The cost of being a Jewish communal professional
Don’t all Jewish children, regardless of age or socioeconomic status, deserve the same access to early childhood programs that will no doubt lay the groundwork for all future Jewish knowledge?
I’m a Jewish professional who cannot afford Jewish institutional life for my family. This thought looped through my mind as my husband and I began researching childcare options for our daughter in the Boston area. Working with Jewish young adults for the past three years has deepened my appreciation of the communal infrastructure that attracts young adults, engages them and enables them to be active in the Jewish community for very little (or even no) money. Young Jewish families deserve the same access to Jewish programs and institutions as young adults, who receive large amounts of funding and organizational attention.
Indeed, having worked in the Jewish nonprofit space, I’m keenly aware of the various wonderful options for Jewish families. Like many young adults with one young child, my husband and I are not members of a synagogue, so I reached out to a local Jewish daycare center to inquire about childcare. I was informed that enrolling my child five days per week (the only option for infants) would cost $36,000, over 65% of the salary I was earning in a mid-level position at the local federation.
Childcare is expensive regardless of the provider. The cost of five full days at the local Jewish daycare center is comparable to other local high-end options, such as Montessori centers and corporate-owned chains. The prices are, and will remain, high because the market can bear it. This begs the question of equity in Jewish education: Don’t all Jewish children, regardless of age or socioeconomic status, deserve the same access to early childhood programs that will no doubt lay the groundwork for all future Jewish knowledge? Is the Jewish community only focused on educating the children of the wealthy? Let’s break down the stigma regarding conversations about money in order to create a more equitable Jewish landscape for young families: one in which we all have access to Jewish childcare.
The place to start is with young Jewish professionals who are devoting our lives to serving the greater Jewish community. Young Jewish professionals spend countless hours supporting communal programs and providing resources to enable Jews with varying backgrounds to access Jewish communal life. We, as the connectors and programmers and fundraisers, deserve access to Jewish childcare. If and when our salaries do not enable this, then the onus is on the Jewish community to make this possible.
Creating accessible Jewish institutions requires that we engage in uncomfortable conversations about money and class. Jewish federations will need to help put an infrastructure in place that allows any Jewish family to choose Jewish childcare. Existing programs will have to cut costs or offer financial aid. Families who can afford to foot the entire bill will not be prioritized above those who require assistance. Maybe then, Jewish professionals like me will be able to send our daughters to Jewish daycare.
Rachel Zylberfink is a graduate student in the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program at Brandeis University.