The High Cost of Being Jewish
For “fun,” while my husband was out of town, I decided to go back in time and add up how much we’ve spent – er, invested – in developing the “positive and confident” Jewish identities of our two children. The list included:
- An annual synagogue membership (to ensure we’d have a place to go for our son’s bris, the kids’ b’nai mitzvah, high holiday services, etc.);
- 13 years of a day school education (K through 8 at The Epstein School and 9 through 12 at The Weber School);
- An annual JCCmembership to ensure that the kids would be able to attend:
- Over 5 years of various JCC sports programs;
- 8 years of various JCC summer camp programs;
- A semester in Israel with the Alexander Muss High School in Israel program; and
- Numerous round-trip plane rides to New York, Florida, or Israel to celebrate family holidays and simchas.
While I’m not complaining (actually, I guess I am), this list of “costs” is deceptive. You see, while membership has its privileges, all of the organizations associated with the list above strongly request (or require in some cases) – in addition to tuitions – contributions to annual fundraising campaigns too. I’m sure that even my Christian friends and relatives can relate to these challenges. Adding up the numbers, I almost fainted!
So, how much did we spend in total? Before I tell you, I must share two things that happened this week.
The “easier” event to talk about involves an unpublicized, perceived act of anti-Semitism at a high school in Eugene, Oregon. While admittedly I don’t know all the facts, it seems that a teacher who has been “earmarked as a racist” inserted an anti-Semitic slur (the K _ K E word) into a question on a discussion sheet about the movie “Swing Kids.” The movie is an interesting portrayal of resistance by German youth during the Nazi regime. However, Jewish parents and their students were not warned in advance about the film’s screening or content; especially as it pertains to the ways Jews are portrayed. As a result, many of the Jewish teens in the class reported feeling uncomfortable, and even traumatized.
The second situation is a bit more complex. Unless you don’t read newspapers or watch the news, you undoubtedly heard about the rabbi, his two children, and the principal’s daughter who were murdered outside a Jewish day school in Toulouse, France last week. A letter, from a woman named Becky who attended the victims’ funerals, crossed my desk yesterday. She wrote:
“I’ve been thinking about how a father, who chose not to pursue fortune or fame, but to dedicate his life to teaching, lost his life because of that decision. And I’ve been thinking about his wife – now a widow – who lost not only a husband, but her two beautiful sons. Aryeh was only six and Gavriel just three. And I’ve been thinking about Miriam Monsonego [the principal’s daughter] who got up to go to school and was brutally murdered instead.
None of them had to be at the Ozar HaTorah School in Toulouse [that] Monday morning. They were part of a Jewish community that was building a Jewish future – securing our continuity as a people – by investing in education. And for that, they were sacrificed.”
As both of these situations highlight, we pay a price for choosing to become, to stay, and to be Jewish. Sometimes, the price is financial. Sometimes, the price is fear. Sometimes, the price is anger (and accompanying ulcers). Sometimes, the price is life itself.
I feel bad about having counted my “identity-building” dollars in the wake of all of this. Does it really matter how much it has cost us?
The choice to be Jewish – and to ensure the Jewishness of our children – is ours. With it, there was a price that we willingly paid. So be it. Regardless of how it all gets added up in the end, the price is clearly very high to those of us who make this choice.
May last week’s victims – and all of those in the past – rest in peace. May those of us who struggle today find the strength, determination, and courage to carry on.
 Rebecca “Beck” Caspi, Director General, Israel Office and Senior Vice President, Israel and Overseas of The Jewish Federations of North America.