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Thursday, September 20, 2007 | return to: editorial


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Let’s reduce the high cost of Jewish life

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Last week's cover story on the high cost of Jewish life seemed to strike a chord.

We received letters that shared a common theme in response to the article. It turns out we underestimated the costs, at least for some readers.

Maintaining a well-rounded Jewish life puts a deep hole in their pocketbooks, beyond the $30,000- to $45,000-per-year average we cited for a family of four. For middle- and upper-middle-income families, this would be a painful figure. For those getting by on less, it's an impossible one.

This then begs the question: Could we be squeezing out of Jewish life families that have shown an ardent desire to be included?

Jewish organizations on the local and national levels have spent much time, money and energy on reeling in interfaith, unaffiliated or disinterested Jews, ever seeking new ways to entice them into the fold. While we see the rationale behind those efforts, and while outreach should always remain on the Jewish agenda, we believe at least some of those funds could have been better spent.

Would it not be a wiser course to direct more resources to easing the financial burdens endured by those already on fire about Judaism and living a Jewish life?

Change is hard, but when it comes to granting "tax relief" to overtaxed Jewish families, it could be well worth the effort.

Imagine if federations and national organizations funneled more money into subsidizing a portion of synagogue membership, at least for the first few years. Or if they helped to substantially reduce Jewish day school and summer camp costs for deserving families?

On a national level, proposals like these could easily run into the tens of millions of dollars. But if that seems like pie-in-the-sky now, investments like these could mean a much larger, much more committed Jewish community down the road.

We must acknowledge the ongoing efforts already being made on these fronts. Federations, JCCs, endowment funds and many national Jewish institutions offer camperships, scholarships and other forms of relief. But with so many urgent needs here and abroad, there is only so much financial aid to go around.

Big ideas make for big targets. There are 101 reasons why none of them would work. But if we don't do more to minimize the financial burden of living a Jewish life, more and more Jews will opt out. That would be a tragedy.

With the coffers of the American Jewish community full as never before, we have the means to make Jewish life affordable for all. Do we have the will?


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