The cost of a committed Jewish life

When I was younger, the approach of summer was met with excitement – a break from the routine of school and a time for new adventures. As a parent, however, I feel an impending sense of dread.

I’m not even talking about our three-digit temperatures that limit outdoor activities – I’m talking about planning my children’s summer. And I imagine I am not alone.

I’d guess that most of the working parents whose children attend Jewish preschools or day schools have spent a great deal of their time and resources to make that happen. From the rigorous, and sometimes overwhelming, application process for financial assistance to the scheduling challenges when Jewish holiday schedules conflict with work schedules, these parents do what they can to ensure that their children are in a safe, nurturing and enriching Jewish environment.

But it comes at a price.

For those who don’t have young children in school, here is an example of the costs for one child in day school and one child in preschool.

For one month of day school here in the Valley, the full tuition ranges from $830 to $1,400 per child. For a month of full-time preschool, the cost varies from nearly $800 to more than $1,000. And that doesn’t include the additional day care required for all of the holidays, both Jewish and secular, when a parent is still required to work.

If a family belongs to a synagogue, membership fees can be an additional $100 or $200 a month.

So, during the school year, we’re looking at more than $2,000 per month. And that’s just for 10 months of the year and for only two children.

And now here we are at the season when it’s time to register for camp, which can run up to $300 a week per child.

These numbers don’t even include other expenses of Jewish life, such as a JCC membership, enrichment activities, attending fundraising events or purchasing kosher food. (And the cost of stocking up for eight days of kosher-for-Passover food is a whole other discussion.)

Fortunately, there are ways to make it work. Several organizations that recognize the high cost of committing to a Jewish lifestyle are there to help, with the support of many generous individuals. Synagogues offer reduced membership fees to families who qualify, and preschools, day schools and camps often offer sibling discounts and scholarships.

Last year, the Jewish Tuition Organization (JTO) collected a record $2.64 million to fund need-based scholarships to Jewish day schools in the Valley. (And if you haven’t filed your taxes yet, there’s still time to get a tax credit – until April 15 – which provides an opportunity to help fund Jewish education without spending a dime.) The JTO funded 409 scholarships for the 2013-14 academic year.

Jewish Free Loan has a number of loans that can help young families. There are interest-free loans available for Jewish preschools, Jewish day schools, religious school, Jewish educational opportunities, Jewish summer camp (both day camp and sleep-away camp), Israel experiences and adoption/IVF (for those who hope to grow their Jewish family). The Bureau of Jewish Education also provides need-based summer camp scholarships (both day camp and sleep-away camp). The national program, One Happy Camper, offers grants of up to $1,000 for the first year a child is at a Jewish overnight camp.

We are fortunate to have so many great organizations and programs in the Valley that offer high-quality Jewish programming – and many generous donors that support them. And of course these high-quality programs require the necessary funds to run them successfully. I wish I could offer a solution here, but I really just wanted to bring up the issue. There’s been much discussion about the Valley’s high unaffiliation rate. But could it be possible that it’s not because those individuals aren’t interested; perhaps they just can’t afford to be affiliated?

This article first appeared on jewishaz.com.