Religion is Expensive
By Jacob Scharf
Religion is expensive. More specifically, practicing religion is expensive. Whether it is through private schools or paying the yearly membership for your local synagogue; it can get a little pricey. Having said that, I do believe that synagogues and private schools are tremendous opportunities for people to expand their Judaic knowledge. Simply put, money should not factor into one's decision on the quality which one practices religion.
From personal experience, I've realized this to be significant. As a recent graduate of Lower Merion High School, I have noticed a lot of Jewish students who chose public school over Judaic education because of the "ridiculous" price of private Jewish schools. As a result, the steep prices of schools caused them to discontinue their Judaic education..
While I realize that most funding given to Jewish private schools is via tuition; it should not result in tuitions, which can be more than some universities. In fact, by lowering tuition, more students may choose their school versus public schools. The logic seems absent. Or if a school would rather focus on expansion and other luxuries, I ask that you re-think your priorities..
In a dicey economic state, Jewish students are becoming increasingly more likely to choose pubic schools versus private schools with a dual curriculum. So, shouldn't we be striving to get these students into their 'school of choice'? Though there are many scholarships that help people pay for a private school if they are unable to pay the full tuition; many students are unable to attend a private Jewish school of their choosing because of the increasing price. As a student at Queens College, my current tuition is about sixteen thousand dollars for the year. At a local school named, Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy the tuition for high school students is an astonishing, twenty eight thousand dollars. This needs to be addressed. A well-renown university like Queens College does require more resources than Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, so Barrack's tuition is noticeably erratic. Begging the question, why does a "local" Judaic high school require more revenue than a college known around the country?.
Synagogues also fall under similar criteria as jewish private schools. The ability to practice religion with good quality should not be restricted to those who can successfully pay the yearly/monthly membership. Personally, it makes very little sense for a synagogue to require people to pray in their building. While I realize that synagogues do need to pay for maintenance, staff, rabbis, etc. The amount received in revenue, I guarantee, is superfluous to the needed amount for payroll. By no means am I implying there is a need for controversy. Merely, I am suggesting a need for speculation. If a synagogue, or private school for that matter, achieves its quota for the year in profits, why not lower membership/tuition fees to make it more accessible? Rather than jacking up the prices to be able to expand or re-decorate..
Without mentioning names, I recall looking down at a membership 'card' for a local synagogue, three thousand six hundred dollars(the minimum fee). My jaw dropped. If anyone's keeping count; a typical-jewish family on the mainline, spends in the ball park of thirty one thousand, six hundred dollars(if only one child) just to sustain their jewish roots. One's ability to pay their yearly fee or tuition should not be related to the quality which one practices religion. Practicing religion with 'cavod' (honor) should not be limited to the wealthy; it should be open to the public..
In a society that's becoming increasingly riddled with teens who claim to be agnostics and atheists, Judaism should try to thrive by any means necessary. For most people, religion is no longer convenient. Practicing religion takes a tremendous amount of time and money. Though only one of those factors can and should be altered. Money. It's a stigma many associate with Judaism. Religion is not a business to be profited from; rather it's a belief, which should not be corrupted by money--no matter what the reason..
By no means am I saying that this Judaic education is invaluable. I am stating that it's misleading to expect families to pay such a large amount for a simple necessity..
I believe Mahatma Gandhi said it best; "religion is a matter of the heart. No physical inconvenience can warrant abandonment of one's own religion"..
from the December 2013 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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