we need for real change to happen with the tuition situation. Thank you to the OU for the vision and foresight to dedicate resources and begin grassroots efforts for this cause. I would like to provide a possible explanation for the low turnout, as discussed in last week’s Jewish Link editorial, “Want to Help the Tuition Crisis? Show Up!” (October 26, 2017), of people like myself, who are yeshiva parents, at the recent event addressing the tuition crisis.

First of all, it is very scary on many levels to identify this issue as a real crisis, instead of Shabbat table chatter. We, as a community, are afraid to face the reality of the situation. Secondly, we have become numb—there is despair, a sense of hopelessness—for any real, meaningful change.

I have yet to hear of a yeshiva that lowered the tuition or sent out refund checks because of additional government funding to yeshivot.

Although I am a deep believer in grassroots movements and slow and steady incremental steps, it will be much easier for the community to get excited and rally around efforts toward real significant massive change that would make yeshiva great again.

If there was real community courage on all levels to make dramatic statements—for example, if every yeshiva closed for the first day of school and mandated that every student enroll in public school, overwhelming the public school system—there would become a public-school crisis instead of a yeshiva-tuition crisis. That would force public dollars to solve the yeshiva-tuition crisis on a level never seen before.

I have the exact opposite background as Rabbi Student, who wrote a piece on this subject two weeks ago (“The Hidden Cost of the Tuition Crisis,” October 19, 2017). I grew up in a Yeshivish school and now send my children to a Modern Orthodox school. Therefore, I have a different perspective on some of the issues here.

Yeshiva communities have not mounted the campaign mentioned above that will begin the domino chain of solving the yeshiva tuition crisis by creating a public-school-enrollment crisis. Despite the fact that yeshiva community leaders exert tremendous influence and are revered on an extreme level, and can very easily rally their followers. All they need to say is “jump,” and the response will be “how high?”

I do not know the reason for that. But I do know the reason is not because the yeshiva communities are not affected by the tuition crisis because they choose “no frills” schools like Rabbi Student suggested. The yeshiva communities are affected possibly even more, with many larger families and many more kollel families.

By the way, the “no frills” school concept referenced I think was misguided. Yeshiva communities at large want what they believe is best for their children. They believe their children will be more righteous and better servants of Hashem without all the things defined as “frills.” Extracurricular activities are a distraction from Torah learning. Parents and students need to practice the concept of subservience to authority and reverence to a higher power by not questioning school decisions.

In a Modern Orthodox community, parents should also be allowed to choose what they believe is best for their children, without compromising on the “frills.”

Without the political will to launch a public-school crisis, we are forced to go back to the drawing board to look at other options, like working toward vouchers. In this case, there are serious public campaigns that can be launched. What about every year we designate a yeshiva tuition day, when every single yeshiva sends all the students on buses and go down to Trenton and lobby officials on this matter? We as a community clearly do not yet have the resolve to take this kind of action.

So we are left with good old-fashioned professional lobbyists working on specific aid packages that will (most likely) not cause a reduction in my tuition fees or cause me to get a refund check. At least they have not so far.

To the OU, what if you got every yeshiva to commit that they will send refund checks, dollar for dollar in the amount of public aid received? What if you advertised that in your campaign? Please give us another chance to allow us to come out and show our support for your work.

What about establishing a “Tuition Shabbat” in our communities, where all the speeches on Shabbat will be dedicated to the subject?

The murmurings and rumblings of real change is happening. Sometimes it may seem disappointing, with one step forward and two steps back. However, we must stay vigilant and focused if we want to have any chance at this.

Yehuda Miller

Teaneck