One of JOI’s main philosophies is to lower the barriers that make it hard for those on the periphery to engage in programs of the Jewish community. One of the biggest and toughest barriers to overcome is money. Finances often may be the determining factor in one’s participation and involvement. We understand that programs cost money, of course. As independent schools without government funding, Jewish day schools have the hardest time lowering “the money barrier.” The tuition of some schools nearly equals a state university.
Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh decided to do something about it for next year. This school lowered the financial barrier when it announced a new scholarship program last month that offers free tuition to students transferring from public schools. This school also understands that if you can get folks into the door and you have something worth paying for, people will want to pay for it in the future. But you have to get them in the door first. The Herman Lipsitz scholarship offers free tuition for two years for all students who transfer to the academy from public or non-Jewish private schools. Pittsburgh’s Jewish Chronicle explains:
The Lipsitz family had been making plans to establish a scholarship fund in Herman’s memory because of his concern that every Jewish child be given the opportunity to have a day school education. Hillel is not the first day school to offer an enrollment incentive. The Torah Academy of Minneapolis offers tuition vouchers of up to $5,000 to encourage enrollment at the school, and schools in Cleveland and Atlanta also offer financial incentives.
Of course, because it is Orthodox, the school’s definition of a “Jewish child” is one whose mother is Jewish, suggesting that there are other barriers to participation at Hillel Academy for a growing percentage of Jewish households.
Nevertheless, we at JOI applaud the Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh for taking a step toward bringing down the barriers. It is a particularly important step to reach those on the periphery. Perhaps if more Jewish institutions followed Pittsburgh’s lead, imagine how much the community could grow!