This is probably the most politically incorrect and controversial post that has yet to feature on this blog, and from a committed Zionist it will be read as heretical by some. However in an environment of limited resources the topic must be raised. One of Australian Jewry’s most professional and high achieving organisation is the United Israel Appeal. In 2006 this organisation raised and $US 42.5 million through its collective activities. Another one of Australian Jewry’s most successful organisations is the Jewish National Fund. They too collect and remit millions of dollars each year to Israel for environmentally focussed projects.
I am not sure how much it costs to raise this money. I am even less sure how it gets put to work in Israel. How much of the funding, like so many formal charitable organisations, actually reaches its end cause however is less of an issue than the local crisis that faces Australian Jewry. That is a crisis of Jewish education.
Australian Jewry has approximately 20 day schools, and each day approximately 10,000 Jewish Australian children attend these schools. The mainstay of success of Australian Jewry over the past decades has been through this system. However the pressure of school fees has plunged the future of the day school movement into crisis. We don’t see it on collective terms, but there are literally thousands more Jewish children in this country who do not attend a Jewish school because of cost. Furthermore, the number of families on subsidised fees makes the financial sustainability of some of our schools untenable into the years ahead. The continual reliance on major benefactors, particularly in Sydney, to bail out Jewish schools from near or actual bankruptcy is indicative of the problem that we face.
Dare I suggest that if $50 million dollars a year were collected and retained, and used as a launchpad to educate Jewish children, that the impact for Israel would be far more positive. Firstly, in human terms, there would be many more identifying Jews to visit and relocate to Israel. Secondly, the strength of this Diaspora commuinty, and its ability to support, represent and defend Israel would be greater.
There are those who are adamant that their philanthropy is directed to Israel. But if this money was specifically isolated to fund Shilchim, Israeli teachers in our schools, and putting Zionism into the classroom, then the dividends would be high.
Here in Perth we support UIA and JNF staff, and fund offices and operations. Yet we have a school that is in need of Hebrew teachers. We have a school that has 60% of its year 12 graduates opt to go to Israel Programs. We have a school that could have hundreds of more students if the cost of private school fees was not beyond the reach of average income families.
What the Australian Jewish Day School movement needs is a large scale future fund, with hundreds of millions at its base, and an annual capital injection. It needs this fund to subsidise the cost of school fees in an accountable and dignified manner for Jewish familes that wish to accord their children a Jewish education.
No doubt $50 million dollars worth of Australian Jewish money contributes a lot to various Israel programs. But in the scheme of things, the buoyant Israel economy would not notice a $50 million decrease in philanthropy. Yet this money comes at what cost to Australian Jewry ? It could be enough to stifle the growth and development of the next generation of identifying Australian Jews.
The suggestion stands on record. By all means collect $50 million per annum, but lets rethink the way in which this money is put to work. A local spend on behalf of Israel could be worth far more than a remittance of the funds to Israel to the benefit of both Australian Jewry and ultimately the Israeli economy.