JPPI’s focus on the dimension of material resources is a vehicle for raising questions about the sources and uses of Jewish wealth as applied to the concerns of the Jewish people as a whole. Education must necessarily be a central theme in any such consideration and doubly so: it has traditionally served as one of the main avenues through which Jews have prospered within societies often indifferent or inimical to Jewish economic advancement, while at the same time education in and of itself has been a pillar upon which all Jewish communities have built throughout the centuries.
A variation on the theme of education is the increasing recognition of the role early-age educational and Jewish life experiences play in the formation of Jewish identity. As discussed elsewhere in this Annual Assessment,19 this realization has been accompanied by increased demand for enrichment experiences as more U.S. Jewish households seek such transformative experiences for their children. A bottleneck in supply may also be emerging. This both causes and is caused by a spiraling rise in the cost of such experiences.
Data from the Pew Research Center’s 2013 Portrait of Jewish Americans provide some insight. The survey asked, “Aside from formal education, did any of the children in your household participate during the past year in any other organized Jewish youth programs, such as Jewish day care or nursery school, Jewish youth groups, Jewish day camp or sleep away camp, or other activities?”
The results are below:
We should exercise caution in drawing strong conclusions from these data. For example, the calculated sample error makes the apparent decline at the top income bracket for the Orthodox respondents indistinguishable from a situation in which the top two income groups actually are equivalent in the rate of participation in extra-curricular Jewish activities. Nevertheless, the data is suggestive. Households with incomes of $100,000 or more show a higher rate of participation in Jewish enrichment for both the Orthodox and non-Orthodox. This is notable in the decline of percentage participation in the two lower income categories among the Orthodox, small for the $50-$100,000 category but large for those households earning the least. Given the nature of many Orthodox communities, we might expect a more consistent set of values and inclination toward similarity of life patterns than might perhaps be the case among the more heterogeneous “non-Orthodox” category. If income were not a barrier, we might expect similar rates of participation in such programs. Looking at the non-Orthodox group of respondents, the two lowest income categories show participation in Jewish enrichment at a rate almost half that of the two upper income brackets.20
The effect of the high cost of Jewish education and identity programs is greatest in regard to “enrichment” programming. Participation in Jewish schooling is less effected. Only a small minority of non-Orthodox send their children to Jewish schools (10-12 percent) while over 90 percent of the Orthodox do (except for those families earning less than $50,000 a year.) Apparently Jewish schooling (or lack of it) is far more central to the nature of one’s Jewish identity and lifestyle and hence less elastic in terms of economic considerations. Nevertheless, as we have seen in the chapter on identity and identification, supplementary programs such as summer camps can have large effects on adult Jewish identification and continuity. Thus, this data points to the recommendation that funding barriers for such enrichment programs be overcome, especially in the light of the increasing wealth of the Jewish community and that they be made affordable for larger numbers of U.S. Jews.