An open letter of thanks to Jewish day-school parents

Over the past few weeks, the national and local Jewish press has been discussing the importance of funding the Jewish day-school movement. The one group left out in this dialogue has been the parents, who give so much of themselves to support the future leadership of the Jewish community by sending their children to a Jewish day school.

Brandeis Hillel Day School is now celebrating its 35th year as a school and 20th year on our Marin campus. Please consider this an open letter describing the commitment of the families that choose a Jewish community day-school education. I want to thank them because the whole Jewish community should be thankful.

The price of a Jewish day-school education is high — but it is the surest investment in Jewish continuity.

How high is the price? Well, consider that for many of our families, the money they spend on day-school education means that they have no savings for college, that they have contributed little toward their retirements, and that they cannot afford nice vacations or even homes.

The price of a Jewish day-school education for many of our families is that they have put aside their deep commitment to the public educational system. They have come to realize that no matter how small the class size, Jewish children of the next generation need to know who they are and have a strong identity to succeed as a member of a minority in a majority culture.

The value of a day-school education is seen in the excellent academic preparation, the quality of the faculty, the diverse Jewish cultural environment, and the depth and understanding of Hebrew and Jewish studies.

When you join a Jewish day school, you know that the school and community are partners in helping you raise your children.

The price our families pay personally supports the future of the Jewish community and its eventual leadership. According to several longitudinal studies, Jewish day-school graduates go on to be active members of synagogues and federation leadership. Day- school graduates own more Jewish books and celebrate more Jewish holidays. They actively seek out Jews to date and marry them in higher percentages than any other Jewish group. In short, they are the next Jewish leaders.

The price of this education is supported by the generous contributions of almost 90 percent of our families to the annual fund and from an assortment of people and organizations within the community. With stronger support from outside the school community, imagine what day schools could do to hold down rising tuition.

The cost of education is also supported by a generous subvention from the Jewish Community Federation. Each student at Brandeis Hillel, for example, receives $740, but this amount unfortunately does not keep pace with the rising costs.

The price of this education is supported by foundations and grants. Names like Ziff, Koret, Eva Heller Kohn and the Jewish Community Endowment are the unsung heroes in our community. Most of these grants are automatically renewed each year. However, grants and foundations are by definition terminal and are subject to annual review. Day schools can't reliably budget on these amounts.

Tuition happens to be the only source upon which day schools can rely and budget with assurance.

Education in general is an expensive proposition. Its costs increase above the rate of inflation because it is labor intensive. To hire and retain the best faculty, we continually wish to improve their benefits and working conditions.

The price of a Jewish education is greater than a general education because of:

*The additional staff, books, materials and resources as well as administration needed for a dual curriculum.

*The financial assistance that Brandeis Hillel offers to almost a third of the children in the school.

*The enriched program that includes technology, art, music and outdoor education.

*Student services including counseling, learning resources and the Hazon program (for students with special abilities).

The price of education is high, and it should be — we are investing in the future of our people and the world through these children.

What can you do today to help celebrate Jewish day schools in our community and Brandeis Hillel at 35?

*Take a tour or attend an open house. Much has changed in day-school education, especially in Northern California.

*Investigate entering a day-school kindergarten for the coming year. We're not like anything else in the educational marketplace.

*As an interfaith couple, look us over. Almost 20 percent of our families are interfaith couples. Brandeis Hillel has a tradition of commitment to a pluralistic approach toward all forms of Jewish identity and practice.

*Explore transferring your child to a Jewish day school in any grade from first through eighth. Schools will help you work out a smooth transition.

*Help us build an endowment for Jewish community day-school education. It will reduce financial pressure on today's families, as we build a lasting future for an inclusive philosophy of day school education in our community.

For the past 35 years, these parents and families have given of themselves and helped build something wonderful for the whole community — San Francisco's own community Jewish day school.

Their vision helped set the standard for what is now a Jewish community day-school movement of over 10 schools in Northern California. We thank you, the parents, for your vision and commitment.