Frum Jews Forced to Choose: School or Rent?


kidsAfter years of talk about a tuition crisis affecting Jewish families that often must scrimp and sacrifice to send children to religious schools known as yeshivas, some of those families appear to have hit a financial wall across the New York area – including in Riverdale.

“Many children will end up in public school as a result of all this,” said Rabbi Shneur Wolowik, director of Chabad of the Five Towns, on Long Island. “It’s really sad.”

He is inundated with calls for help from parents who simply have run out of options.

“Parents have to choose between having a home foreclosed on or having a Jewish education. It’s a very tough decision,” he said.

He received an e-mail this week from a woman in the Five Towns who outlined her situation: “They have two children, she’s pregnant with a third, they’ve cancelled the babysitter, have two old cars and a very simple home. She said it’s either tuition or their home and they can’t be homeless. She did the numbers with me and, unfortunately, she’s right.”

The children are registered in public school.

The mother of a 17-year-old girl entering 12th grade said, “I registered my daughter in public school yesterday… I can’t begin to tell you what that moment was. It was horrific.”

The girl, who lives with her mother on Long Island, had gone to yeshiva her whole life. Her father, who is legally obligated to pay tuition according to the terms of a divorce decree, nonetheless elected to stop paying just before her senior year in high school; her mother lacks the means to pay it alone.

“I really understood their point of view,” the mother said of yeshiva officials who insisted that the tuition must be paid anyway, “but there has to be a way.”

In this case, there was.

“When I told my parents I’m not fighting this anymore, I’m just putting her in public school, they hit the roof.”

Her parents, who live in Brooklyn, “called in all their trump cards,” she said, and exerted enough pressure that the school reversed its decision. An attorney friend agreed to represent the mother at trial to try to force her ex-husband to pay up.

“What if someone doesn’t have the kind of family I have, who can hustle and bustle and make miracles?” she wondered. “I love my children but they’re not worth more than somebody else’s.”

Most Jewish schools contacted by a reporter said they did not know of any students who would attend public school on account of a family’s inability to pay tuition.

One such school in Riverdale, Yeshiva Ohavei Torah, a 10-year old high school for boys, would “most likely swallow and absorb [the student],” said Rabbi Eliezer Stern, the executive director. “We do have some individual circumstances – more in the past year, but in years before as well – with some boys who are on 100-percent scholarships,” he said. It is the school’s policy to not turn away a student for financial reasons. As a result, the school’s fundraising needs are “in excess of a million dollars a year,” he said.

But “scholarship funds are only so big,” Rabbi Stern said, and it seems clear that at least some parents whose backs are to the wall financially are being forced to make nearly impossible decisions.

“I have seen families decide which children are going to remain in yeshiva based on age group,” said Mark Honigsfeld, co-president of Hebrew Academy of Five Towns and Rockaway (HAFTR). “There has been an emphasis on grade school and middle. Parents say, ‘I need my kid to have a foundation. You can educate two lower school kids for the price of one high school kid. You get more bang for your buck.”

HAFTR is facing “desperate situations” that in previous years were solved by fund raising. “In the past there were always a couple of families who quietly said, ‘O.K., I’ll take care of it,” he said. Now, “it’s like the perfect storm.” Families that always paid full tuition and contributed to the scholarship campaign themselves have lost jobs and are struggling.

“We must take care of those families first,” Honigsfeld said firmly. “Difficult decisions that have never had to be made by the past two generations by HAFTR, on the finance side, must be made.”

Families who have lost jobs “are the easiest to help,” said Rabbi Stern, from the yeshiva high school in Riverdale. There is a strict policy of “hands off” concerning tuition collection. “Contracts are set aside,” for the duration of the families financial crisis, he said.

{By Mayer Fertig for the Riverdale Press/ Newscenter}


  1. Of course, when a school has a $1M fundraising need, the mechanchim suffer. My daughter-in-law who is a teacher in such a school, hasn’t been paid in the six months before the summer break.

    It’s a zero-sum game folks.

    Hashem ya’azor.

  2. I was faced with this tough decison. i currently have a child that goes to a special ed school, tuition is 27k. My income is 60k. I foreclosed my house and I am currently living in a rental. My advice to anyone in this kind of situation: If you care about your child growing up frum and true to his religion, the tuition takes precidance over the house. One can always find a rental, but once a child has been through the public school system and being amongst proste beheimos, its too late.

  3. I left kollel when my little one went to primary. My tuition is $4000 a year. I can’t afford it on a koolel stipend, and I refuse to ask my shver for more money.

  4. Any board and principal that denies access to a student based on finances, damav berosham. It is guaranteed that their children and grandchildren will need to be on the receiving end. How disgusting can these people be?

    It is davka for parents like these that scholarships were established. They are meant to allow children to learn, not for a school rainy day fund, nor for a building down payment.

  5. Take a look at Oorah and Nechomas Yisroel. Both are tzedokos geared towards paying the tuition for children to go to yeshiva. Why isn’t there a similar tzedaka for ‘frum’ people? Many ‘frum’ people can’t afford tuition even with a good job. We have so many parlor meetings and dinners for all types of mosdos. Thats very good. But its time that every city / neighborhood has an organization that ensures that the tuition needs of all the ‘frum’ children are met as well. The group would ensure that every kids tuition is accounted for and that the teachers are paid on time(other school needs such as new buildings and the like,can be handled through ‘dinners’ and chinese auctions’).

    I know a yid who would pay for other families tuition. He’s an example of how we must care for every FRUM child’s tuition.