Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Day School Debate

I signed up for some local suburban Jewish listserves recently--mostly to hawk my Jewish Music Festival in their little suburban inboxes. My intention was to use it when I needed it, but before I knew it I was sucked in...reading it, following the debate raging hotly in my inbox.

The issue? The cost--and possible unsustainability--of the Jewish Day school model. Gluckel recently pointed out an editorial in the NY Jewish Week that explores the same question.

It's a difficult conversation for many--if not most--Jews trying to live a committed Jewish life. Jewish life is by definition not easy. If Kosher food became (hah!) prohibitively expensive, would we eat traif? If synagogue membership became exorbitant would we stop praying with a minyan? No...we find workarounds, support systems, we find a way to make Jewish life work, and even flourish, despite the difficulties and the cost.

But day school seems to be an intractable problem. They've become unaffordable to all but the most wealthy, and in these "difficult economic times" family after family that were just barely making it work before are seeking scholarships in record numbers. And that sky-high tuition is just barely covering the needs of the schools--the teachers are not in BMWs, the schools aren't pocketing massive's just that somehow, along the way, it just became that expensive to give a child a good-quality Jewish and secular education.

So how did it happen? Was it when we started demanding world-class teachers and facilities for our children? When we started trying to make our children as prepared for Harvard as they were for Yeshiva? Are we asking too much from our day schools when we ask them to be top-notch Jewish schools AND match and exceed the best that the private and public school system has to offer? Or is this really what we need to live and succeed as modern Jews in America?

We all struggle with the public school question. I myself went to public school for the first 8 years of school and it wasn't a bad experience for me. But I will say that despite the fact that there were lots of Jews in my school most of my friends weren't Jewish. That I learned countless Christmas carols and have fond memories of decorating trees and dying Easter eggs. And that at least one girl that I counted as a best friend was probably a little curious about my horns.

What do we lose when we send our children to public school? A body of knowledge, to be sure, but also a way of life. Within just a year of being at a Schechter school I had stopped dating non-Jews, by two years I had stopped eating traif meat. And that was with very little explicit pressure from my teachers and peers. My day school--an average one in most ways--showed me how--and maybe even why--to be Jewish.

These kind of influences on our children can be gained in other ways--in after-school programs, from mentors and tutors, in youth groups and summer camps (perhaps the brightest possibility) but can anything really compensate for the loss of year-round immersion? I'm not so sure.

And so I face down the cost, kind of frightened. Two years ago I figured that God--in the guise of the kindness of richer people--would provide. But now I'm not so sure. And age 5 doesn't look so far off.

But hey, I know this guy promising 200% returns on my investments....

Sunday, May 10, 2009

What do Jewish mothers look like?

The Jewish Women’s Archive has initiated a new community photo project on, called “Jewish Mothers: The Way We Were, The Way We Are.”


Please help build the collection by contributing photos of yourself or another Jewish mother (literal or metaphorical) in your life.


The photo can show a Jewish mother, now or in the past, in any context:

·      Mothers at home or at work

·      Mothers in the family and in the community

·      Mothers of different generations and family constellations

·      Formal portraits or candid snapshots


It's up to you. How would you like to represent Jewish mothers?


Happy Mother’s Day!

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Mother's Day reflection, with thanks to Henrietta Szold

Cross-posted at Jewesses With Attitude

Frankly, I’m too burnt out by a day spent with my children to offer much in the way of my own reflections on Mother’s Day. So instead I will share the words of Henrietta Szold to fellow Zionist activist Jessie Sampter on August 23, 1917:

“Deep down in the bottom of my heart I have always held that I should have had children, many children. It is only in rearing children that minute service piled on minute service counts. In my life, details have confused the issue; they have not gone to make a harmonious and productive whole. In a mother’s life, ability to lose one’s identity in details is the great thing for the future of mankind.”

Now, the cynic in me, the exhausted mother in me, responds, “Well, of course someone without children would think that. The grass is always greener, etc.” Or, “Great, yet another celebration of women’s sacrifice of themselves for the ‘future of mankind.’” But there’s also something about these words that rings true to my experience.

Please understand that I am in no way arguing that motherhood is the only worthwhile contribution one can make to society. And I certainly disagree with Szold’s claim that the details of her life’s work didn’t add up to a “harmonious and productive whole.” But I do relate to her sense that in motherhood the mundane tasks and minute details are often more rewarding – relentless, yes, but rewarding – than in other aspects of everyday life.  So I’m taking some comfort in Szold’s words; when I feel mired in the frantic day-to-day struggle of balancing work/kids/marriage/myself, they remind me of the bigger picture.

At the same time, this quotation reminds me that there are many ways to be a mother. Though she never had children of her own, Szold was considered a mother to thousands because of her tireless work leading Youth Aliya, which saved eleven thousand children from the Nazis by bringing them to Palestine.

Happy Mother’s Day. May you catch a glimpse of that elusive “harmonious and productive whole.”

Monday, May 04, 2009


Well, here I am again. Thanks to all for your warm replies and agreement that we're not alone as mothers in this mess called life.

I noticed that sleep, or lack thereof, hit somewhat of a chord. I would continue this sentence, but I'm falling asleep. No, just kidding. No, just kidding, I am falling asleep, but I can continue to type!

I get between 5-6 hours of sleep on most nights. It just isn't enough. I have a 4 year old who goes to bed about 8:30-9ish and wakes up at about 7:30-8. And I know that you are saying what I should be saying....that is definitely enough to get your 7+ hours of sleep a night. Add to that the fact that I know I'm increasingly paranoid about life in general and many things specifically when I get too few hours of sleep, and that I'm mean and grouchy and jumped up on caffeine, and that I don't eat properly and well, the cycle keeps going.

So what is stopping us??

What's stopping me is that I LIKE ME TIME. No child, no husband, no dishes, no cooking for tomorrow, no sorting/folding laundry, no paying bills or calling friends or making playdates or writing thank you notes or checking email or finishing up the work I was supposed to do at the office. I like to be alone. And the only time I can do it is after everyone goes to bed and the day is done. I want to sit with a cup of tea and read the New Yorker or just fool around on Facebook or watch stupid TV. I want to be alone in the quiet. And that generally has to be done after 11pm. Or even after midnight. And I'm a nightowl, for sure. I get my best work done between midnight and 2am!

What is keeping you awake?