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After Madoff Scandal, Jewish Yeshivas Say They Can’t ‘Go It Alone’

posted by nsymmonds

NEW YORK — Parents losing their Wall Street jobs, benefactors with plummeting portfolios scaling back on donations — it’s a one-two punch that has sent many Jewish day schools reeling in recent weeks.
At the prestigious Ramaz School on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, the financial forecast has prompted officials to slash the budget for an upcoming annual dinner dance, which usually raises about $4 million for scholarships and programs. More than a quarter of the school’s 1,057 students receive financial aid towards their $27,000 tuition; administrators project that dozens more will need help this year.
“We have families that are now requiring additional tuition assistance,” said Kenneth Rochlin, the school’s director of institutional advancement. “We’re looking for alternative revenue sources.”
Brainstorming budget strategies over kosher sandwiches and pickles, Rochlin and three other Ramaz officials recently joined counterparts from more than 40 other Jewish schools for a summit at the Orthodox Union headquarters in downtown Manhattan.
In addition to challenges facing parents and donors, some schools are also struggling with their own crashing real estate and portfolio losses; Ramaz had $6 million — a full one-third of its endowment — invested with a firm associated with Bernard Madoff, the financier accused of fleecing Jewish organizations and others in a multibillion dollar Ponzi scheme.
The financial turmoil hitting Jewish day schools is just one indication of the damage from the estimated $2.5 billion lost by Jewish charities that had trusted Madoff to safeguard — and grow — their money.
The impact on schools is especially hard on the Orthodox Jewish movement, which relies on a vast network of schools to transmit the demanding requirements of an observant faith from one generation to the next.
There are about 800 Jewish day schools — mostly yeshivas associated with the Orthodox movement — across the country, with about 200,000 students paying annual tuitions ranging from $5,000 to $30,000. Because most Orthodox families have three or more children, a 12-year yeshiva education is especially pricey even for the movement’s own audience.
In the New York City region, with its large Jewish population, schools traditionally compete to lure top students, but those rivalries must be put aside during this financial crisis, panelists said. They urged administrators to work together to plan and implement budget cuts, avoiding a scenario where one school keeps its curriculum and faculty intact just long enough to draw applicants away from the others.
“The days of going it alone are over,” said Joshua Elkin, director of the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education, an Boston-based organization that plans to host two conference calls about the economic challenges facing Jewish schools.
“Above all, we have to create synergy and we must, must, must avoid duplication.”
Like Ramaz, the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey, which has almost 1,000 students paying roughly $13,000 in tuition, has scaled back its upcoming fundraising dinner.
Officials have also asked rabbis to push congregants to direct more of their charitable contributions towards day schools, and are exploring options for sharing supplies and staff.
But Gershon Distenfeld, a board member at the Rosenbaum school, said he believes the economic downturn and Madoff scandal only sped up the inevitable “tuition crisis.” The only way to keep the schools affordable for middle-income families, he believes, is to move to a community-based support model rather than one in which parents pay an increasingly hefty price to give their children a Jewish education.
“The yeshiva day school business model is broken,” he said. “If we don’t solve this, there simply won’t be a Jewish community in America in 50, 100 years. This has to be our No. 1 community issue. Nothing will exist if we fail to fix this.”
Responding to the crisis, the UJA-Federation of New York, a Jewish organization, recently announced a $1 million scholarship fund to help students in the 280 Jewish day schools in New York City, Long Island and suburban Westchester County.
The Orthodox Union may also create an education fund to provide emergency resource for schools suddenly unable to make a mortgage payment or pay a utility bill, and perhaps to give out loans for temporary cash-flow problems. But in exchange, schools would have to allow complete access to their books so donors could track the funds, officials said.
Schools will also have to strategically — but visibly — cut costs and share resources in order to convince their remaining deep-pocketed donors that they are making good faith efforts to use contributions wisely, said Saul Zucker, director of the Orthodox Union’s education department.
At the Manhattan strategy summit, administrators agreed to lobby state leaders to ensure that private school funds are protected from government budget cuts. They also advised seeking reimbursements for special education and other mandated programs, explore grant options and seek competitive bids for construction and supplies.
In the meantime, administrators from Ramaz and other schools said that although large donations have slowed down, they have started seeing an upswing in small contributions from concerned alumni and community members, including many first-time donors moved to action by the publicity surrounding Madoff and the economic downturn.
“Out of bad things, sometimes come some good things,” Rochlin said.
“People tend to reconnect with what’s important.”
By Nicole Neroulias
Religion News Service
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or r eproduced without written permission.



  • Tom

    With all of our non-profit endeavors, one can’t help but wonder why it takes such a big swivel to cut out pork and unnecessary spending. I’m not just talking about Jewish schools. At least they’re trimming excess, while our government is an entirely different animal. It takes a huge hike in gas prices to implement carpooling at workplaces. Had we been running lean all the while we’d be in a lot better shape when tough times like these come round. Like the old cliche ‘hope for the best yet prepare for the worst.’

  • nnmns

    If you took the orthodox out of all religions and trained them for something real and found them productive employment we’d be in better shape.
    So they are going hat in hand to the government. Well the government runs perfectly good schools; I suggest their kids go get an education with we regular folks’ kids.

  • Henrietta22

    Through most of this article on their hardships in their private orthodox schools it seems to show they have been running their own program. What is meant by this if they are parohcial, and have nothing to do with public U.S. schools; At the Manhattan strategy summit, administrators agreed to lobby state leaders to ensure that private school funds are protected from government budget cuts. Have they been getting money for their private schools from our government?

  • Tom

    They may have been getting government money but parents of private school enrollies are probably still paying property taxes which are used to support public schooling. I guess theoretically public schooling is beneficial to the community as a whole, though I’d be eager to see the graduation rates between these Yeshivas and ordinary public schools.
    Also, I’d venture to say that as a whole these students probably do a lot better in the real world as a whole than do public school students in terms of productive employment.

  • nnmns

    I was in good public schools. I dare say if the parents who care enough to take their kids out of public schools to get them in more demanding schools (rather than where their religious sensibilities will be coddled) had kids in public schools they’d get better public schools.
    I can understand putting your kids where you think they’ll benefit most but I think it would benefit America if most kids went to public schools and most of the caring parents were demanding good schools.

  • Nate W

    The problem with your position, nnmns, is that even if it might theoretically be true that if all those parents put their kids in public schools and started demanding higher quality, the change wouldn’t happen overnight, and a parent may see their kid go through several years in the school before things improved.
    And besides that, there are many conflicting visions of good educational phiosophy out there. If you get a bunch of parents in there who are really passionate about education, the chances that they’re all going to agree on the purposes of education, the type of curriculum that should be used, etc., are slim. I personally was homeschooled for precisely this reason; my parents wanted my sisters and me to have a classical liberal arts education (focusing on languages, literature, mythology and folklore, history, the history of ideas, etc.), something that you’re simply not going to see much in public schools because it just doesn’t fit the currently dominant educational ethos. It would be better for America, and for all her citizens, if public funding for education were spent on private schools that had the freedom to develop their own curricula, set their own goals, and so forth, allowing parents and students to have real options so that they can make thoughtful, informed decisions about their education.

  • nnmns

    It’s possible your parents could make sound judgements between schools but many could not or would not and their children would suffer. Far better to have a thriving public education system like the country was built on. And such a system can certainly contain options, more and better ones than a fragmented public-private system where each little part is supporting its own set of administrators and many of them are reluctant to grade realistically. And they are all trying to get a bigger turn at the public trough.

  • Nate W

    I’d like to think that you’re right that a public education system could contain more options, but in the world as it is today, that’s not the case, and I don’t see it changing any time soon. Options for religious education have to be on the table if the options in public education are to be “more and better” than we currently have, and I just can’t see that happening with liberals raising a fuss about public money going to religious education, conservative Christians fussing about Muslim education, etc. But unless you’ve got the option of casting your education in light of a particular religious or philosophical tradition, you don’t really have options that many of the current homsechoolers and private schoolers are going to care much about.
    I think having only one set of admnistrators running the whole education system is a frightfully horrible idea. I know my homeschooling parents had a hard enough time fighting with local public school administrators over getting their children access to public services we were guaranteed by state law. Administrations can be stubborn and resistant to change. At the end of the day, the greatest power is to march your children–and your money–out the door and go some place else.

  • Henrietta22

    I agree with nnmns our public school system should be revamped, brought up to date to allow all students the opportunity to learn and go on to colleges at the end of the 12th grade. All states should be equal in learning. Religion study should be acquired in churches or the students homes. Parents who chose to home school and keep up with the requirements of public schools should be allowed. The one thing to understand is that home shooled children will not learn naturally how to adjust to other personalities of their peers, and learn the give and take that is required in life between people. As far as private schools, the monied people will always have to seperate their children from the ones in different classes below them. It has always been this way and this is freedom in U.S. The same for parochial schools.

  • Tom

    I’ve found home-schooled children to be rather well adjusted in society in comparison to their publicy and privately schooled peers in my own personal experience. They’re typically more focused, not having to worry about making fashion statements, street cred, social status, and the works. With the surplus of community colleges, student loans, and military grants in this country just about anyone dedicated to going to college is able to do so. As noble as the ‘no child left behind’ program was in theory it resulted in the dumbing down of curriculum with all children being left behind in practice and our best and brightest not be challenged enough academically or intellectually.
    The mistake many parents of private faith schooled children make is leaving faith formation entirely to the schools themselves instead of using them as supplemental faith education. Much to the parents’ chigrin the children loose their faith after going of to college and being whisked away by the many secular influences running rampant even at so-called ‘religious’ institutions.

  • nnmns

    I agree “No Child Left Behind” has had, at best, mixed results; probably more bad than good but these days I only know what I read and hear from a few people. My impression is, it’s brought about a LOT of teaching for the tests rather than teaching for learning. And that’s bad.
    I can applaud people wanting to send their kids to schools where people will work hard and smart to make them good students and citizens. As for religion, it strikes me that’s where church and home come in for those who feel they need their kids indoctrinated.

  • Nate W

    “Religion study should be acquired in churches or the students homes.”
    This just goes to prove my point exactly: there are too many different educational philosophies out there to have public education serve everyone’s needs. Henrietta’s suggesting separating education from “religion study” in such a way that only makes sense in certain educational philosophies. Many who choose to have an education that incorporates religion do out a conviction that such divisions shouldn’t exist in the first place. This is why a hegemonic public school system won’t work, because it’s simply never going to satisfy everyone. And that’s fine.
    “Parents who chose to home school and keep up with the requirements of public schools should be allowed.”
    No. Part of the point is that we often have a different understanding of what those requirements should be in the first place. Unless the requirements that are mandated are very vague, most of us in the homeschool/unschool movement aren’t going to go for that. And what right to you have to force your beliefs about education onto us and our children?
    “The one thing to understand is that home shooled children will not learn naturally how to adjust to other personalities of their peers, and learn the give and take that is required in life between people.”
    Public school kids don’t learn it any more naturally, either. But trust me, when we homeschoolers have to deal with our parents and siblings all day, the other people on our sports teams and in our youth activities groups and our music ensembles, and the hordes of numbskull adults wondering why we’re not at school in the middle of the day, we go on to learn social skills just as well as anyone else. I’ve had plenty of pubic school, private school, and homeschooled friends; on the whole, there’s little difference between us.
    “As far as private schools, the monied people will always have to seperate their children from the ones in different classes below them.”
    And lets not forget the myriad average, blue-collar folk to take on a second job to help pay the tuition. There are plenty like that, too.
    ” As for religion, it strikes me that’s where church and home come in for those who feel they need their kids indoctrinated.”
    Since when does religious education have to be about indoctrination? You really don’t know much of anything about religion, do you?

  • nnmns

    “And what right to you have to force your beliefs about education onto us and our children?”
    The same right the government has to penalize kids who skip school. We’ll have to live with them as citizens in a few years and they need to be competent.
    “But trust me, when we homeschoolers have to deal with our parents and siblings all day, the other people on our sports teams and in our youth activities groups and our music ensembles, and the hordes of numbskull adults wondering why we’re not at school in the middle of the day, we go on to learn social skills just as well as anyone else.”
    Ah, but you didn’t learn any empathy, did you. Calling people with valid questions “numskulls” makes me wonder if you aren’t a long way from being ready for “the cloth”. And wouldn’t you like the community looking out to see people are doing what they should be doing? Conservatives like the old days, but in the old days that was SOP.
    And speaking of conservatives, you probably get a lot of your impressions of public schools from Rush or somebody else in the conservative bandwagon, not apparently from experience in public school. And quite likely pretty biased.
    “Since when does religious education have to be about indoctrination? You really don’t know much of anything about religion, do you?”
    If religious education isn’t about indoctrination why would it matter if it’s religious? You are avid to get your petty insults in, aren’t you.

  • Nate W

    “The same right the government has to penalize kids who skip school. We’ll have to live with them as citizens in a few years and they need to be competent.”
    Our competance is proved by the lives we live, not by the fact that we’ve read the same books and studied all the same things as the kids in the public schools. Homeschoolers have been living competent lives for generations without needing the public education system to come test us to make sure we’re meeting its standards.
    “Ah, but you didn’t learn any empathy, did you. Calling people with valid questions “numskulls” makes me wonder if you aren’t a long way from being ready for “the cloth”.”
    The cloth? As I’ve said many times before, I have no intentions of being a minister. But that’s beside the point. I do have empathy, but not for meddlers, and that’s who I’m talking about. There are tons of people out there who treat homeschoolers with suspicion because they assume that parents can’t do a decent job of teaching their own children. Never satisfied with an answer of “We’re homeschooled,” they prod the homeschooling parent with questions like “Don’t you think they’d be better of with professional teachers?” and “Are you sure you’re allowed to do that?” I’ve got empathy for the poor mothers and fathers who have to put up with total strangers meddling in their private lives on a regular basis.
    “And speaking of conservatives, you probably get a lot of your impressions of public schools from Rush or somebody else in the conservative bandwagon, not apparently from experience in public school.”
    For your information, I don’t get any of my impressions of anything from Rush or anyone else “in the conservative bandwagon.” I don’t have a whole lot in common with much of anyone in mainstream conservatism. And homeschooling isn’t a conservative movement, either; it’s very popular among certain breeds of leftists as well.
    But my family and I do have experience with public schools, and little of it was positive. I went to one year of public elementary school, where the class spent as much time being herded around the building like cattle than actually learning (if there’s anything we homeschoolers enjoy, it’s our independence and freedom), and where the work was about two years behind what I had previously learned at home. My sisters all spend their high school years at public schools, where the administrators assumed they would need remedial courses because they hadn’t been in school, and my mom had to fight to get them tested to get them in honors classes; they all graduated near the top of their classes, a year early. We also fought to use public school services that were guaranteed us by state law, and the administrators went out of their way to make the process as difficult as possible for us, as they did for other homeschoolers in the community.
    No, not all public schools are like that, but I’ve heard similar stories from homeschoolers from all over the country, so there’s enough out there to make us fearful of giving public educators any more power. There’s too much of a bias against us in the world of public education for us to have the slightest bit of confidence that those people can ever meet our needs.
    “If religious education isn’t about indoctrination why would it matter if it’s religious?”
    To learn to explore the implications of all areas of learning on one’s religious faith, to investigate how the questions that religion asks relate to questions in other areas of human knowing, to analyze different approaches to religion itself, to see how certain answers to religious questions might impact our understanding of the world as a whole, to question the possibility of developing a comprehensive worldview, etc. Religious education does not need to mean indoctrination, and the fact that you assume that’s the only possible meaning it could have makes it pretty clear that you have little experience of the varieties of religious education out there, and that you probably don’t know much about religion outside of whatever fundamentalism you’ve decided to use as a hermeneutical lens through which to view religion as a whole.

  • Henrietta22

    I didn’t read everything above, too much to read through. It isn’t my idea to have homeschool parents meet the public school teachings. It is what California does. So far it seems to be working. There has to be a measurement for the homeschool teachers to follow CA said they can’t just decide whatever they want to teach. They have to pass the tests for subjects that are being taught in Public Schools, at different intervals. Yes, the public schools have problems with students, but the students learn by living next to each other, talking to each other, fighting with each other, you can’t do this and have empathy for all kinds unless you do. Living is the best experience. People will scrape all they can to send their children to parochial schools, even to eating improperly. That is their choice. When I say Private schools I mean Private schools, such as the moderate people can not afford period.

  • Nate W

    “Yes, the public schools have problems with students, but the students learn by living next to each other, talking to each other, fighting with each other, you can’t do this and have empathy for all kinds unless you do.”
    Like I already said, homeschool students typically spend just as much time living next to others, talking to others, and fighting with others as anyone else. What’s more, they tend to spend more time out in the real world and in professional settings and more time with older and younger children and with adults than their peers who are cloistered in age-stratified classrooms all day. Furthermore, because homeschoolers tend to prize independence and personal initiative, some studies have shown that homeschooled children display a significantly higher degree of self-awareness and self-worth than their institutional peers, and some of these studies also claim that much of the social development that occurs when children are placed into formal schooling environments too young is predominantly negative: it fosters unhealthy levels of dependence on peers and diminishes independence and personal self-worth. Other studies also show that homeschooled students are on average significantly more actively involved in their communities than others, a trait they tend to carry into adulthood.
    There are a lot of myths about homeschooling and socialization floating around, but neither the research nor the anecdotal evidence offered by most homeschoolers confirms those myths. We simply do not need the schools, public or otherwise, to become healthy, well-ordered citizens.

  • jestrfyl

    Madoff is as dark a villain as can be drawn. Cannibalising the very people who invested with him has had horrible results. This is but one of many ways he has devastated the lives of a huge swath of people.
    As to religious education – many religious groups are having to re-think the private schools they operate. The economic stuggles we are all feeling have resulted in many shirts in the manufacturing and retail aspects of our economy. It is no surprise that it is also effecting the religious sector, and the schools especially. There will likely be a lot of restructuring and even some school closings. It is further proof that our economy is an organism in which no single effect is isolated. Pain afflicts everyone and everything. Those who are more vulnerable will feel it more profoundly. Sad, but a part of our economic and societal evolution.
    As to religious education as indoctrination. Anyone who thinks it is not is simply fooling themselves. Even we liberal congregations have to accept that our religious education is also indoctrination (and we avoid dogma, doctrines, and creeds!). Religion by its very nature is subjective, so that makes religious instruction subjective, and that is a form of indoctrination. It is not bad, but it must be accepted for its own reality.

  • nnmns

    Nate you romanticize home schooled children while ignoring those “taught” by parents who have little education themselves and think they are protecting their children by keeping them away from everything but maybe their church. I won’t pretend to know what percent of home schooled students are like the ones you describe or like the ones I describe. But I sort of doubt you know either; you and your parents probably don’t run in those circles either.
    As for exploring the implications of areas of learning on one’s religious faith; sounds like a good idea. But I predict the fraction of religious educations designed with that in mind and not indoctrination is very small indeed.
    I have thought a good course would be one exploring the effect of peoples’ religious faiths on them, their societies and perhaps their approaches to their lives and to others. I’m not aware of that course being offered anywhere.

  • Your Name

    All private schools, not just the Jewish ones, are in financial trouble. Madoff is a slime ball who took everyone he could for more money than I can possibly imagine. It is impossible to speculate how many people and institutions he has ruined.

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