When the Tuition Bills Add Up, Some Orthodox Consider Aliyah

Published: 
Jan 11, 2020

Source:  The Forward 

 

It is an increasingly common calculus among the millennial Orthodox. With day-school costs rising along with housing prices in neighborhoods within walking distance of many synagogues, plus a general social pressure to keep up with the Cohens, more and more families seem to be considering aliyah in part for financial reasons

“We call them ‘tuition refugees’,” said Chana Shields Rosenfelder, who lives in Beit Shemesh, Israel, and is a consultant for students with special needs, for whose families aliyah can be especially attractive.

Some of the financial pressures are not unique to the religious lifestyle. Expensive healthcare and higher education, burgeoning student debt, and bleak retirement prospects are all factors several families cited in interviews. But for large Orthodox families, yeshiva tuition, kosher groceries — and the pressure to enter highly lucrative careers — are just too much.

“Modern Orthodoxy in America costs too much,” said a 44-year old mother in New York City who said she and her family have been considering a move to Israel for several years, and spoke on the condition of anonymity, for fear of professional consequences. “Wherever you want to live, with the better schools, costs money. There are very few out-of-town communities with decent schools. Plus extras, bar and bat mitzvahs, camps. So, people are like: ‘Why not just struggle there?’”

According to Prizmah, a network of Jewish day schools across North America, 55% to 66% of families get tuition assistance now. “The pressure is on the middle-income families,” explained Dan Perla, who studies day school finances at Prizmah. “Twenty years ago, middle income never needed scholarship - but now they do, because tuition has been rising far quicker than wages.”

Some consider public school — a recent survey by NISHMA, a sociological research group that studies Jewish communities, found that 31% of parents with school-age children “might consider public school as an option”. With these trends in mind, Orthodox groups like the Orthodox Union and the “National Community Development” program of Lakewood’s Beth Medrash Govoha are trying to help families move out of urban areas, creating Orthodox-friendly neighborhoods in places like Austin, Texas and South Bend, Indiana

But some families are looking further away, seeing a move to the Holy Land as a way to save money — and express their Zionism.

Not that a move to Israel doesn’t have financial downsides. The cost of living is notoriously high, and the median monthly salary there is equivalent to $3,112.55, versus a median monthly salary in the United States of $3,676). Still, several professionals interviewed said that aliyah made financial sense for them, given the costs of Orthodox American life and the stagnancy of U.S. wages.

Several olim interviewed for this article repeatedly said that they had been “scraping by” in the U.S. and now, in Israel, felt more financial flexibility. As dual citizens, they remain simultaneously eligible for American child tax credits and taxpayer-funded Israeli health care.

Many believe Israel is simply more family-friendly and can offer a better work-life balance. Maternal paid leave of 14 weeks is guaranteed by Israel’s National Insurance Institute; it is relatively common for parents to leave the office at 3 or 4 p.m. to take care of children.

Several young olim said that they decided to have more children after they moved, since they no longer had to consider additional day-school tuition, which Orthodox Jews in American often joke is a form of birth control.

Read more at The Forward

Updated: Jan. 13, 2020
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