Source: Contemporary Jewry, 2016 pages 1-26
This paper examines the independent and interactive effects of financial capacity and Jewish connections on reported constraints in purchasing two intensive forms of Jewish education, day school and overnight summer camp. The analysis is structured around three hypotheses: (1) financial capacity is inversely related to constraints on Jewish education; (2) Jewish connections increase or decrease the level at which financial capacity determines financial constraints on Jewish education; (3) the strength of the inverse relationship between financial capacity and financial constraints on Jewish education varies by the strength of Jewish connections. We merge data from 13 local Jewish community studies to test the hypotheses with bivariate cross-tabulations and multivariate logistic regression models. We assess the empirical evidence as showing moderately strong, though admittedly variable, support for our three hypotheses. The most robust support for the hypotheses comes in the case of financial constraints on Jewish day school education, with less consistent support when modeling constraints on Jewish summer camp. A final section highlights and integrates the main findings and concludes with several strategic and normative considerations.
With the empirical findings in mind, we conclude with several strategic and normative considerations. To begin, sustained evidence ties children with day school and overnight summer camp experiences to strong Jewish behaviors and attitudes as adults (Cohen and Kotler-Berkowitz 2004 ; Cohen et al. 2011 ). Assuming that communal policymakers and philanthropic supporters broadly share a strategic interest in strengthening the community’s future by developing Jewish capital in succeeding generations (Chiswick 2014 ), the community is forgoing a significant opportunity to do so when Jewish parents who want to provide their children with these educational experiences feel financially constrained from doing so. In other words, the community is very likely leaving substantial future returns on the table by not figuring out how to invest in these households and children now. The empirical conditions are ripe for identifying, developing, and testing potential policy interventions to address and ameliorate financial constraint on purchasing intensive Jewish education, taking into account the complex ways in which constraint is shaped by financial capacity, Jewish connections, and their interactions.
In addition to this strategic consideration, a glaring normative issue must be addressed: to what extent are American Jews willing to tolerate the inequality in access to Jewish education between those at the low/near-low and high ends of the income scale? American Jews, like Americans generally, no doubt accept a certain amount of social and economic inequality as the price for a society that privileges ambition, risk-taking, innovation, and a strong work ethic, but does financial constraint on Jewish education fall inside or outside those general parameters of acceptance? Put differently, does the community have a moral obligation to try to close the gap in financial constraints on purchasing intensive Jewish education between those with low and high financial capacity, even as the society in which we live produces and reproduces significant discrepancies in financial capacity? Furthermore, might the complex way in which Jewish connections shape the relationship between financial capacity and financial constraint affect the community’s moral responsibilities?
Lastly, despite the community’s wealth, resources are ultimately scarce and decisions must be made about how much to invest in any given need. Put starkly Jewish education competes with many other items on the communal agenda, including local social service and human service needs, the security of Jewish institutions, the welfare of Jewish communities overseas, and support and advocacy for Israel—all of which have their own multifaceted, complex dynamics. How, as a community, do we order these and other needs, and where on the list might we place financial constraints on purchasing Jewish education?