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When You Choose a Jewish Home Over Jewish Day School

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Earlier this year, I wrote a piece on how I was thinking about Jewish day school for my now 4.5-year-old son, but was torn because to send him, I’d need to return to work full-time to pay for tuition. In that piece, I pretty much summarized the dilemma I’d been having for months in my head—that sending my kids to day school would mean never seeing them because I’d be working all the time.

Now in the interest of full disclosure, I did go back to work full-time after having my son, but I stopped working during my third trimester when I was pregnant with my now almost-1.5-year-old twin daughters, and I haven’t gone back full-time since. These days, I work from home when I can, which means just eight hours some weeks and 20+ other weeks. But for the most part, I’m there during the day to be with my kids.

Despite my conflicted thoughts, I made the call to the local day school. I got the official tuition numbers, and while they were high, they also weren’t shocking. (We have friends who send their kids to that same school and I had a ballpark idea of what those numbers looked like before I got the official quote.) But it definitely reinforced the fact that to pull it off for all of our kids, I’d need to go back to working full-time outside the home.

My husband and I discussed it at length. I spent many nights lying awake, wrestling with the decision in my head. And after some serious soul-searching, I’ve decided not to send my son to day school—at least not for now. The reason, however, doesn’t just boil down to money or time away from my kids.

What I realized is that to send my children to day school, I’d need to give up much of the Jewish lifestyle I’ve worked so hard to create.

These days, I’m very active in my community. I help run local events through PJ Library. I run tot programming at our synagogue. I host Shabbat dinners. I take my children to synagogue on the Jewish holidays—all of them, from the big ones like Rosh Hashanah to the lesser-known ones like Shemini Atzeret.

But if I have to go back to work to swing day school, I’m going to have to give much of that up, because there simply won’t be time. I won’t have time to cook Shabbat dinner. I won’t have time to prepare for holiday meals. I won’t have time to help my husband build a sukkah. I won’t have time to run Jewish programming, and I won’t be able to attend services on the holidays because I’ll be working, and there’s a good chance I won’t have enough vacation days to cover every single one.

When I wrote about my day school dilemma earlier this year, I was focused mostly on all the time with my kids I’d be giving up by going back to work. But now that I think about it, going the day school route might actually cause me to take a big step backward as far as my Jewish lifestyle is concerned. And to me, that just doesn’t make sense.

So for now, I’ve decided against day school. This is by no means a decision that’s set in stone, but presently, this is where I’m at. I’ve discussed this up the wazoo with friends, family members, and even the head of admissions at the day school herself. I’ve read the comments on my previous piece, many of which reassured me that there are ways to help a child develop a strong Jewish identity aside from going to day school.

And while part of me is disappointed that we won’t be moving forward, a big part of me is at peace with the decision, because I know that right now, I’m giving my children a chance to experience Judaism in some of its most amazing forms—the Shabbat dinners, community events, and joyous holiday celebrations.

I may need to work harder to teach my kids to read Hebrew. I may need to reinforce certain concepts that probably come naturally to kids who attend day school. But I also know that I’m committed to maintaining a Jewish household and lifestyle, and that not going back to work full-time just yet will hopefully allow me to do that.

Jewish day school is a wonderful thing for families that can make it work, but right now, it just doesn’t work for my family. And I’m finally a whole lot closer to being OK with that.


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