Saying: “Thank you. You mean a great deal to us” to our teachers

Teachers have always been revered and even lionized in Jewish tradition. We have understood from our first days as a people how important teachers are in fulfilling the divine instruction, across every generation, to teach our children the hallowed ways of Judaism.

Perhaps, as families approach the Chanukah and winter break, it is appropriate that we extend our hands in gratitude – literally and metaphorically – to the men and women who actually teach our children? We owe them a great deal.

In A Cup Full of Gratitude for Teachers and a Challenge, on the ejewishphilanthropy website, renowned Torah scholar and educator, Dr. Erica Brown, elegantly reminded us of the seminal importance of this unique expression of thanks. How right she is.

“No matter how much money is invested in renovating a gym, improving school lunches, buying the latest math curriculum or hiring a new principal, a school is only as good as your child’s worst teacher. Only uniformly great teaching across an entire school will produce consistently great learning.”

Dr. Brown points to evidence of a crisis (in the United States) of a dearth of good people going into or staying in the field of education. In response she writes, “the only way to confront the teacher crisis that is hitting us already and will hit harder still is an all-out concerted effort by establishment and emergent Jewish organizations – and not only schools – to say often and out-loud: Teaching Matters. Value Teachers. Become a Teacher.”

The situation for teachers in Canadian Jewish schools may not as dire as the one Dr. Brown describes in the United States. The key point, however, of her cri de coeur does indeed apply here as well. That is: it is always vital to acknowledge the good that teachers do for our children, for us and for helping to ensure our Jewish future.

Thus she writes: “So to all the teachers out there: thank you. Bless you. We need you to grow the next generation of teachers by deliberately planting the seeds now, no matter what grade you teach.” And then she invites teachers to send the reason or reasons they went into the profession to the Mayberg Center for Jewish Education and Leadership as a way of inspiring others to consider pursuing the same lofty work.

“If you’re a teacher of any subject and any grade, enter our contest. We’re asking you to fill in our virtual board by completing this statement in a hundred words of less and send it over before December 30th to ericabrown@gwu.edu. “I teach because…” Don’t forget to tell us your name, what you teach, where you teach and what grade you teach. We will be posting these responses. The top entry will receive a $100 Amazon gift card.”

Dr. Brown concludes her heartfelt plea by reminding us of a certain wisdom that we should carry each day in our hearts as we conduct our lives.

“One hundred years from now, it won’t matter what kind of car I drove, what kind of house I lived in, how much money I had in the bank, or what my clothes looked like, but the world may be a little better because I was important in the life of a child.”

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Shabbat Shalom

GAJE

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The commitment that is also an inspiring vision

This week, we bring readers’ attention to yet another initiative aimed at making Jewish education more affordable from another jurisdiction in North America. 

Three weeks ago the Del Mar Times, in California published a story about the progress of the initiative started last year at the San Diego Jewish Academy (SDJA) to bring more students into the school by drastically reducing tuitions for some grades. (A description of the school’s tuition initiative appeared in this space at the time.)

In reading about the SDJA program, GAJE followers will see ripples of the initiative launched by CHAT and Federation two years ago through the significant philanthropic intervention of the Neuberger/Jesin family. The Neuberger/Jesin effort has been successful here. Thus far, so too is the SDJA experiment.

The initiative in San Diego is called the Open Door program. It cuts tuition in half at San Diego Jewish Academy for kindergarten and 9th grade, and maintains that reduction for those students for four years.

According to the school “because of the high enrolment numbers following the program’s first year, SDJA is able to continue Open Door for 2020/2021 in kindergarten and 9th grade, advancing its vision to eventually offer half price tuition across all grades and removing cost as a barrier for a world-class private school education.

SDJA now has more than 600 students, including three kindergarten classes and more than 50 9th graders.

Head of San Diego Jewish Academy, Chaim Heller, spoke about the overall impact of the tuition initiative. “The success of Open Door is more than just numbers. A thriving school with more families means that we can offer different types of learning experiences, more opportunities for student social and emotional growth, and more extracurricular activities. We want to continue to welcome even more families who felt that San Diego Jewish Academy was beyond their reach.”

SDJA Board, Heidi Gantwerk elegantly described her feelings about day school affordability: “Making a Jewish day school education affordable for more families is a commitment we can all share and be a part of. It’s an inspiring vision to pursue and it’s why we hope that every family fortunate enough to be part of this thriving community gives back to the Open Door program as well.”

GAJE shares Gantwerk’s commitment. As does our community and its leadership.The full article is available at:https://www.delmartimes.net/news/local-news/story/2019-11-15/san-diego-jewish-academy-continues-tuition-affordability-program

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Shabbat Shalom

GAJE, December 6, 2019

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Get involved in community-wide collaborative efforts

From time to time we bring readers’ attention to the efforts in other jurisdictions across North America to secure and perpetuate the future of Jewish education. We do so again this week.

The Jewish Link, a newspaper serving parts of New Jersey, recently published an article by Sam Moed, an education lay activist, entitled The Importance of Day School Education. Despite its title, the article is as much about making day school education affordable as it is about the importance of the education.

Moed introduces the subject in language that is familiar.

“In many Jewish homes, the conversation around the Shabbat table regularly circles back to day school education. Families are grateful that their children attend wonderful schools with resources and opportunities… At the same time, they are often deeply troubled and stressed by the burden of sustaining a Jewish lifestyle and providing a robust Jewish education. Day school affordability continues to be among the most pressing and urgent challenges across Jewish communities in the U.S.

“Like all day school parents, we are motivated by a belief that Jewish education is the single most powerful lever we have to impact the trajectory of future Jewish engagement, identity and vitality. Without this foundation, the molding of generations of strong Jews and Jewish leaders becomes an improbable, if not impossible, task.”

After extensive volunteer involvement with his children’s day school, Moed says his eyes were opened “to the massive undertaking involved in balancing the need to provide a quality Jewish day school education and the financial challenges that come along with it.”

He offers two pieces of advice in furtherance of the mission of ensuring the sustainability and affordability of Jewish day schools:

• Get involved in the schools that are nurturing your children during their most formative years, and

• Implement community-wide collaborative efforts across multiple fronts to make a meaningful difference. Schools, parents and communities must be involved.

Moed then describes his further involvement, on behalf of Jewish education, within the broader New Jersey community as chairman of Teach NJ, an organization attempting to obtain public funding as “a key driver of affordability for day schools.”

GAJE followers will laud and support Moed’s efforts.

“I am acutely aware that we continue to face substantial challenges to deliver excellence while ensuring access and affordability,” Moed states. He expresses the hope that they will ultimately succeed in achieving their hoped-for results. To be successful however, he pleads that this vital mission “be at the top of our communal agenda and every community member and day school parent must be active in solutions”.

We agree.

Moed’s article is available at: https://www.jewishlinknj.com/op-eds/33953-the-importance-of-day-school-education

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Shabbat Shalom

GAJE, November 29, 2019

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Avi Chai Says Goodbye, But Not ‘Mission Accomplished’

Anyone in the field of formal and informal Jewish education knows of the Avi Chai Foundation. Unique among foundations oriented to Jewish life, Avi Chai, is singularly dedicated to supporting Jewish educational research and programming.

It will cease operation at the end of this calendar in accordance with the wishes of its founder, the late Zalman Bernstein, whose dream it was to ensure and enhance and even ennoble Jewish life around the world. A sunset clause – the end of 2019 – was incorporated into its operational design as a way of preventing “mission drift.”

An article about the Foundation and its legacy appeared recently in The New York Jewish Week.

In the 35 years of its existence, Avi Chai disbursed $1.2 billion in total grants across North America, Israel and the former Soviet Union and gave $158 million in interest-free loans to schools and camps for capital projects.

The reporter, Shira Hanau, noted that “the impact of Avi Chai’s investments in developing the education field through professional development programs, research on education and philanthropy and consolidating resources within the field will likely be felt for years to come.

The article points out however that despite the success of the Foundation in structurally strengthening the sinews of Jewish education, its members and decision-makers acknowledge with considerable regret and concern the overall negative impact of the lack of affordability of immersive Jewish educational experiences like day school and summer camp. “That’s an area where I wish we had been able to do more,” Yossi Prager, the executive director of the Foundation told the reporter.

Our Sage, Rabbi Tarfon, might have had Avi Chai in mind when he famously said:

“The day is short, the work is great…It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task,

but neither are you free to absolve yourself from taking up the task.”

We laud and thank the Avi Chai Foundation for its unparalleled dedication to Jewish education. That its mission was not entirely accomplished, as the article notes, is not to its discredit. It simply means that the rest of us must now try to complete the work. As Rabbi Tarfon reminded us, we must not absolve ourselves of the responsibility.

Together we can indeed make Jewish education affordable.

The full Jewish Week article is available at:https://jewishweek.timesofisrael.com/avi-chai-says-goodbye-but-not-mission-accomplished/

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Shabbat Shalom

GAJE, November 22, 2019

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Students with a vibrant Jewish future can help build a better world

GAJE’s mission to try to make Jewish education more affordable is based upon the premise that a Jewish education at its best, the “gold standard” of which is day school, is exceptional as well as essential.

Rabbi Jethro Berkman, the Dean of Jewish Education at Gann Academy, a pluralistic Jewish high school in Waltham, Massachusetts, posted an article this week that artfully and substantively makes this very same point. Entitled, Day School Education for Student Thriving, the article is addressed primarily to families that are not “highly-Jewishly-engaged.” All families interested in Jewish education, however, can benefit from his insights.

When parents ask “what is the value-added of Jewish day school education?” Rabbi Berkman suggests the following answer.

“Jewish day schools offer students access to Judaism’s unique tools for human thriving – and Jewish tradition has some powerful tools. With more and more young people struggling with anxiety and depression, and with a growing body of research demonstrating the importance of spirituality for mental health (see Lisa Miller’s The Spiritual Child), students need Jewish tradition’s powerful resources for social, emotional and spiritual growth more than ever.”

Rabbi Berkman offers a number of areas where Jewish day schools (and other educational institutions) might leverage Jewish wisdom and practices to help their students to thrive:

Developing character strengths: The Jewish ethical tradition of Mussar offers a powerful tool for personal growth.

Engaging in conversations of meaning:Recent research highlights the importance of developing a sense of meaning and purpose for human thriving.

Cultivating a sense of intergenerational self:Research by Drs. Marshall Duke and Robyn Fivush of Emory University suggests children’s knowledge of their parents’ and grandparents’ stories – their sense of being part of a family extending back in time, is associated with resilience, positive self-esteem and overall mental health.

Cultivating self-knowledge and emotional awareness: Judaism has a long tradition of meditation practices, and a number of Jewish texts emphasize the importance of awareness of our inner world (particularly in the Hasidic tradition).

Rabbi Berkman integrates personal, individual student thriving with a sense of responsibility to the Jewish people and the wider world. In the words of Gann Academy’s mission statement, “we want our students to thrive so that they can “create a vibrant Jewish future and build a better world where human dignity will flourish.”

Thus it is for our children’s sake and as well as for the sake of a better world that we must all strive to make Jewish education affordable to the families that seek it.

Rabbi Berkman’s article is available at:https://ejewishphilanthropy.com/day-school-education-for-student-thriving/

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Shabbat Shalom

GAJE, November 15, 2019

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How other jurisdictions are reducing tuition

The JTA published an article this week, sponsored by and produced in partnership with the Avi Chai Foundation, entitled “Five innovative ways Jewish day schools are reducing tuition costs.”

The article was a summary roundup. The five discrete methods that are showcased bring no new information to regular readers of this weekly update. Indeed, the fifth innovative way cited is the successful experiment with tuition at TanenbaumCHAT two years ago. So revolutionary were the results from the CHAT initiative, they opened eyes throughout the Diaspora.

The true importance of the article is in the fact that it was published at all. It demonstrates yet again the near ubiquity throughout North America of the urgency to deal with the unaffordability of Jewish education for middle class families. As it has in the GTA, the problem has ascended to the top priority of community decision-makers who have come to understand if there is no future for diverse day schools, there is no future for a diverse Jewish community.

The five methods listed are:

• Put a cap on it – At Westchester Day School in Mamaroneck, New York, the elementary school offers a limit on how much parents must pay as a percentage of their income.

• Cut in half, then give it back – Basic economic theory posits that if you cut the price of something, demand surges. If it rises enough, increased revenue offsets the reduced sticker price. That’s the theory behind a program at the San Diego Jewish Academy to cut the cost of tuition by 50 percent.

• Get rid of the frills and tinker with the learning model – Much has been written about schools that achieve major tuition savings by slimming down the administration and pursuing other cost savings.

• Get the state to pay for it – In recent years Jewish day schools have been increasingly successful at winning public money for a whole range of purposes, from security to technology education to nursing assistance. But states with tax-credit scholarship programs can bring cost savings to a whole other level. (GAJE’s decision to use the courts to try to compel the Government of Ontario to pay to independent schools a portion of the cost of educating students in the public schools falls within this category.)

• Use philanthropy to reduce cost barriers to enrolment – In Toronto, two donors gave $15 million (Canadian) in 2017 to reduce tuition by more than one-third at TanenbaumCHAT, one of the only non-Orthodox day schools there. Enrollment surged.

Good luck to all the schools wherever situated, in their efforts to bring more students to Jewish learning. The greater their success, the greater will be the prospects for the Jewish future.

The full article is available at:

https://www.jta.org/2019/11/04/united-states/5-innovative-ways-jewish-day-schools-are-reducing-tuition-costs

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Shabbat Shalom

GAJE, November 8, 2019

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It’s time to appeal to the courts

It is our belief that we must do everything we can and pursue every avenue possible to try to bring more children into our schools – for their sake and for the sake of the future of our community. 

UJA Federation has stated that making Jewish education affordable is its top communal priority. Indeed we commend Federation for the steps it is taking to make this so. But the task is too large for one agency or organization alone to accomplish. Every reasonable approach for making Jewish education affordable must be explored and not left only to the generosity of community philanthropists who already underwrite and account for so much of the community’s vitality and diversity. 

Given the urgent need, we believe it is well past time to endeavour to have the courts re-assess the 1996 Supreme Court decision that provided support to the government of Ontario’s policy of denying public funds to independent denominational schools. The ruling (known as the Adler decision) did not prohibit or prevent the government from providing funds to the general studies portion of independent denominational schools. Rather, the court ruled that not doing so was legal in light of the founding agreement of Confederation in 1867 between Upper and Lower Canada. 

There may now be a way of doing this. 

A legal opinion by David Matas commissioned by GAJE two years ago concluded that “there is merit in a request for reconsideration of the Adler decision”. 

A constitutional law paper delivered last year by Prof. Benjamin Berger suggests the Adler decision needs to be reassessed in light of demographic, educational and legal changes that have transpired since 1996. 

The combined reasoning of these scholars may provide the legal path for challenging the 1996 ruling. 

To that end, we have engaged the services of two law firms – David Matas in Winnipeg, a renowned human rights advocate lawyer with significant experience at the Supreme Court, and RELAW, LLP in Toronto – who have agreed to take on the case. 

We believe that such a challenge is not only sound and reasonable but necessary. Moreover it is morally imperative. Apart from the Atlantic provinces, Ontario is the outlier in the country regarding education funding. The western provinces and Quebec provide funding to independent schools for some portion of the cost of the general studies part of their respective provincial curricula. 

Through the Federation-led initiative two years ago in relation to the tuition at CHAT, we now have empirical evidence that the level of enrolment is directly tied to the cost of 

tuition. If the legal challenge succeeds and Ontario yields to the newly reinterpreted law, the financial impact will be significant. It will mean permanently lower tuitions in our schools. 

GAJE will soon be seeking support from individuals who share our view regarding the merits of attempting this legal challenge. We hope, if asked, you will respond positively as best you can. 

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Shabbat Shalom 

GAJE, November 1, 2019

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We would like to share personal stories about how the affordability issue has affected families in our community. We will post these stories anonymously on our Facebook page and on our website.

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