Is the Chabad lifestyle sustainable? I believe it is not; here is why.
First of all – a bit about me: I am a Lubavitcher Working (not on Shlichus) father of a five kids. My wife and I are what you would call a normal working class ‘gezhe’ family. We were both brought up in, and graduated, the Chabad educational system. I went to yeshiva my whole life, went on Yeshiva shlichus, got smicha, went on Merkos shlichus and learned in kolel. My wife went to Chabad schools, Camp Emuna and Seminary – she is what they would refer to as “an amazing girl”. We never rebelled, and dedicated our lives to bring up our children like a normal Chabad family.
Here is the problem:
We were brought up with a certain hadracha and hashkafa, which for the most part dictates the behavior of our daily life. But in addition to Halacha, if you are living in the Chabad lifestyle, there are a lot more unspoken expectations of you and your family. For example, you have to send your kids to a Chabad School –No matter the cost of tuition; you have to send your kids to a Chabad summer camp, no matter the cost of tuition; this is all just so your kids are not marginalized, and labeled as outcasts.
Then there are the ‘elite’ Mesivtas and seminaries, mostly out-of-town schools, and with the games surrounding the artificial supply and demand for the limited spots at these Mosdos – the price tag to send a child there is not cheap. A recent article on Shturm.net amplified this concern relating to tuition: “$19,500 for Oholei Torah Yeshiva Gedola, $8,000 for K-8 at Oholei Torah. At Beis Rivkah they charge $6,000 per student per year, and of course there are the seminaries that charge $16,000 for the year excluding airfare and other expenses.” In short, if you calculate the cost of having a child – to educate them, see them thorugh the system and marry them off within the framework of ‘the system’ – it can cost between $200,000 and $300,000 each, depending on the schooling options you choose.
The initial knee-jerk reaction to this would be to have a smaller family. While logical, it is not practical. Let’s be honest, have you seen a couple in their mid 30s with only two kids? They are the talk of the town; “oy, nebach, I bet they have health problems, should we daven for them?” or “they are such freiyaken, I think they are part of chabad 2.0 / Newbavitch and they are family planning; oy, I should talk to their Mashpia.”
As Chasidim we all do our best; we sacrifice a lot just to be mekusher to the Rebbe. But I feel it should be a two way street: if we keep our end of the deal and have a large family, and keep our kids from going to anything but a yeshiva “al taharas hakodesh,” then there should be a central organization that supports this lifestyle, and not just a nebach-case special-needs charity fund.
If we tear a page out of the Catholic educational system’s playbook, we can learn a thing or two. They subsidize education from the top down, so tuition costs only $3,000 per child (with extra subsidies for larger families). They put up the money to encourage parents to send their kids to these schools, in order to educate them with their beliefs and get them to become followers; this keeps the cycle running.
Sadly, we have a broken system: we discourage attending college, so the result is either a couple on Shlichus who need to be supported, or low wage workers who are unable to support neither the Shluchim nor their own children’s education. Add large families to this picture, and you see how it just doesn’t add up.
Alternatively, if you wish to tear a page out of the Satmar school system’s playbook, their tuition is heavily subsidized, and so they can keep having large families without worry.
The Reality is, and it’s no secret, almost all our resources are going towards fishing for new Jews to join into our system. We have Friendship circles, holocaust survivor circles, released time, youth programs for college kids, youth programs for kids who come to Chabad Houses, Camp L’maan Achai, camps for yaldei hashluchim.. you name it! if you are not yet Frum – Chabad has something for you. Every shliach out there is doing his best to be mekarev yidden, yet the fact of the matter is that there are very little programs, funds, resources or attention paid to us – the ones who are actually living the Chabad lifestyle.
If you are a shliach, you are truly living a not-for-profit lifestyle with mesiras nefesh, and kudos to you and your family; you are doing the Rebbe’s work. To appreciate your dedication, you get all the discounts, the beneficiary of donations from “working Chabad,” plus shluchim discounts at many Mosdos. In addition, you get discounts in many stores on Kingston, not to mention other perks that are well known.
Lomo Nigora!? What about us, those of us who are not on Shlichus, but working hard to pay for this expensive Chabad lifestyle?
As “working class Lubavitcher,” there are few tuition breaks for school, camp or other programs which we are expected to send our kids to. It’s at a point where I feel that I should be temporarily donating to “inreach” programs and discontinue supporting Shluchim who are doing “Outreach.”
I imagine that if all “working Chabad” took all their donations and contributed to a central education fund for tuition, or camp fund, to give a break to those who are working and struggling to keep thier kids “in the system,” the Chabad lifestyle will become sustainable, affordable and much more attractive – thus making the Shluchim’s jobs easier.
There seems to be an absolute vacuum in leadership when it comes to “inreach,” and so, to get the conversation started and until someone can come up with some better ideas, allow me to suggest a few, and hopefully some leadership or organization will emerge.
1. Tuition at Chabad day camps and overnight camps should be capped at $1,500 for the summer, or $3,000 for a family no matter how many kids they send to camp.
2. Schools should start teaching and offering a track for Parnasa. These days shlichus is not a given anymore as an absolute outcome of your education, it is now based on a connection you have, family or other, or if you marry into a shlichus family. Everyone needs to have the basics of reading and writing. A career counselor should work with every child at the age of 14 and determine their strengths and weaknesses, and help coach the student into a path that best fits his/her abilities.
3. Institute a cap on school tuition: if you have one Child in school – $5,500; a second child – $4,500; a third – $3,500 etc., with a $15,000 total cap no matter how many kids you send to school. The rest should be completely subsidized by Merkos L’inyonei Chinuch. Everyone will pay their tuition to Merkos, and Merkos in turn will send a check with additional subsidized money to the Chabad run school of your choice.
4. Mesivta and Zal should be free – yes, free. If we want our kids to stay in ‘the system,’ we need to find a way to make it free. Seminary for girls should also be free. This must be placed on the shoulders of the Central Chabad leadership – if you want to promote the perpetuation of Chabad for the next generation – make it free.
5. Enact a freeze on all shlichus donations, and instead redirect all donations to the Merkos Central Education Fund.
6. Like Satmar, have a strong ethic of trying to promote each other’s businesses, no matter what.
7. I also think that 4-6 kids should be the largest families we should be having. We can’t worry about the guilt placed onto us about having large families. All those great chassidim who are running the Mosdos conveniently forgot that the Rebbe asked them to keep tuition low and affordable, but now 18 years after Gimmul Tamuz we are the ones holding the bill, begging for their mercy to let our kids in at a discount.
8. Have a petition signed by every working Chabad family in Lubavitch and demand that we reform the current system, with real actionable steps right away. Let there be a focus on fundraising $100 Million dollars and inviting Chabad Yeshivos and Day Schools to be under the Merkos umbrella.
I write this as a mere warning, since the writing is already on the wall.
Dear Chabad HQ, you are losing your base. Bringing new baalei teshuva into Chabad, which is clearly the current focus, is a very nice activity, it’s the Rebbe’s work, but working with those already here is even more important. Please pay attention to us, before the already broken system collapses entirely.