I am a yeshiva educated NYC girl. I was raised in Brooklyn and grew up Orthodox. Jewish liturgy has been ingrained in me since the ripe old age of 3 when my parents first enrolled me in a formal educational setting.
Yet somehow–even during those rebellious teen years when I left the confines of my comfortable yeshiva high school for the mean and unexplored streets of public high school–I knew that someday I’d feel compelled to give my kids the same basic Jewish foundation I got as a child. And not one that would entail Hebrew school two hours a week, but one that would fully immerse them in the traditions of their ancestors, that would provide them with a real ability to read, write and speak the language of their forefathers and to understand why we Jewish people have continued to carry on these traditions since the beginning of time. I felt that inherent understanding of their natural born identity could never truly be passed onto them in any other conceivable way.
All this is not to say that I don’t support other parents schooling their children in the laws of Judaism as they see fit–this is just the method I feel most comfortable with. Unfortunately one of those parents who does not see eye to eye with my method of indoctrinating my children in the laws of their forefathers is my husband, their father. My husband, who I refer to as the Yom Kippur Jew–and to his credit he did attend his once-a-year temple service this past Yom Kippur–was raised a very secular Jew. His family is mostly intermarried and if he hadn’t, by a stroke of pure luck, been introduced to me, I am convinced he would have intermarried as well.
What does this all add up to? The fact is that he does not see the need or the utility of paying to send kids to religious school when we have free schools available to us. He also feels conflicted about the double curriculum my kids are subjected to, and worries that they aren’t spending enough time on their secular studies and will fall behind their peers in later academic life. He doesn’t see the beauty and value that I see in the Hebrew language, and the fact that this double curriculum is forcing our kids to exercise different parts of their brains and ultimately making them better, more well rounded students. All he sees when we have filled out the enrollment forms are dollar signs, and money that could be better spent elsewhere.
I have argued with him year after year, and now that my daughter and son are in the sixth and second grades respectively, the whole issue of high school is looming over us like a dark and heavy cloud. In our area of NYC, there are no yeshiva high schools and so my daughter, should we choose to send her to one, would have to travel to a different borough each day–which of course means hours of travel time every week, hours my husband feels could be better spent studying. Not to mention that the cost of a high school yeshiva in NYC is roughly $15-20,000 per year.
My husband feels he has compromised for our kids’ elementary school–he has agreed to let them spend hours immersed in subjects that will not help them secure better jobs in the future–and therefore he has flat out refused to allow our kids to continue their high school yeshiva education. As their mother, my heart is breaking. My kids, unlike myself as a child, feel an incredibly strong and spiritual connection to the religion–one that I grappled with at their age. They adore being a part of something bigger than themselves. They have embraced Judaism and all its facets and want nothing more than to continue to bask in their Judaic studies, be a part of this community, and continue to develop the friendships they’ve maintained since preschool.
I honestly don’t know how I will manage to secure the funds to support a yeshiva high school tuition several years from now. I don’t know if my husband and I will be able to find a solution that will suit us both, keep our marriage intact, and most importantly one that will benefit our kids’ education and their spiritual and mental well-being. Yet regardless of my husband’s personal beliefs, these two kids of mine feel blanketed and safe in the arms of their Jewish religion, they feel like there is a higher power watching over them and guiding them. They are happy–and as a mother- how can I possibly strip them of these safety nets? Honestly, I’m not sure I can.
For more on choosing your child’s Jewish education check out one dad’s struggle with sending his daughter to day school, and tips for choosing a Hebrew school.