Day School Dollars Well Spent – by Charlie Savenor

Day School Dollars Well Spent

Benjy’s first year of Jewish day school was, by all standards, a success. He learned some Hebrew songs, created a plethora of Van Gogh-esque finger-painting masterpieces and made some good pals with whom he has spent countless play-dates. And there is nothing sweeter than his three year old “Amens!” at our Shabbat table on Friday night!

One other unexpected benefit of his day school experience has emerged that is worth the price of admission. He developed a deep respect for his “morahs”, which means teachers in Hebrew, especially his head teacher Morah Mira.

One day last spring Benjy was misbehaving at home as only a three year old can. When the straw finally broke the camel’s back, Julie and I pulled him aside to explain our expectations of his being a good boy.

After listening intently, he quickly responded, “Don’t tell Morah Mira.”

Well, that was easy. Now whenever Benjy gets out of line, we have the perfect behavior modification, namely the Morah Mira phone call.  One mention of our calling his teacher, and Benjy turns into the little mentsch we know he can be.

Jewish day school, thankfully, provides value beyond persuading Benjy to behave. It is an incubator of our family values, albeit an expensive one.

Sending our children to Jewish day school is a priority that Julie and I share. When we were dating and dreaming about our future family, a day school education was always an integral part of our vision of how our children would be raised.

Both of us attended day school, although our experiences were quite different. Julie’s school in New London, CT, was tiny in comparison to those I attended in Boston. While Julie attended a day school from 1st grade through 8th, my path is what might be called “the reverse commute.” I began day school in 6th grade and continued through high school.

The reverse commute route was challenging at first, especially when I could not tell a kaf from a koof. Since I was enthusiastic about learning Jewish subjects everyday, it was worth every bit of the struggle. Looking back on those formative years, I realize that my day school experience ignited the spark of Judaism still burning within me and shaped and molded my character into the person I am today.

What unifies our day school experiences is how much we learned on a daily basis about Hebrew, Israel, Jewish texts along with a full general studies curriculum. Moreover, we both deeply appreciate our own parents’ efforts to encourage and support this ambitious educational endeavor.

For all these reasons and more, there was no question that Julie and I would prioritize our resources to make day school a reality for our children. However, this choice comes with a price tag. Day school tuition means that exotic vacations, shopping sprees and a new car will have to wait a long while. But it’s certainly worth it.

We are not surprised at all by Benjy’s positive experience in Morah Mirah’s class because we can already see the impact of a vibrant day school environment on his older brother, Joseph.

After 4 years of day school, Joseph, who is soon entering 2nd grade, talks with enthusiasm about what he “loves” about school. His favorite subjects are parsha (Torah study) and gym. No, not at the same time.

His knowledge of the Torah portions is quite impressive as he rapidly internalizes the purpose and pathos of our most sacred text. Joseph’s favorite biblical character is Joseph, and his favorite portion is “Vayigash”, when the twelve brothers and the entire family are reunited.

When we discuss the Torah portion together each week, I frequently learn something from him. His morahs share some fundamental midrashim (interpretations) that I never encountered on my reverse commute through Jewish day school. At moments like these I stand in awe of my children and am a little jealous of how much they are learning at such a young age.

One might say that the apple does not fall far from the tree. Yet, witnessing our eldest son lead services and share Torah insights with confidence, I feel that his morahs and his parents together have not produced an apple, but rather a seedling in his own right.

While Joseph likes the stories in the Torah the best, he also appreciates the laws and customs, especially when he can see how they fit into our daily lives.

At a recent Shabbat dinner, the question was asked why we eat salt with our challah on Friday night? Immediately someone at the table responded, “We eat the salt to remember the bitter things that have happened to us as a people.”

Before I could jump into the fray as the resident rabbi, Joseph chimed in, “Well, actually, we eat salt with challah on Friday night to remind us of the korbanot (sacrifices) that we offered at the Temple in Jerusalem.” Two bites later, he added, “We learned this in Parshat Vayikra (Leviticus), when we learned about the korbanot.”

As we ate the challah that Friday evening, Joseph’s comments not only reaffirmed our decision to send our kids to Jewish day school, but they also made the salt in my mouth taste sweet like sugar.

This moment was so delicious and affirming of the value of a day school education, I was tempted to call Morah Mira just to say thank you.

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