A new fund at a Randolph synagogue aims to cut membership dues in half for new members with one or more children enrolled at any of the three area day schools.
Charles and Sherry Pollack have created the fund at their synagogue, the Mount Freedom Jewish Center; the MetroWest Day School Family Fund will provide 50 percent of the membership dues.
The number of families participating in the grant “depends on the number of applicants, within reason,” according to Charles. He said, “If there are more than we can handle, we’ll ask for help.”
Mount Freedom’s dues are currently $1,600 per year.
The fund, the latest attempt to address the high cost of Jewish day schooling, appears to be the first of its kind in the area. The Pollacks also see it as a way to attract young families to the synagogue.
“People often start joining shuls when their children are approaching school age,” said Sherry. “We believe that the combination of a day school education, synagogue membership, a Jewish home, and being an active part of the Jewish community will help foster Jewish values and continuity. These endeavors can be very expensive and we recognize that it often can be difficult for a young family to afford to provide all these opportunities. And we are trying to help so that what children are learning in school they are also experiencing in shul and at home.”
Each family will continue to receive the grant for three years. The Pollacks have made a commitment to keep the fund going for at least 10 years and are trying to be flexible about the number of new families eligible each year. “We hope this will inspire other families to help grow the fund and keep it going,” said Sherry.
The Pollacks, who live in Randolph, have two daughters, Hannah, 20, and Aviva, 18. Both attended the Nathan Bohrer-Abraham Kaufman Hebrew Academy of Morris County in Randolph, and both graduated from Randolph High School. Hannah, who also attended the Golda Och Academy (then the Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union) in West Orange for one year, participated in a gap year program in Israel and is now in her second year at Brandeis University. Aviva is in Israel now on a gap-year program.
Charles is senior director of medical affairs at Pfizer Consumer Healthcare in Madison. Sherry is national clinical resource nurse director at the Belgian pharmaceutical company Quintiles.
The grants are intended for new members who are parents of children enrolled at HAMC, Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy/Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston, or Golda Och Academy.
“This is a very novel idea,” said the synagogue’s Rabbi Menashe East. “Being part of the Jewish community is very expensive. This is an acknowledgment of that reality.”
Annual tuition at the local day schools can range from $10,000 to $25,000 per student.
Congregation president Jamie Ramsfelder added, “We would hate money to be a barrier to connecting to Jewish life. We hope this will entice people to join earlier.”
Although many synagogues offer a cut in dues for day school families and others who may need the financial break, this appears to be the first such fund set up solely for that purpose. MetroWest has a variety of community-wide programs addressing the affordability issue, including a MetroWest Day School Campaign that aims to raise $50 million in gifts and long-term commitments.
“People shouldn’t have to choose between day school and synagogue,” said Kim Hirsh, development officer at the Jewish Community Foundation of MetroWest, which administers the day school campaign. “Charles and Sherry are saying, ‘We can’t help everyone, but in our synagogue, we can help a few people.’ I believe this is a first, a new idea.”
“For families struggling with day school tuition and whose children may already be on scholarship, every little bit helps,” she added.