Parents Group Finds Creative New Way to Pay for Tuition and Thwart 'Charedization'
TEANECK, NEW JERSEY — [TheKnish.com] At first glance, one would think that Mark Goldberg leads the ideal Modern Orthodox life. He lives in a spacious 5-bedroom home in a growing Jewish neighborhood, only a block from his shul. He has a loving wife, five wonderful children and a Lexus and Odyssey in the driveway (leased of course). Mark is also quite happy with his modern orthodox lifestyle. He loves getting his coffee at Starbucks (the coffee does have an O-U) and eating the ocassional salad at McDonalds when there is no other kosher restaurant around. If you ask him about how he was able to accomplish all of this, Mark will proudly tell you that he was able to afford all of this with a "manageble" amount of debt on his credit cards and home equity loans. But unfortunately, Mark's idyllic M.O. lifestyle was rudely interrupted recently by a freightening new trend sweeping the modern orthodox community - Charedization.
"It started very slowly at first," he says of the charedization of his oldest son, Michael. "Mike would send us pictures of him in Israel. First he had his tzitzit out of his pants and we just thought he was becoming a slob. Then he started wearing a big black yarmulke and we thought it was just a phase - something he did to be cool while in a foreign country. But then he came back dressed like an Oreo cookie and we were really concerned. My wife and I thought is was another fad he was going through, but we were dead wrong. All of my life I wanted my son to grow up to be a nice Jewish boy and raise a nice Jewish family. I struggled hard to put five kids through Yeshiva and I cut corners to send them to Israel for the year. And this is how he repays me - by becoming a kollelnik!?!? The chutzpah!" says Goldberg while trying to hold back the tears. "If I knew he was going to do that, I wouldn't have wasted my money on a good day school and would've sent him to a cheaper cheder instead."
Many other parents have echoed the same sentiment. Dr. Steve Oizen, an Otorhinolarynologist (ear-NOS-andTHe-ROWt Dok-TOUR) from New Rochelle, NY, echoes similar sentiment. Five years ago Oizen was excited that his oldest daughter would follow in his footsteps to become a physician and take over his Otorhinolaryngology practice. "You'd be amazed at how many people can't pronounce that and that didn't deter her from wanting to become a docotor whose specialty is unpronounceable," he said. "But then she went to Israel, then came home and announced that it was inappropriate for a woman to be touching a man, yet alone looking up his nose. I was devastated." Her mother, Mrs. Anita DaVen, a Dutch Jew and self-proclaimed "big macher" in her local woman's tefila group expressed similar frustrations. "This is a girl who read from the Torah for her Bat-Mitzvah al pi halacha, and argued with us that we should have adopted my family's custom for waiting only 72 minutes between meat and milk. 'Why do we always follow the man's custom?' she used to rant. Now she won't go to a shul that doesn't have a mechitza to the ceiling, nor will she even so much as move the milk out of her way to get to the soda in the fridge less than six hours after eating meat. It's outrageous!"
Parents like the Goldbergs and the Oizens are fed up with this trend. Unlike places like Brooklyn and Monsey where schools set tuition prices based on both competition and on the concept of low-margin high-volume, schools in modern orthodox areas such as Westchester and parts of New Jersey are much more expensive. "It is much more cost effective to run a school with 1000 students than 400," said Rabbi Moshe Gonnif, headmaster of Yeshiva Yakar M'Kaspechah in Tenafly, NJ. "Even if I would hire teenagers out of high school to teach secular studies like those yeshivas in Brooklyn," says Rabbi Gonnif, "I would still need to charge $12,000 a student just to make ends meet." Still, given the trend of Charedization, many parents are upset that the $100,000 or more they spent to send their kids to good yeshivas, expecting that they would go to good colleges is wasted when their kids decide to become rabbis and rebbitzins. Mark Goldberg is so upset that he has started to take action.
Yes, Mark Goldberg is fed up with Charedization. He once thought that he wouldn't mind if his kids grew up to be more religious than he and his wife Jennifer and their modern orthodox ideology. However, after the charedization of the first three of his five children, he now wishes that they would go the other way. "We thought that it was just a fluke with Michael, but when we saw the same things happen to Rachel and David, we knew that this had to be some sort of conspiracy". Michael, Rachel and David Goldberg (who now go by Michoel, Rochel Leah and Dovid, respectively) all spent a year in Israel and came back as ultra orthodox Jews. Michael and David wore jeans and t-shirts. "Now their wardrobe consists entirely of black pants, navy blazers and white shirts - many of which are not even cotton!" complains Mrs. Goldberg. "And my Rachel, who used to wear pants and skirts of all lengths now walks around with her hemline touching the ground - it's a real shanda!"
They thought that this trend was limited to sending kids to Israel, but then their younger two children started to show signs of it coming home from their day school. Joseph, 14, came home from Yeshivah Ahavas Kessef (formerly known as the Teaneck Academy - Jewish Mesivta - Alter Hocker Academy of Learning (TAJ MAHAL for short) wearing his tizitis out of his pants and 11 year old Jessica stopped wearing socks, becuase they were not "tzinus enough." She instead opted for all black "bulletproof" tights all of the time. All five of their children have even begun to petition their mother, who only wears a hat to shul, to start wearing a sheitel full-time.
Mr. Goldberg was fed up. "I paid $15,000 a year per kid, thinking that I would get at least a doctor, lawyer or MBA. And what do I get in return? - five kollel kids that I will need to support for the next 50 years!" He then founded a new group with similar minded parents, known as Parents Against Religious Nonsense Stifling Adequate Homebuilding - or PARNASAH. The group, overburdened with years of tuition payments and the mere thought of having to support their children for years to come, is now lobbying Yeshivas and day schools to adapt a new tuition model. Under this model, the parents pay the tuitions into an escrow account. The money remains in escrow until the the child makes a career choice. If the child goes on to graduate or professional schools in Engineering, Science, Psychology, Law, Business or Medicine, the school keeps the money for a job well done. If the child learns in kollel or becomes a Yeshiva Rebbi, the money goes to the parents, who will undoubtedly use it to help support their children. If the child goes into other graduate school programs that don't result in high-paying jobs, such as Social Work, or the Humanities, the school and parents split the money.
To ensure that the money grows, and that the kids don't try to buck the system, the money gets paid out over several years. So if a doctor becomes frummer later in life, or someone goes to law school after their BTL from Ner Yisroel, the money can still be shifted around.
Goldberg said he got the idea from eBay. "eBay is doing this right - if I don't like the merchandise, I can always get my money back if it's in escrow. So why not do this with our kids' educations? While it is nice that my kids get a Jewish education, I didn't spend $15,000 a year so that they can all sit in kollel. Come on, is that a proper profession for a nice Jewish boy?"
While Goldberg is trying to make inroads to getting yeshivot to accept his plan, schools are making it difficult. "This is insane," said Rabbi Shmuel Shick-Gelt of Yeshiva - Ta'avah V'Ga'avah in Lawrence, NY. "We don't brainwash any of the girls in our school," he added. "Besides, we teach them real-world survival subjects - like the economics of leasing and deceptive economics - which teaches how to buy things to make you look like you are worth a lot more money than you actually are." Shick-Gelt insisted again that he doesn't brainwash any of the girls in his school, and offered up that if he brought one of them in, she would say exactly that, verbatim.
Despite resistance from schools, Goldberg remains optimisitc. "Right now, I support them, but in 20 years, who's going to support them? 8000 kollel kids? It is in their best interest to produce doctors and lawyers so that they can support the school and other institutions going forward."
As for his own children, Goldberg is alas too late, but he hopes that others will benefit from his efforts. When we interviewed his son Michael/Michoel we asked him how he planned to support his family. The ever faithful Michael replied, "God will provide."
We told this to his father whose only response was "Great, now he thinks that I am God!"
Yonah Wolf is an on-again off-again TheKnish.com contributor, who writes about the trials of Jewish Parenting in Confessions of an Orthodox Jewish Dad which can be found at http://www.paymykidstuition.com/ (Graphic created by Arye Zacks at airtimedaily.blogspot.com)
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