Parents at two local day schools will see a credit on their children’s tuition bills as a community fund set up to offset rising day school costs closed out its first successful year.
The Central New Jersey Kehilot Investing in Day Schools Inc. (cnjKids) brought in $49,500 to help struggling parents. The schools receiving money were Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva in Edison and Yeshivat Netivot Montessori, which is moving to space vacated by the former Solomon Schechter Day School of Raritan Valley at East Brunswick Jewish Center.
“We worked to reach out to the central Jersey Jewish community, focusing on individuals who did not have children in the day school system,” said cnjKids board president Joshua Fine. “This was an important piece for us. If we want the day school system to survive, we need help supporting our schools.”
RPRY acting executive director Hillel Raymon said parents of 335 students would receive a $117 credit. The school is expected to have 375 students, but only those enrolled by May 30 were eligible for the credit.
Netivot president Jeffrey Schreiber said an $89 credit being given to parents of the 125 students is helping to offset a 2.5 percent tuition hike. The school had promised parents it would make an effort to hold down costs despite having the extra financial burden of moving.
Some donors requested their money be given to a specific school, accounting for the different credit amounts.
“To be frank about it, yeshiva day school tuition is the major part of any Jewish family’s household budget, along with the mortgage and taxes,” Schreiber said. “For these families, this is the most financially vulnerable time in their lives and they struggle tremendously.”
With day school tuition running as much as $15,000 per child annually — with somewhat lower costs for lower grades — “hardworking families” must deal with yearly tuition increases, Fine said.
He added that with the expected merger of the Jewish federations of Monmouth and Greater Middlesex counties, organizers are hoping to eventually expand cnjKids to Monmouth County.
A “generous” grant from the Avi Chai Foundation, which covered start-up costs and marketing, allowed cnjKids to distribute 100 percent of donations.
Fine stressed the fund is multi-denominational in that it was designed to help schools of all streams. While the two recipient schools are both Orthodox, the Conservative-affiliated SSDS of Raritan Valley was to have been included had it not closed.
Rabbi Ronald Schwarzberg of Highland Park, chair of the cnjKids advisory board and the driving force behind the program, told NJJN, “It takes a village. All it takes for the community to help is solicit and raise funds. It’s a very simple formula.” He said he believes the program conveys to parents: “We care about you and want to help stem your increases.” He added that he hopes that within a few years, the program’s success will lead to the reduction of actual tuition costs.
Schreiber said the money also helps Netivot leaders with their primary goal — to transmit Jewish values to the next generation. “Anything that can be done toward that is a blessing,” he said. “As Jews we should all realize it’s extraordinarily important to invest in the next generation and inculcate our children with Jewish values.”
Raymon said the money “serves not only parents of children in day school but the entire Jewish community. While day school tuition is primarily the obligation of parents, it is also the responsibility of the entire community to see they get a day school education because ultimately day school graduates are the future of the Jewish community.”
Fine said one of the most heartening aspects of the campaign was the support from people with no children in day school. “We had former parents, younger parents with children not yet in day school, and some had no connection to the day schools.”
One octogenarian donor is making a monthly donation while four others have set up endowments through a partnership with the Create a Jewish Legacy program of the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County, which keeps bequests and endowments to local Jewish institutions in separate accounts overseen by its Jewish community foundation.
Michael Kornblum, owner of Sushiana in Highland Park, is both a beneficiary, with three children enrolled in RPRY, and a donor. His kosher restaurant first participated in Eat Out Night for Jewish Education on Election Day, along with Jerusalem Pizza and Park Place, donating a percentage of their profits to cnjKids.
“I found that families who would not necessarily come here were coming in,” said Kornblum. “It was so successful we decided the first Tuesday of every month, from 5-6 p.m., we would give 18 percent of our profits to the fund. I really wanted to do my part for the continuity of Jewish life.”