Indie Minyan Movement Grapples with Day School Cost


With recession-battered parents concerned about affordability, and with cheaper alternatives like summer camp and Hebrew charter schools in vogue among philanthropists, it makes sense that the so-called “value proposition” — making the case for why a day school education is worth the money — has become a buzz phrase in the Jewish day school world.

Echoing that language, Beit Rabban, a small pluralistic day school is teaming up next week with Mechon Hadar, the nondenominational yeshiva of the indie minyan world, for a forum addressing the “values and value of a Jewish day school education.” Both institutions are on the Upper West Side in the same school district where plans are under way for a Hebrew charter school, to be located in Harlem.

At the May 3 event, Rabbi Ethan Tucker, Hadar’s co-founder and rosh yeshiva; Dan Perla, a program officer at the Avi Chai Foundation and Rona Sheramy, executive director of the Association for Jewish Studies, will discuss how Jewish texts, history and economics influence the nature of Jewish education.

Rabbi Tucker, whose two older children attend Kinneret Day School in Riverdale, told The Jewish Week that in the independent minyan world “everyone in our orbit agrees with the necessity of intensive, meaningful Jewish education to be able to create the communities that many of the minyanim represent.”

Noting that “day school right now is the best model out there for investing serious hours every week in real Jewish learning,” Rabbi Tucker said that day school affordability/sustainability issues arise from “holding two commitments close at the same time: one, the idea of Jewish education, mastery of Hebrew and access to Jewish texts being a really important cultural product, and two, the idea that there should be some democracy around that access and obligation.”

“Jewish tradition is an intense tradition to learn about and master, and we expect a huge amount of the population to access it,” he said, noting that at next week’s forum he plans to share several Talmudic texts exploring the question of “how much we want how many people to know.”

Rabbi Andrew Davids, Beit Rabban’s executive director, said the school — one of two day schools participating in a pilot program in which Hadar fellows help lead certain Judaic studies sessions —is hosting the discussion because “the cost of being Jewish is a real challenge.”

“Even though we have one of the more reasonable tuitions for day school in Manhattan, anyone who tells you $26,000 for kindergarten is reasonable needs to have his head checked,” he said.

More than 40 percent of the school’s almost 80 students are receiving financial aid, including children from families that “in any other community would be major donors, but because they’re in Manhattan, they’re struggling on two six-figure incomes.”

“Who Deserves A Jewish Education? A Candid Discussion on the Values and Value of a Day School” takes place at 8 p.m., Thursday, May 3 at Beit Rabban, 8 W. 70th St. To register, go to