The Costs of Jewish Living: Revisiting Jewish Involvement and Barriers


Source: Policy Archive

The author analyzes data from previous studies and surveys to examine the cost of living fully in the Jewish milieu in the United States in 2002, including the costs of synagogue affiliation, intensive Jewish education, camps, Federation and other Jewish charitable donations, and memberships in Jewish Community Centers and Jewish communal organizations, among others.

Among the findings:
  • In 2002 for a family with two children in day school, the economic cost for Jewish services would range between $25,000 to $35,000 per year.
  • The $30,000 average cost included $1,100 for synagogue dues, $22,000 for two children in day school, $1,200 for day camp for two kids, $5,000 for sleepaway camp for two children, JCC dues and a federation gift of $200.
  • Sending children to supplementary Jewish schools could substantially cut into that cost, bringing it down to the $5,000 to $8,000 range.
  • Given that the median income for American Jewish households at the time was $50,000, the author wrote that “it is clear that this figure is untenable”.
  • Bubis also found that only about 25 per cent of higher income families send their children to day schools, and fewer than 10 per cent in all income brackets attend day schools. Fewer than 10 per cent of children attend Jewish-sponsored camps.
In summary Bubis wrote:

"The majority of American Jews who are interested in Jewish continuity have concluded that intensive Jewish education and, to a lesser extent, intensive informal Jewish experiences are the best ways to assure that continuity. The thrust has been toward developing Jewish day schools, which have proved expensive both for the parents and the sponsoring institutions. Most parents who send their children to Jewish day schools do not continue to do so past elementary school. The pyramid of Jewish education, except among the Orthodox, has few who continue through high school.

The economics of Jewish living-when all the desirable experiences are combined in one family-are very expensive. Consequently, a community initiative to expand the numbers greatly is unlikely to succeed. Even doubling the current participation levels to around 20 percent of the total Jewish population (skewed dramatically toward the Orthodox) requires billions of dollars in expenditures, if one takes into consideration both the capital and human infrastructure needed for formal and informal education.

Never have so many in the Jewish community been so wealthy, representing collectively the richest Jewish community in the history of the world. The total assets are in the trillions, providing a pool that should be able to provide at least 20 percent of the Jews with the Jewish experiences they value."

Updated: Feb. 11, 2009