The Zionist Conspiracy
Monday, March 06, 2006
Why Yeshivas Don't Receive Communal Support
Note: The following views are solely my own, and should not be construed otherwise.
There are many reasons why yeshivas and day schools do not receive significant communal support. Among them are the financial support for kollels, the many chesed charities that tug at the heart, the support for Jewish outreach activities, the fact that many give much less than 10 percent of their net income to charity, and the failure of Roshei Yeshiva to stress that tzedekah should be allocated to Jewish education.
I believe, however, that even many who in the abstract strongly agree that yeshivas and day schools must receive much more communal support still do not give more than a small amount of tzedekah to schools. I think there are two primary reasons for this.
Take an observant Jewish family that by most standards has enough income to be described as upper-middle class. If they live in a predominantly Orthodox neighborhood, their housing costs are likely to be high. Add to that tuition costs for their children, and they may struggle to maintain a middle class lifestyle.
Still, let's assume that these people are sure to give 10 percent of their net income to tzedekah. Will they give much to yeshivas and day schools? Likely not.
If they have children in school, they are probably not getting any discount on tuition. Plus, they may be squeezed into contributing to their children's school's annual dinner fundraiser. They likely will feel that this is more than a sufficient contribution to our schools. Almost certainly, they won't give more money to the schools attended by their children
In this regard, the problem is circular: As long as tuition is high, many in the community who pay such tuition will balk at giving more to schools. Yet if people who allocate and give money to tzedekah won't give to schools, tuition will remain high.
There is a second reason for why many people don't give very much to schools: Other than their children's schools, the yeshivas most of us are familiar with are the ones we attended. For whatever reason - justified or not - many people have a negative or neutral (but not positive) attitude toward the schools they attended as children. They might feel that the school was too strict or too modern, they might feel they were treated poorly by a particular rebbi, or they might feel that the school has completely ignored them because they aren't wealthy, and see no reason or need to initiate contact by making a contribution. If they don't have a positive attitude toward the schools they spent years attending, they won't give very much to those schools.
One solution to all of this might be for schools to formally establish scholarship and financial aid programs, and to solicit communal support for these programs. While money is fungible, there are many who would contribute toward a scholarship who would not otherwise give money directly to the school. When the money is going directly to actual people who really need it, the tzedekah would have the feel of chesed toward the beneficiary.
Of course, for this to work beyond the short-term, there would have to be assurances that the money was going directly to those who need help. Otherwise, if these programs were not properly run, cynicism among many in the community would deepen, resulting in a loss for the school, for those who could benefit from aid, and for the community generally.