|Rabbi David Ozeri (Mishpacha)|
The intractable problem of the high cost of Jewish education has once again been discussed in a major Charedi publication. This time it focused on the woefully underpaid Mechanchim. Mishpacha Magazine featured a cover story on Rabbi David Ozeri, the leader of Brooklyn’s Sephardi community. He has made it a top priority to improve the lot of these dedicated teachers. To say that most Mechanchim currently struggle on the salaries they are paid is an understatement.
I have discussed this issue many times. The problem is that parents can barely afford to pay what they are already being asked to pay. I don’t know too many parents of a typical family size of 4 or 5 children that pay full tuition for all of their children. And I also don’t know too many Orthodox parochial schools that don’t run on deficits. Which leaves their Mechanchim out on a limb.
How can we raise their salaries to a point where they will no longer have to buy groceries on credit - not having enough money to pay for them when they are purchased? They are constantly in a state of debt to the religious grocery store owners who extend this kind of credit out of the goodness of their hearts. They too deserve to be paid what they are owed. Not to mention the fact that often Mechanchim have to borrow money to pay for life cycle events like weddings for their children. Weddings that are generally very modest.
There are no easy answers. Traditional fund raising by these institutions have their limits. In far too many cases those efforts are maxed out and there is still a short fall at the end of the year. In the more right wings schools where family size is often substantially larger, the scholarship allowances are greater making the shortfall greater. That makes their ability to raise salaries to a livable level a near impossibility. Their parent body is already ‘taxed’ to the limit - paying as much as they possibly can in most cases.
And yet as is quite clear now more than ever, if we want to perpetuate Orthodox Judaism well into the future, a good Jewish education is indispensable!
Everything I just said is not new. The problem seems to be unsolvable in traditional ways. We can’t expect parents to pay higher tuition from money which they do not have. Fund raising is maxed out. And even if we could find and eliminate waste in the school budgets, I doubt that would significantly impact their bottom line.
I have in the past made some suggestions about how to remedy the situation. The most important of which has as of yet not been implemented. The fact is that the Orthodox Jewish world has enough money to fund Jewish education. The money is there.
One of the eye opening comments made in the Mishpacha article was a statistic quoted by one of Rabbi Ozeri’s wealthy donors. He made the astonishing claim that there are 12 billionaires in the Torah world. If this is true, then my proposal that they take ‘the pledge’ would solve the problem.
By coincidence 60 Minutes re-broadcast a story yesterday about ‘The Giving Pledge’(see below). Billionaires Bill and Melinda Gates, and Warren Buffet have started a very exclusive club where they and fellow billionaires pledge to give away at least half of their wealth to the charities of their choice. If there is one ‘charity’ that is vital to the future of Judaism, it is Jewish education. Imagine if these 12 billionaires took the pledge and chose Jewish education as their philanthropic recipients. Imagine funding a super endowment fund with 6 billion dollars designed specifically to supplement the budgets of all parochial elementary and high schools. That would generate who knows how many millions of dollars per year that would go directly to Jewish education.
One might ask whether it’s fair to ask anyone to give away half their wealth to a single charity. I think it's fair if we are talking billionaires. I don’t see a problem living off the remaining 500 million. I could live on half that. What about other legitimate charities? I think there might be room for additional contributions from the remaining 500 million.
The Jewish people have inherited the trait of Chesed form our patriarch Abraham. But it appears that the non Jewish world has a head start on us. If it is true that there are 12 billionaires in Orthodoxy there is not a doubt in my mind that they should do this. I don’t see how a Torah oriented billionaire could refuse to do it. They know the value and importance of Jewish education. And they must also know about the economics of it. Of what value is that money if it just sits in their bank accounts?
And this hasn’t even touched the multi millionaires that could donate millions of their own wealth to such a fund without breaking a sweat.