Rising Costs: Raising Kids
Being Jewish is expensive
By Elinor Spokes
Raising children is expensive. Raising Jewish children is even more costly. For Jewish parents who wish to raise their children “Jewishly” by immersing them in the traditions and rituals of the religion, the added expenses can be both exponential and daunting. As a result, with the hope of giving their children the finest possible foundation in Jewish life, Jewish parents often are forced to make difficult decisions, especially in this economic climate.
In a 2002 report, “The Costs of Jewish Living,” Gerald Bubis of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and the University of Southern California posed the question, “What are Jewish experiences worth to a family when compared with other perfectly desirable items?”
Bubis examined the average costs for a family with two children in day school. These families also were active participants in the Jewish community, sending their children to camp, becoming synagogue and Jewish Community Center members and giving an annual gift to their local Federation.
In 2009, Bubis updated the costs. He now estimates that for a Jewish family to participate in all the aforementioned Jewish activities, their household income would have to range between $130,000 and $150,000. The median income for American Jewish households was, prior to the economic downturn, $80,000.
Buhis also notes that sending children to supplemental religious school, instead of day school, can bring down costs significantly and the household income needed to sustain a Jewish lifestyle will be somewhat lower.
In Baltimore, the Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore has recognized that Jewish families are struggling and making difficult decisions with regard to educating their children Jewishly, both from a day school and religious school perspective. Michael Hoffman, the Associated’s vice president for community planning and allocations, says that if things don’t change dramatically in the pricing structure of the services offered by the Jewish community, then “we will price people out of the market.” He feels a more “community-minded approach” is necessary to combat the effects of the growing costs of living a Jewish life.
For example, cognizant that many families and young couples are questioning the value of congregational memberships, Hoffman believes that the Jewish community must come up with a better business plan. That plan needs to include more collaboration among the Jewish institutions and ways to leverage those partnerships.
Several years ago, the Associated did attempt to create J-Link, a program that offered a two-year combined membership to the JCC and a synagogue. It was targeted towards young Jewish couples and families. Ultimately, the program was discontinued because, instead of producing the desired outcome of creating more engaged and committed members at both institutions, the participants dropped out once they had to pay the membership fees themselves.
As Jewish families try to cope with the realities of these tough economic times, they face difficult decisions, but many still believe that the Judaic component of their lives is paramount.
Families Making Tough Decisions
The Kreshtool family
Shannon and Jeffrey Kreshtool are raising their two daughters, Ella, 4, and Ariel, 6, in Owings Mills. Ella currently attends The Children’s Center at Har Sinai Congregation and Ariel goes to Timber Grove Elementary School and the Berman-Lipavsky Religious School at Beth El Congregation. Although they considered private school for their oldest daughter, they chose their local public school due to soaring tuition.
One financial decision they did make, which impacts their Jewish life, is not to join a congregation. At this point in their lives, they see no benefit or value to membership.
Although, Shannon Kreshtool notes that the family enjoys attending Tot Shabbat services and children’s services during the High Holidays, they can do that without being members of a congregation. If the economy improves, perhaps when her daughters are older, she does envision joining somewhere.
Feinberg and Fishkin family
“Judaism is very important to us and as long as we could afford Jewish activities we will do them,” says Jill Feinberg. She and husband David Fishkin are raising their two daughters, 6-year-old Stephanie and 4-year-old Rebecca, in Mt. Washington. Their older daughter attends Mt. Washington Elementary School, religious school at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and Camp Milldale in the summer. Their younger daughter is currently enrolled at the Park Heights Jewish Community Center, but the family will be making a decision regarding where she will go to kindergarten next year.
The dilemma, they say, will be whether to keep her at the JCC where she is steeped in Jewish learning or to attend the public school, which now offers a full-day kindergarten. A big part of that decision will be based on costs, as well as the benefits of having both children on the same schedule and in the same place.
The Mannes family
Stacey and David Mannes of Owings Mills have twin boys, Aaron and Drew, who are in the pre-first program at the McDonogh School. For their preschool years, the boys attended the Owings Mills JCC where, Stacey Mannes says, “they built a strong sense of their Jewish community and heritage.” She credits the boys’ experience at the JCC in making them so comfortable with their Jewish identity and not being fazed by going to a school with many students who are not Jewish.
Both boys are now enrolled in Sunday school at Har Sinai Congregation. The Mannes, however, did not become members of the synagogue until their boys were ready to enroll in religious school. Although the couple purchased High Holiday tickets for years, they did not want to incur the expense of membership until they felt it was absolutely necessary.
The Silber family
“You have to pick and chose what your family can sustain when it comes to Jewish education, but I have never felt that Jewish education was optional. It is part of who we are,” passionately states Ruth Silber. She and her husband, Harry, of Owings Mills, are raising their three boys, Matthew, Jeremy and Joshua, ages 4, 7 and 8, respectively. The two oldest attend Ft. Garrison Elementary School and the youngest attends Goldsmith Early Childhood Education Center at Chizuk Amuno Congregation.
Their decision as to where to send their sons to school was definitely determined by the cost factor, but they are grateful for the wonderful supplemental religious schools and programs that are available to them. Silber notes that they make very conscious decisions to cut back on other things to make Judaism a centerpiece of their lives.
“If I don’t give them exposure to Jewish learning now, as children, when will they get that? Jewish education, in any form, is invaluable,” she says.
Average Costs Of Raising Jewish Children
Bris (ceremony only) $550-650
Baby naming (ceremony only) $350-400
Jewish preschool: 2-year-old program 3 x week (half-day) $3,500
4-year-old program 5 x week (9 a.m.-3 p.m.) $8,000
Jewish day school $16,000
Religious school $1,200
Synagogue dues $1,400
JCC membership $846
Four weeks at Jewish overnight camp $4,600
Jewish day camp:
Preschool age for four weeks $800
Grade school age for four weeks $1,600
Bar/bat mitzvah tutoring $35 x 30 half-hour sessions $1,050
Bar/bat mitzvah celebration varies widely
A compliation from various sources