Thank You for this Gift

By: rabbi jay kelman |

Thank you! The Toronto Jewish community owes a tremendous collective thank you to the Jesin-Neuberger family for their ten million dollar gift, and to an anonymous donor for their gift of five million dollars. Fourteen million of these dollars will go to reducing tuition at TanenbaumCHAT by over 1/3 for the next five years, making it the largest single gift dedicated to tuition reduction ever made to Jewish education in Canada. This gift opens the door for many to remain in the day school system as instead of tuition rising by some $12,000 from middle to high school, tuition will now be little more than it was in grade eight.

It also allows many who have never attended day school to join the New Stream program at TanenbaumCHAT, a program designed specifically for those with limited or even no prior formal Jewish education.

As wonderful as this $15,000,000 gift is – and it is most wonderful - it only begins to open the door in solving the tuition crisis. While tuition of $18,500 is much more affordable than the close to $30,000 it would otherwise be, for many families it is still unaffordable. A family earning say $175,000 (putting them in the top 5% of Canadian families) with one child at CHAT and two in elementary school will still have to pay over $50,000 a year in tuition fees. This gift does nothing to address the cost of middle school and most importantly of elementary school, where so many make the decision not to enroll in day school. Much of the decline in high school enrollment is a direct result of the dropping enrollments in elementary schools. And sadly, while not directly linked, at the same time that tuition is dropping at CHAT the northern campus is being closed due to the decline in enrollment over the past number of years.

It is most unrealistic to assume that the tuition crisis can be solved by one 15 million dollar gift.  Yet the door of tuition help is ajar and we must all work together to open it far and wide - actually we must remove the door completely. 

Nothing breeds success more than success. If 50, 100 or 200 students who were planning to go to public school enroll in TanenbaumCHAT not only will hundreds begin a lifelong journey of Jewish engagement, it will be much easier to attract new donors who can be confident their dollars will make a real difference.

I urge each and every one of you – yes this means you - to speak to one family who has a child who could be at TanenbaumCHAT but is not, encouraging them to consider the tremendous benefits of a Jewish education. Even those whose interest in Jewish education may be minimal may not realize the great success CHAT graduates have as they move on to University and beyond.

One of the features of this gift that breaks new ground – and one that in thinking about it I really like - is that the money is dedicated to one school alone. Yes, it would be great if the monies could go to all Jewish schools – however if we did that with this gift, tuition would likely be going down zero dollars.

We all understand the benefits of competition and we all benefit when a major player announces a drop in “prices.” How wonderful it will be if as a result of this donation other schools are forced to lower tuition to compete. I would love to hear that millions of dollars have been given to one elementary school to cut tuition in half, or by some $7,500 a child. It would force the donors at other schools to come forward to compete. The “consumer” in this case the Jewish community would be the beneficiaries. Our community is just too big to spread the proceeds of one donation to all. By targeting donations to one school we can solve this crisis grade by grade and school by school.