Each day we put it off, we fail our kids

The affordability of Jewish education may actually be the pre-eminent subject on the agenda of most Jewish communities in North America. It certainly is one of the most talked about around community “water coolers”.  

One of the most recent contributions to the discussion is by Lindsey Bodner in New York. In an essay for eJewish Philanthropy entitled, Thinking Big and Funding Small: Models for Making Jewish Education Affordable, she presents her own innovative approach for enabling more children to benefit from Jewish education. To be sure, her suggestions are specific to her situation in New York and may not be widely adaptable in our jurisdiction. But Bodner does propagate a strong principle that is relevant for all Jewish jurisdictions.

Families are already leaving our Jewish day schools. We know this because people have been vocal about leaving and because so many day schools are struggling. Leaders in the Jewish space must confront this issue head on. Each day we put it off, we miss the opportunity to strengthen our community, and we fail kids who want a Jewish education but are attending public schools, and we fail parents with kids at Jewish schools who are struggling to make ends meet.”

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Bodner’s intention in writing the essay was “to spark additional conversation about affordable Jewish education within the funding space.” She succeeded.

The specifics of her suggestions are secondary to the fact that she is offering suggestions. As she writes “If the priority is giving our kids great education, we can absolutely do that in a way that is accessible to all our kids.”

To this belief statement let us all say: “Amen”.

Bodner’s full article is available here:

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Chag Samayach and Shabbat Shalom,

GAJE

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‘Time for a paradigm shift’

Aaron Blumenfeld and Ira Walfish, well-known, long committed activists for social justice in the Jewish and broader community, recently published an article in The CJN (Complacency not an Option When it Comes to School Funding, April 7, 2019). They pleaded with members of the community to become more demonstrably involved in trying to convince politicians to address the issues that directly and deeply affect Jewish life.

Blumenfeld and Walfish pointed out that if politicians do not hear from large numbers of people concerning an issue, they are not likely to act on it. Moreover, they contend that politicians are not hearing from us in sufficient numbers on the issues of greatest concern to the Jewish community,

In particular they pointed to the issue of the affordability of Jewish education. “We submit that our most important communal issue is the lack of government funding for our schools. As our campuses continue to close and overall enrolment drops, we are in crisis mode. It is unrealistic to believe that this situation will change without communal pressure on politicians.”

The community’s advocacy agencies do, in fact, lobby the government about changing educational funding in our province. But Blumenfeld and Walfish’s point is well taken. The government must hear from the grassroots of the community too, from large numbers of individuals, from “the people”, the phrase many of our politicians are so fond of invoking.

As Blumenfeld and Walfish urge, we “must become vocal in promoting our issues.”

They are correct to call “for a paradigm shift…if our schools are to be saved, if we truly care about our kids being blessed with a Jewish education, then the status quo is not an option.”

No holiday evokes a discussion about Jewish education more than Pesach. Jewish education is the keystone supporting the entire structure of the Seder. The Seder is deliberately, masterfully constructed on the principle of receiving, understanding and respecting the differences among our children, on stimulating curiosity, inviting questions, offering answers and teaching according to the ability of the youngster to learn.

Perhaps, at a quiet, or less noisy or particularly private moment during the Seder, we might all ask ourselves whether we are doing enough to make Jewish education affordable – whether we are doing enough to let the government of Ontario know that “the status quo is not an option.”

The Blumenfeld/Walfish article is available at: https://www.cjnews.com/perspectives/opinions/guest-voice-complacency-not-an-option-when-it-comes-to-school-funding

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Shabbat Shalom and Chag Pesach Samayach

GAJE

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A powerful builder of Jewish affiliation

Some week’s ago,the community celebrated the release of a groundbreaking report entitled “2018 Survey of Jews in Canada: Final Report” by Robert Brym, Keith Neuman and Rhonda Lenton.

The study was conducted by the Environics Institute for Survey Research in partnership with the University of Toronto and York University.  That it was considered important for the Jewish community of Canada is evident in the fact that it was made possible through the financial support of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, the Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto, the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba, the Jewish Community Foundation of Montreal and Federation CJA in Montreal.

The report’s authors tell us that “the research provides the first empirically-based portrait of the identity, practices, and experiences of Jews in Canada, based on a survey conducted in four cities containing over 80 percent of the country’s Jewish population  -Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, and Winnipeg”.

The study is rich in detail and perspective about the Jews of Canada. The reason GAJE calls it to the attention of readers is because it reaffirms a message we have been delivering for the past four years. It definitively documents how powerful the day school experience is in building Jewish affiliation for life.

The following two observations about the importance of Jewish education are indicative of the report’s overall conclusions regarding the close connection between having a Jewish education and subsequently choosing to live one’s life demonstratively joined to the Jewish community.

“A key component of continuity is the prevalence of Jewish education, with most Jews in Canada having participated in one or more types of Jewish education when growing up. Jewish education is most likely to include attendance at an overnight summer camp, Hebrew school or Sunday school, but close to one-half have attended a Jewish day school or yeshiva and have done so for an average of nine years. “ (The Executive Summary)

“Based on the Toronto subsample, it is evident that an association exists between attending a Jewish day school and not fully assimilating into the mainstream culture. For some indicators, the likelihood of assimilation falls steadily the more years one attends Jewish day school.” (Report p.38)

The report is somewhat of a mirror. We urge everyone to look at it. They will see unique, exceptional Jewish community of Canada all looking back.

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For more information about the study, readers are asked to contact Keith Neuman, Ph.D.

The Environics Institute for Survey Research 416-969-2457, or by email at: keith.neuman@environics.ca

The final report is available at: https://www.environicsinstitute.org/docs/default-source/project-documents/2018-survey-of-jews-in-canada/2018-survey-of-jews-in-canada—final-report.pdf?sfvrsn=2994ef6_2

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Shabbat Shalom.

GAJE

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In praise of day school

Jody Passanisi, the Director of Middle School at Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School in Palo Alto, recently published an article entitled “Ten Reasons to Send Your Student to a Jewish Day School.” She was inspired to write the essay after attending the Prizmah Conference in Atlanta dedicated to the future of Jewish education.

The essay sparkles with enthusiasm and positive energy. Moreover it makes the case very clearly, substantively, forcefully and persuasively for sending our children to day school.

Her list, of course, is not comprehensive. If we were tasked with compiling our own set of 10 reasons for attending day school, we would undoubtedly express ourselves differently than Passanisi and/or find additional reasons.

She ascribes the following headings to her 10 reasons and elaborates on each: Grounding, Ethics, Community, History/Roots, Superb Education, Whole Child and a Well-Rounded Curriculum, Soul and Social Responsibility, Relationships, Progressive Education, and For the Future.

GAJE encourages everyone to read Passanisi’s article. Day school is not for everyone. But everyone who wishes to send his or children to day school will find the essay thoughtful and provocative.

When day school education is more affordable, more of us will be able to experience the Passanisi reasons for themselves and, of course, for their children.

Passanisi’s article is available at:

https://ejewishphilanthropy.com/ten-reasons-to-send-your-student-to-a-jewish-day-school/

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Shabbat Shalom. GAJE

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Fair educational funding for children with special needs

Last week, social policy scholars and researchers at Cardus, a non-partisan, not-for-profit public policy think tank focused on social policy issues such as education, family, work and economics, social cities, end-of-life care, and religious freedom, released a research paper entitled “Funding Fairness for Students in Ontario with Special Education Needs”.

The report pointed out a fundamental unfairness in Ontario’s funding of education for children with special learning needs. The executive summary of the Cardus report delineates the structural bias within Ontario’s policy. “Currently education funding for students with special education needs is based on the school attended rather than the special needs of the child.” GAJE has also frequently pointed to this very same discrimination.

“Currently students with special needs receive special education funding only if they attend a public government school,” the Cardus report states. “Students whose parents choose an independent non-government school for their children with special needs—often because the school more closely aligns with the family’s religious, philosophical or pedagogical convictions—are barred from receiving education funding for their special needs.”

In Ontario, in the year 2019, such unequal treatment is unconscionable.

The Cardus research paper not only exposes and condemns the discriminatory educational funding policy, it also provides figures for the expenditure required to bring some measure of fairness to students with special education needs who attend an independent non-government school. 

The report recommends Ontario” provide equitable funding for students with special needs in independent schools by supplying their schools with up to 75 percent of the level of support government-run schools get in this area. With an estimated maximum of 34,500 students receiving help, this would cost the provincial treasury about $195 million.”

“It is indefensible that in this modern era, we still discriminate against students living with a disability,” says Ray Pennings, Cardus executive vice-president and report co-author. “Services for students living with a disability should be based on need and not on the school the child attends.”

“Providing equitable access to equipment and services to all students living with a disability is a matter of basic fairness that will enable all Ontario children to learn, thrive, and succeed,” says report co-author and Cardus senior fellow Dr. Deani Van Pelt. “Adjusting Ontario’s outdated policy will help the province achieve greater inclusion and equity.”

GAJE agrees. The discrimination is inexcusable. Ontario should always stand for and embody inclusion, equity and fairness.

The full Cardus report is available on the Cardus website at:

https://www.cardus.ca/research/education/reports/funding-fairness-for-students-in-ontario-with-special-education-needs/

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Shabbat Shalom.

GAJE

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Priceless returns of sacrifice

Paul Bernstein, the Chief Executive Officer, Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools, published an article last week entitled “Jewish Day Schools Dare to Dream” in which he reported upon the recent Prizmah Conference in Atlanta. The conference encouraged attendees to “dare to dream about what might be possible for day schools today.”

Of course, as we know, what is possible for Jewish schools is exactly also what is necessary for them, namely, “resources for growth and affordability, educational innovation, and powerful networks that enable day schools to learn and grow together.”

The most intriguing aspect of Bernstein’s essay however was his reflection on what it means for families to “sacrifice” when they send their children to Jewish school. He urges readers to reject the notion of sacrifice as something negative. “Making a sacrifice, in the truest sense of the word, is not negative. Sacrifice is an inherently positive, optimistic act.

Bernstein asks: “What role do Jewish day schools play that makes them such a hub of so much sacrifice?”

And then he answers his own question. His answer is pivotal for understanding the everlasting importance of Jewish education. And that is why we point it out. “They [Jewish day schools] enable us…to feel closer to God, to connect to our children, and to build the kind of communities that will sustain us over generations. In a world where love-as-sacrifice is being forgotten, the sacrifice to provide a deep Jewish education is more important than ever. Sacrifice for Jewish day schools brings priceless returns.”

Bernstein’s article is available at:

https://ejewishphilanthropy.com/jewish-day-schools-dare-to-dream/

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GAJE is pleased to bring to the public’s attention that ADRABA (visit site), Toronto’s only full-time Jewish blended-learning high school, invites the community to attend an informational Open House at Congregation Beth Torah, 47 Glenbrook Avenue, on March 27 at 7:30 pm. It will be an opportunity to ask questions about full and part time credits in Jewish learning toward an Ontario Secondary School Diploma.

ADRABA offers full- and part-time Jewish learning, blending traditional teaching with cutting-edge tech, towards an Ontario Secondary School Diploma. 

Anyone interested in attending the Open House is asked RSVP to:  www.adraba.ca/rsvp27mar 

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Shabbat Shalom.

GAJE

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From the mind and heart of a millennial

Hannah Elkin, a fourth-year Rabbinic and Education student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, is attempting to help Jewish teens find meaning in Jewish theology, rituals, values and stories as a means to finding meaning in Jewish relationships. To that end, she is focusing on Jewish education as the keystone that will support the architecture of Jewish meaning and belonging.

She recently published an article on the eJewishPhilanthropy site entitled; The Purpose of Jewish Education is to Log In to the Jewish hNetwork.

Her message is an important one for its eloquence, substance and unique perspective. “As a Jewish millennial, I too am searching for deep and authentic spiritual fulfillment,” Elkin writes. “While I certainly find it at times through Buddhist teachings or nature panoramas, my spiritual home is Judaism. I find the greatest joy in the Jewish practices and wisdom that I have found along the way and then incorporated into my life through my own exploration and agency.” 

Her words will resonate with many of her contemporaries.

But her “elders” should also take her words to heart. For in addition to addressing her peers, she is also addressing her parents and grandparents.

“The challenge of Jewish leaders today is to help Jewish learners find the Judaism that is personally meaningful to them, creates opportunities to develop as an individual, and connects them with a community of other engaged and caring Jews.”

In one particular line of argument, she deftly illustrates the indispensability of education as the deep connective tissue to our Judaism.

“What is hateful to you, do not do to another … the rest is commentary.” One of the most commonly quoted sources in Judaism, this verse from Bavli Shabbat 31a describes the piece of wisdom that Hillel supposedly gave to a potential convert to Judaism who requested that Hillel teach him all of the Torah “standing on one foot.” However this pithy expression often leaves out the conclusion of the full saying: “What is hateful to you, do not do to another … the rest is commentary, now go and learn.” The full line clarifies the deeper role of education and learning in Judaism: one might take a piece of wisdom, but do not forget to keep searching for the whole.”

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Elkin’s full article can be found here.

https://ejewishphilanthropy.com/the-purpose-of-jewish-education-is-to-log-in-to-the-jewish-network/

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Shabbat Shalom. GAJE

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