Complete our annual survey—and win a prize? | Join us for more 18Forty in your WhatsApp or right in your email

The Cost of Jewish Education

Listen_Apple_ButtonListen_Spotify_ButtonListen_Google_Button

SUMMARY

This series is sponsored by Ari and Danielle Schwartz in memory of Danielle’s grandfather, Mr. Baruch Mappa, Baruch Ben Asher Zelig HaLevi.

In this episode of the 18Forty Podcast, we talk to three different advocates for affordable Jewish education about the state of the tuition crisis.

While it is a sensitive subject to discuss, the cost of Jewish education remains one of the most vital issues at play in Jewish life today, as passing on a Torah education to the next generation is of the utmost importance.

  • Why is Jewish education so expensive?
  • How exactly does the process of providing financial aid work?
  • What large-scale measures can be taken to attack the tuition crisis?

Tune in to hear a conversation about how we can be more effective in our effort to provide a Torah education for all Jewish children.

Interview with Richard Hagler begins at 7:20
Interview with Chavie Kahn begins at 59:30
Interview with Maury Litwack begins at 1:11:42

Richard Hagler has been a longtime executive director of the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach schools. Chavie Kahn is the director of school strategy and policy at UJA-Federation of New York. Maury Litwack is the managing director of the Orthodox Union and founder of Teach Coalition.

References:

Teach Coalition

18Forty Podcast: “Michael A. Helfand: Church, State, and Jewish Education

America in the King Years trilogy by Taylor Branch

David Bashevkin: 
Hello and welcome to the 18Forty podcast where each month we explore a different topic, balancing modern sensibilities with traditional sensitivities to give you new approaches to timeless Jewish ideas. I’m your host, David Bashevkin, and this month we’re exploring Jewish education. Thank you so much to our sponsors, Danielle and Ari Schwartz, who are sponsoring this series in honor of Danielle’s grandfather, Mr. Baruch Mappa, Baruch Ben Asher Zelig HaLevi.

This podcast is part of a larger exploration of those big juicy Jewish ideas, so be sure to check out 18forty.org where you can also find videos, articles, and recommended readings. We have gotten so much feedback from this topic, from this series. And unfortunately, so much of it is are you going to cover X? Are you going to talk about children with special needs, learning disabilities, more on the curriculum, more on cost? There is an endless amount of topics and my commitment because I think this is so central, not just to our community, it’s central to the mission of 18Forty, to really explore the educational universe from which we emerge, that there’s no way we’re going to be able to cover everything in this one series. Particularly on this topic because in some ways it’s really like everything, but in another sense it really is a commitment that this is something, God willing, that we will try to return to at least once every single year.

I got a text message, I think it was on WhatsApp from a friend of mine. It’s more like a WhatsApp friend, we’ve only met in person once. But I found it incredibly moving and in many ways it kind of frames a lot of what I plan on talking about and what we plan on exploring today. This friend’s name is Ellie Naddaf and his grandmother was Mrs. Miryam Naddaf, and this is what he wrote to me.

“My grandmother was heavily involved in the Chabad day school in Pittsburgh for 50 years as a teacher, administrator and principal. She related how she and her friends knocked on doors asking parents to send their kids to yeshiva, offering transportation, free lunch and free tuition. In the 1960s, the public school system, the teachers went on strike and the day schools inspired 50 new children, most of whom stayed within the yeshiva system. Around that time is when Hillel Academy began in the city also, as fervently observant families began to adjust their attitudes towards parochial education. With a full enrollment, the school stopped sending out door knockers in search of mezuzahs. My grandmother was so disappointed. Who was more likely to need the Jewish education more, families proactively sending their children or families that needed to be convinced. Let someone else open a school for the kids from families who need no encouragement if there was no room for both. But that wasn’t her school’s mission statement.”

That’s what Ellie sent to me and she was deeply disappointed that these knockers went out. And I don’t know if that was literally part of the staff in the school. We always complain too many administrators that are being paid in schools. I don’t know if any school nowadays that pays people to go knocking on doors. But sadly, whether or not these were actually a paid actual position, just the notion of going out and looking who is not being serviced, who is not showing up, who are we not fully reaching. I do think in a lot of ways, for all of the incredible successes of the day school system, it is a question, it is an attitude that unfortunately on a communal level, I think we’ve begun to struggle with. That notion of knocking on doors.

And I don’t even mean that in the literal sense anymore. I’m talking about knocking on doors of people within our communities, knocking on doors of children who maybe are not being serviced correctly, are not getting the attention that they need, are not getting the services that they need. And as a communal effort, as much pride and as much success as our day school system has created, there is no question that the door that is preventing more people from engaging in the Jewish education is the door of affordability, of the ability to afford a day school education. And that is exactly what we plan on exploring today, to ensure that the next generation of Jewish children, there are people who are making sure that they are not being locked out because of the cost.

And that doesn’t mean, and I’m not talking about this, something we’re going to turn to, that doesn’t just mean tuition committees. That doesn’t just mean raising more money for scholarships. It means the families who are simply so crushed by the costs, and not all families it’s the financial cost, whatever those costs may be, and making sure that we have a doorway wide enough for all children, for all families to enter and give the next generation the gift of Jewish education.

I began this exploration, there are really three conversations that are a part of this, not all of the same length. I began this exploration with a conversation with somebody who I know extraordinarily well and that is the former Executive Director of HALB, Richie Hagler. I was trying to find somebody who really understands the in and out of tuition assistance. And frankly, I was coming from a very personal place. I know somebody who was quite close to me who was an educator and he came to sit before a tuition committee and he was not able to afford a Jewish education for all of his children out of pocket. And he walked away so crushed and so crumbled.

The questions that they were asking him about the help that they were receiving from other family members, from other people for one of their children and why can’t you get the same help for this child? And he was like, bereft, “I don’t know, somebody helped me out with one of the kids. I’m not able to get this,” but none of this is coming out of his own pocket. And I was so hurt to hear somebody go through an experience like this, somebody who themselves is dedicating their lives to Jewish education. Somebody who themselves is a teacher, an educator, having to sit before a tuition committee and try to figure out why aren’t you getting the same amount of help for this child as you get for this child. And there happens to have been a very sensible answer for it. But the fact that he was even dressed down with that kind of question, I found absolutely heartbreaking.

Now I just want to be absolutely clear, this isn’t meant to demonize, God forbid, tuition committees. I know people who sit on tuition committees. I understand the need of tuition committees. But we also need to talk about that process and what it means to be able to get help and other models of how to receive that help and other models that schools could consider so the entryway to Jewish education is not so painful for families and for their children. Somebody, in fact, even emailed me and I think rightfully so in the way I was talking about tuition committees. Somebody reached out to say there’s a purpose for this. It is to ensure that other parents aren’t, so to speak, picking up the tab for parents who could potentially afford the Jewish education and called me out for kind of demonizing a bit too much. And I think they were absolutely on mark and they were absolutely correct.

We have to be careful that we’re all working together, we’re all rowing in the same direction. But I began my conversation with somebody who I respect deeply, with somebody who I know deeply and somebody whose knowledge of the inner workings of the financing and budgeting of the school. There are few peers who have a greater grasp of the financial processes, tuition committees than my, I would call them a mentor, I would call him a friend, call him somebody who I know and admire. It is my absolute pleasure to introduce my conversation with Richie Hagler.

I am so touched that you took the time. You are an incredibly busy person. You’re somebody who ran the schools that I was affiliated with growing up. And I wanted to talk with you a little bit about the cost of schooling. And before we get in, maybe you could just explain to our audience how long were you involved? You were the Executive Director of all of the HALB schools, that includes two high schools and an elementary school. Is that correct?

Richie Hagler: 
And a preschool. Correct.

David Bashevkin: 
How long did you serve in that role for?

Richie Hagler: 
I served as Executive Director from 1998 to 2021.

David Bashevkin: 
Wow.

Richie Hagler: 
And before that, 10 years prior to that, I served on the board as a vice president of the board for 10 years before that.

David Bashevkin: 
And it’s so interesting, my first memory of you, when I think back, is you wearing a referee shirt and reffing games. I don’t even know if it’s a real memory. Did you get your start as a ref in the Yeshiva League?

Richie Hagler: 
I actually did, David. I don’t want to date myself, but I started refereeing the Yeshiva League in 1979. It’s before they had electric. I was the commissioner, actually, of the Yeshiva High School League from 1979 to 2004.

David Bashevkin: 
Meaning you were the commissioner of the Yeshiva League.

Richie Hagler: 
Yes.

David Bashevkin: 
We talk about the Yeshiva League as like a distinct category now. It’s an adjective that’s become much more frequently used.

Richie Hagler: 
Right.

David Bashevkin: 
You were the actual commissioner of the Yeshiva League.

Richie Hagler: 
I was actually the first commissioner. There were league directors before that and they hired me in 1979 to be the commissioner. And I stayed until 2004.

David Bashevkin: 
So one day, I hope your memoir has a few chapters just talking about the Yeshiva League, but I want to talk about something more specific. And I want to just begin with a general question. Why is it so expensive to send your children, to send Jewish children to get a Jewish education?

Richie Hagler: 
Let’s go back with the premise that you’re saying, why is it so expensive? Let’s take a look at it. Is it expensive to educate someone? Sure it is. Does it cost money to hire teachers? Does it cost money to run schools? Of course it does. You know that until very recently, let’s use New York state for example, because that’s where we’re located. New York didn’t get any money from the federal government, from state government, from local governments as public schools do, as the church schools do, who get from the diocese, they get money. Our money comes from our parent body, our alumni, our grandparents, our donors. So we don’t have the advantage of getting public funding.

Now that’s changed over the last few years with the advent of things like Teach NYS, who have worked very hard in getting legal funding for schools. However, everything is on us. So from upkeep of the building to keeping the facilities first-rate. Now, the schools that you went to, elementary school, I know and high schools are for sure I know, were first class facilities. They’re state-of-the-art facilities. You were there when we actually built DRS.

David Bashevkin: 
Sure was.

Richie Hagler: 
I had promised you guys that you would make it into the building. You just barely made it.

David Bashevkin: 
At the buzzer. At the buzzer. I think it was May of senior year, we got into the new building.

Richie Hagler: 
It was actually, I’ll tell you what it was, David. It was Rosh Chodesh Nisan of your senior year. It is and remains a unique building that’s connected by a bridge. The people that were in that classroom up there, our old friend Ben Kramer, who’s now living in Eretz Yisrael, Ben wanted to charge the freshman a toll of walking across the bridge.

David Bashevkin: 
A toll. He was the troll at the bridge. Let me ask you this, to reframe the question.

Richie Hagler: 
Sure.

David Bashevkin: 
And they’re two similar questions. When you began, you said you began in ’98.

Richie Hagler: 
Correct.

David Bashevkin: 
How much did tuition increase in the high school, let’s say, or even in the elementary school? You could give me a percentage. You could give me an actual number from ’98 to 2023, where we are now.

Richie Hagler: 
Sure. So in 1998, 1999, 2000, in that era, high school tuition for one of our schools was in the $15, $16, $17,000 range. Today, it’s in the $25, $26, $27,000 range. And that’s for people who could afford to pay it. And that’s without donations. And that’s straight what we’d call tuition. And the truth is that it doesn’t cover all the costs. If you build a building, every parent, every student wants to be in a state-of-the-art building. Well, that costs money, especially today. Today you have to have labs, you have to have STEM labs, you have to have art programs. You have to have phys-ed programs. You have to have top-notch shiurim, every school wants to have the best teachers, the best rabbis. Everybody claims they have the best. Everybody tries to have the best. And you have to pay someone to be a rabbi, a teacher. It’s very difficult to find chemistry teachers. With our schedules, whether you have learning until one o’clock, two o’clock, three o’clock, whatever time of the day, the rabbi may be close to full-time, but the afternoon teachers aren’t full-time. So you have to entice them by paying them a little more. Get them from public school like we used to do, sometimes developing our own. And things cost a lot. Things cost a lot of money. And not everybody can afford to do it.

So the cost of tuition is measured by the cost of what we operate at. So are things, for example, things you don’t realize. I mean, certainly as student, you don’t realize it. As a parent, when you think about it, you will. Today, every kid has a computer or an iPad. Those cost money. Yes, parents to help defray the costs. There are office staff to be done. There are computer programs. Nobody does report cards by hand anymore. Everything runs on of program. You want to look up David Bashevkin’s, what his grades were in ninth grade.

David Bashevkin: 
Please don’t.

Richie Hagler: 
Pushing buttons. Well, we eliminated anything before, Y2K scared everybody away. Remember that?

David Bashevkin: 
Yeah.

Richie Hagler: 
But in any event, so that’s what it costs. The cost of Yeshiva education is all encompassing.

David Bashevkin: 
Is our cost for educating per student, when I say our, I mean broadly speaking in the Modern Orthodox community.

Richie Hagler: 
Sure.

David Bashevkin: 
Are we spending more per student than public schools?

Richie Hagler: 
We are spending less than public schools. Even though people think that our overhead is too high or too many principals, too many administrators, too many non-teaching. It is still costing less to educate a Yeshiva student today than it costs in a public school. Because Yeshiva students, we look at it as our money, your money, my money, our parents’ money, our grandparents’ money, our friends’ money. In the public school world, it’s tax money. Yes, it’s ours, we’re paying it, we do it, but the money comes from us. You know, real estate in Nassau County, where we’re located right here in New Jersey, it comes from the real estate bills. You get taxed for it. Yeshiva systems don’t get any of that, get none of that.

David Bashevkin: 
You’re saying in the public school system, if you would divide up the total cost of the budget of one school by the amount of students, it is a number that is higher than in the schools that you ran.

Richie Hagler: 
Yes, it was and remains so to this day. That’s because we hold every person accountable for a job. There’s no such thing as a no-show job. No such thing as I’m going to give a job to somebody and they’re going to do nothing. Everybody has a job or responsibility. You may not know what it is. You may not know what that job is. But everybody has the job to do and it’s very difficult to know all that stuff.

David Bashevkin: 
And there’s more glut, you’re saying, in the public school system?

Richie Hagler: 
Oh, sure.

David Bashevkin: 
Than what you have seen in the Yeshiva system?

Richie Hagler: 
Oh, there’s definitely more glut because that’s just the way it is, they’re in different departments. I’m not saying they don’t do a good job. They do their jobs for their constituents. Our job is to do with as few people as possible. So in our system, for example, using our school. Right, so we have four buildings, we have 11 people running those buildings. I don’t mean janitors. I’m talking about 11 people, administrators, people in charge of purchasing, people in charge of computers, people in charge of accounting. Because we’re accountable. We’re holding ourselves accountable to everything. We have to produce to our board of directors. We have to answer to everybody. We have to answer to our parents. We have to answer to everyone what’s going on.

David Bashevkin: 
So let me ask you this, Richie.

Richie Hagler: 
Go ahead.

David Bashevkin: 
And we’re going to get to tuition assistance and how we can make this better and where we’re headed. But I want to just kind of get my head around the landscape. As you know, I did not attend HALB for elementary school.

Richie Hagler: 
Right.

David Bashevkin: 
I attended South Shore.

Richie Hagler: 
Right.

David Bashevkin: 
I have noticed that there is a correlation between how, let’s call it yeshivish or maybe right wing the school is and tuition reduction. I don’t know if that’s still true, particularly in the five towns. But a Yeshivish high school, a lot of them are not charging $25,000. What makes up for the discrepancy of cost between the Modern Orthodox world and yeshiva schools?

Richie Hagler: 
Right. So a number of things. Let’s go into the first factor. And this is not to downgrade or denigrate anybody’s ability to run a school, to do it.

David Bashevkin: 
You work with everybody. You work with the yeshiva schools.

Richie Hagler: 
I do. I do very much so. And I’m very close with them. And they’re just good friends of mine. And look, the number one thing between the modern Orthodox and the more Yeshivish. Let’s leave the Hasidic yeshivas off this conversation for now because that’s a different, it’s also very respectable what they do, but let’s not discuss them. Let’s talk yeshivish. Number one thing would be the cost of secular education. OK. So I can use the schools that I’m familiar with on a regular basis. They will go out and they will hire, for example, a bio teacher that’s experienced. And he or she, depending on if it’s a boy school or a girl school, is experienced, has taught before, may have taught in the public school system. Those people cost more money to get. You very seldom will see, very seldom, not never, but you’re very seldom to see in the Modern Orthodox world, a student coming out of the beis medrash for an hour to teach math. They may be qualified to do so, but that’s not done that way.
It’s also, there’s more offered. When you guys went to school as opposed to when I went to Yeshiva, which was different eras, things like a sports program cost thousands of dollars. The amount of kinds of trips, tens of thousands of dollars, that we went on. Whether it be just every yeshiva, most of them provide a first class Shabbaton experience for them. They provide trips. So that’s number one. The cost of the secular side of the education will cost more in the Modern Orthodox world, the varied topics will cost more and class size.

You will very seldom see a Modern Orthodox school, very seldom, not never, with a class of more than 20, 22. There are some schools that I’m familiar with, that you are familiar with that have some kind of rules about 18 or 20 a modern class. Most of the Modern Orthodox schools, whose kids all go to four year colleges after they spend at least the year, what’s now been known as the gap year. That’s the new word. But it’s the year or two or three in Eretz Yisrael will come back and we will offer them AP courses. Right? They can get college credit, but they’re real courses taught by real teachers. AP teachers cost more money. It just costs more.

And we want to make sure that our rabbis are well paid. Everybody wants to make sure their rabbis are well paid because being a rabbi is a hard job. And you just can’t pay a salary of $40 or $50 or $60,000 for somebody to work 40 hours a week. It doesn’t work. They can’t live it. They can’t do it. And in the problem in the late seventies, the seventies and early eighties, was that good people were leaving chinuch because they just couldn’t make it work. And with the rise of the Talmud Torah system, which provided at least a second source of funding, doesn’t exist anymore. Very rare do you see it around anymore. Nobody goes there anymore. It’s no longer around.

So it costs more money in a modern school because they offer more. I didn’t say they offer it better, but they offer more. And class sizes. And that creates more sections of teachers and more teachers necessary. The day is just as long.

David Bashevkin: 
I’m curious a little bit about teacher salaries and rabbi salaries.

Richie Hagler: 
Sure.

David Bashevkin: 
Who sets them for the school? Was that you or the Menahel, the principal? Who sets the salaries for a school?

Richie Hagler: 
The salaries are set by a combination of people. It’s combination of the principals, the Menahel have input, the executive director on his staff or her staff have input. The board of trustees has input. And the amount of money you have available has important because let’s face it, you need to know what you have available. But if you want to compete for the best rabbis, if you want to get the best rabbi, you want to get the best teacher, you want to get the best administrator, it costs money today. It always costs money. But now you have to pay them better, more salaries in the times in which we live.

David Bashevkin: 
Would you have let your own children become educators?

Richie Hagler: 
Yes. Because both my daughters, my older daughter is a teacher in public school system of Great Neck. And she’s in her 10th or 12th year at Great Neck. And my younger daughter is a first grade teacher now back in HALB.

David Bashevkin: 
Wow, I didn’t know that. That’s beautiful.

Richie Hagler: 
Yes. They’re both teachers. My boys are not, but the girls are teachers. That was their choice. That was their choice. I didn’t push them. They had a push. They had a feeling that’s what they wanted to do. And my older daughter is a math teacher. My younger daughter’s a general studies teacher in first grade at HALB. So the answer is yes. And they’re on decent salaries. They work hard. And again, it’s always been said, teachers work 10 months a year. It’s a great job where you have off July and August.

David Bashevkin: 
Ostensibly.

Richie Hagler: 
Ostensibly, they work 10 months a year. Administrators do not. Administrators for the most part work 12 months a year. And there is 12, yes, they do get vacation. They do get vacation during the summer as everybody in the world gets vacation wherever they are. In the United States, I should say, at least. So education is a respectable field to go into. Of course, there’s more money to be made elsewhere. You know, it depends on the lifestyle you want too. Rabbis today, try to augment their salaries by working in summer camps. Tutoring has becoming gigantic industry in and of itself.

David Bashevkin: 
Oh, yeah.

Richie Hagler: 
People want tutoring. That’s a significant piece of income as well. They work hard. Teachers work very hard.

David Bashevkin: 
I want to talk a little bit about the tuition crisis. I think the attention that this has gotten really increased as I was moving through school. I remember my mother used to brag to me when I would get nervous because my father was always very nervous about the finances in our home, my mother would always brag and say, “David, don’t worry. We pay full tuition.” And I would say, “Mom, what’s the alternative?” I didn’t even realize it was a thing not to be able to pay full tuition. But as I got older and probably at some point after I graduated, I realized the magnitude of the cost of Jewish education and how it has skyrocketed. Have you seen the attention that this has gotten as an existential crisis in our community? Kind of like reach a tipping point? When was that and why?

Richie Hagler: 
It has always been a crisis. I’ll give you a story that’s dating myself. But I remember my father, alav ha-shalom, coming back, I was in 12th grade and I was in a school, I lived in Manhattan, RJJ, which used to be on the Lower East Side, it’s now in some other.

David Bashevkin: 
In Edison.

Richie Hagler: 
It’s in Edison now. It was a Staten Island many years. But this was the old RJJ on the Lower East Side where we were from. Remember him saying something to the effect of, “I don’t know, I promised to pay full tuition this year and I don’t know how I’m going to pay that $3,000. OK.” And today, you go out to DOMO, you may pay $3,000 with a group of friends for dinner.

David Bashevkin: 
At the restaurant.

Richie Hagler: 
So we thought it was a crisis then when our parents or grandparents were earning very low salaries today, very, very little money. And it was a crisis then. In those days, they called the shkhr limud. Today, they call it tuition because we speak English better. We speak goodly English. They didn’t speak as goodly in English as we do. But the truth is that what we see is, the tuition crisis, which you really want to get into, it’s a crisis that well-managed schools and the schools that take it seriously are able to weather. And that’s because there are systems in place to protect the institution and to protect the family. Every school is proud of saying that they will not lose a child because they couldn’t pay. And I would say on the most part, that’s 99 and a half percent true. I’m sure there’s somebody somewhere that couldn’t do it. But schools are very proud of it. And in HALB, for example, approximately 30 to 40% of the people are on some sort of financial aid.

David Bashevkin: 
That’s it? That seems low to me. I’ll be honest.

Richie Hagler: 
Yeah. 40% is a lower number. Other schools in our neighborhood and other neighborhoods could be high as 50 and 60%. And that goes to the area in which we live. In the five towns and Teaneck are considered, Upper West, are more affluent.

David Bashevkin: 
Affluent.

Richie Hagler: 
Maybe the families average four kids per family. Maybe some other neighborhoods average more kids per family. I would say, again, it also depends where the tuition is. I mean, we have modern Orthodox schools that have tuitions in the forties. I’m talking, we’ll talk high school if you don’t mind for a minute.

David Bashevkin: 
Yeah, sure.

Richie Hagler: 
There are people that can afford it. There are plenty of people that can’t afford it. So in a system that was started to be developed post World War II, that’s how long the system is in effect. And it’s been refined over the years, to the point where today, I can tell you that having run tuition assistance directly for 25 years, for my entire tenure, I will tell you that it is a hard, hard, hard process because so many of a very, very large percentage, an overwhelming percentage of the people are telling you the truth.

David Bashevkin: 
Let’s talk about that process before.

Richie Hagler: 
Let’s talk about the process.

David Bashevkin: 
I have, let’s say I’m applying now, I have four kids. I have two kids who are going to be in the high school, one in DRS, one in SKA. That is a $50,000 of post-tax income. A household, let’s say, that makes $150,000, $200,000 as a household, has four children, is absolutely going to need tuition assistance. There’s no question about it.

Richie Hagler: 
No question about it.

David Bashevkin: 
What do I need to do to prove that I am worthy of tuition assistance? And how do you work out the amount that I would have to pay?

Richie Hagler: 
OK.

David Bashevkin: 
Take me through the process.

Richie Hagler: 
So the first process is it’s open to everyone. All right. You don’t have to pre-qualify, you can’t do anything to pre-qualify. Today, in most schools, everything is done online. Pretty much everyone. In this neighborhood, I can state for a fact that everything is done online. Whether it’s right, left, or center, wherever you are on the scale. By the way, I hate those labels, right, left and center.

David Bashevkin: 
Oh, they’re the worst. They’re the worst. OK.

Richie Hagler: 
They’re terrible. In any event, you fill out a form online and the form will ask you the usual, name, address, telephone number, where do you you live, and how many children do you have? And by the way, today, because of technology or thanks to technology, I would say, that if you have children in multiple schools or whatever the reason, OK. And one kid may need more of one type of education as opposed to another. You’re supposed to do what’s best for your kids, not what you think your neighbors are going to want you to do. I’m very happy to say that in this neighborhood, and as Teaneck as I’m familiar with, people go to the schools, what’s best for their children.

David Bashevkin: 
Sure.

Richie Hagler: 
They send their children what’s best for them and as they should, that’s their responsibility to do that. I saw that all the time. So you will fill out a form online besides getting the usual basic information, you’d fill out the number of children you have. They would ask you, how much does your house cost you? Do you have a mortgage? Do you have credit card debt? Do you have other debts? And there are other extenuating circumstances. Extenuating meaning, are there medical bills that we’re not aware of? Is someone unemployed? Is there an illness in the family? Is there a special situation going on? And you would fill out your defense, you try to do it as best as you can.

David Bashevkin: 
Are you asking for my W-2s? Are you asking for may tax?

Richie Hagler: 
So today, most schools are asking for the W-2. Yes. They’re asking for the 1040. They’re asking for that. That’s part of it. It’s downloaded in a secure way. In the old days, when we got it by hand, we tried, I remember in my office after the tuition assistance season’s over, we always shredded the previous years. Nobody wanted to keep that information. But I can also tell you that that information is not shared. That information is not shared. The principals, by and large, they are exceptions like when the principal is the head of school, but by and large, the principals don’t know who’s on financial aid, nor should they know. So each kid should be treated equally. I mean, sometimes, they’re pretty smart people, they can figure it out, but they don’t really care. Shouldn’t be their concern. And so you’re giving us all a good financial picture. Yes. And we will ask questions like, “Well, what did you do? You’re just coming off Yeshiva Week. Where did you go for Yeshiva Week?”

David Bashevkin: 
Let’s talk about that for one moment.

Richie Hagler: 
Sure.

David Bashevkin: 
In this scenario, I’m sending two kids. I have $200,000 household income. It happens to be in our scenario, like for many people, I come from an incredibly wealthy home. My parents are wealthy. They choose how to support me. I don’t ask them for money, and they take me on vacation. What is your approach to factoring in grandparent wealth? Do they have to hold some of the bag on this? Or is a grandparent entitled to spend their money as they see fit? I don’t want to pay for my grandchildren’s tuition. I’m not saying this is the right thing. I just want to take my grandchildren on vacation. I want to take them to Pesach with me.

Richie Hagler: 
Sure.

David Bashevkin: 
And let me factor in another thing, because I do have this, I come from a family with economic diversity, let’s say a sibling is wealthier.

Richie Hagler: 
Right.

David Bashevkin: 
How do you factor that in?

Richie Hagler: 
In today’s day and age, let’s say the last 10, 15 years, the biggest issues that we discuss and executive directors meet all the time, there are a number of conferences that they attend, also they meet all the time, they talk all the time because we have split families, as I mentioned. And the biggest factors today are what are you doing with this case with grandparents, a case with grandparents. And the other factor, which maybe is on your list to discuss, maybe it’s not, is the proliferation of divorce in our neighborhood.

David Bashevkin: 
Oh.

Richie Hagler: 
And that becomes a split family. And let’s leave the divorce on the side because that is besides, in a lot of cases being tragic, it’s a tragedy the amount of divorce going on in the neighborhood and how young some of the people are or how young they are getting divorced. I say that the issue of grandparent is your premise that a grandparent can’t be told how to spend his or her money is correct. It’s my money. I’m going to do what I want. And if I want to take my child to the best place, my children, my grandchildren, my nachas, I want to take them and all their siblings and all 27 grandchildren, kein ayin hara, to the best program wherever it might be for be, it’s my money. I’m going to do what I want. It doesn’t mean that I have to pay. And even though, even though, because of what I’m doing and my children collect financial aid and tuition assistance from school, that’s not my problem. That’s your problem. That becomes an issue.

So by the way, the other issue you left off, the summer camps. So let’s put that to bed first. In summer camps, we, in most of the schools that I know of, don’t consider the summer camps a luxury.

David Bashevkin: 
Do not?

Richie Hagler: 
We do not consider it a luxury within reason. In other words, I don’t expect the kids, especially the younger kids, pre-high school, I don’t expect those kids to stay home and do what during the summer, when 70%, pick a number, I don’t know what the number is, of their friends are at camp. Whether you go to day camp or whether you go to sleepaway camp, we think that’s a necessity and that’s part of the deal. A kid needs, it’s part of growing, you could undo a whole good year’s work by having a kid hang around and do nothing. That’s a tragedy. That should never happen.

David Bashevkin: 
Your son, Ellie, you should just know, I was talking to Ellie once and he said what formed his religious identity more than anything else was his involvement in summer camp, more than school.

Richie Hagler: 
Listen, we all went to camps, different camps. And that’s what we look at, by the way. That’s what we look at. We look at, are you going to the Cadillac of camps? Well today, you can’t say Cadillac, you can say the Tesla of camps or the Lexus of camps.

David Bashevkin: 
Yeah.

Richie Hagler: 
Are you going to the top, top top camps? Which today, as you probably know of the modern Orthodox camps, are well past $10,000 already. Or you’re going to the camps that are a little bit less, whether it be 5, 6, 4, 3, pick a number, where are you going? And our approach was that kids need to go to camp. It defeats the whole year. OK. Parents go to work. What are they supposed to do with their kids? They have to send them somewhere and they have to feed them if they keep them home. And you have to be busy. OK, Shabbos to Shabbos, what are you going to do on Sunday? You going to twiddle your thumbs? Pray that Shavuos and Tisha B’Av will come out every year on Sunday. It doesn’t work that way.

And so we considered, if somebody wrote back that their kids are in day camp, what we tried to do was encourage them to come to our affiliated day camp. So whatever extra money was available, we got it. But we did not say, oh, you go to camp or we can’t do it. The other issue that comes up is that the grandparent says, “I’m willing to pay for sleepaway camp.” So I’ll write a sleepaway camp check, which might come out more than the parents are paying for tuition. That’s really, it becomes a bigger problem to yeshivas than a parent or grandparent not paying tuition.

David Bashevkin: 
I just want to hear the bottom line. Is there a consensus on how schools factor in wealth from grandparents?

Richie Hagler: 
Well, there’s not a consensus. No. All right? But what we all try to do is we’ll call up the grandparent.

David Bashevkin: 
Directly?

Richie Hagler: 
In some cases. In some cases we’ll go. Sometimes we will not talk directly to a grandparent, in most cases, without the permission, unless we know them and they’re a donor or a personal relationship, we will tell their children who are our parents saying, “Look, I’d like to talk to your dad or your mom,” or the bubbe and zayde, whoever it might be, and say, “Look, you know what? We are happy to help your kids go. We’d like you to become a contributor and contribute to the school, whatever the number is.” And that would help things along there. They’re ballot sucker, the gift sucker. Why not support the school that your kids are going to, that’s helping you? So while it’s a problem, and believe me, I’ve been told to do some things that are not humanly possible when I call to a grandparent, a lot of grandparents hear it, a lot don’t. But we can’t force a grandparent to pay tuition.

What we can do is work our best with the kids. So in your example, that you gave us a few minutes ago, so a parent is earning $200,000 and he has four kids, two in high school and two in elementary school. So his tuition bill is somewhere in the neighborhood of $85,000. You cannot expect on a $200,000 gross salary and that might be the most you could earn. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of. I mean, $200,000, it used to mean something, OK, before the price of eggs became $6 a dozen and before gas was $5 a gallon. But you look at a person’s overall picture.

David Bashevkin: 
Let me ask you another specific before we get into generalities.

Richie Hagler: 
Sure.

David Bashevkin: 
How do you factor in retirement? I have funds in my, let’s say 403(b) or 401(k). They are restricted. I would be penalized if I drew from them, but I do have them. Do you insist that people draw off their retirement in order to pay for their kids to go to Yeshiva?

Richie Hagler: 
That’s a very good question. So let me tell you, in my 24 years, we did it one time in the beginning of time before I got smart. After that one time, I never made them do it again. But we said to them, “Look, you can’t be putting away the maximum,” we were proactive. “We don’t want you put away the maximum number of dollars into the 401(k) or the 403(b) or the IRA, whatever it is that you had qualified for and then expect us to fund the whole thing.” So I understand you have to have some retirement, but you can’t put away the $20,000 or $22,000 that goes into the 401(k), the 403(b) or the profit sharing program. If your company puts it in there, you can’t get it otherwise, OK. But we’re not going to support your retirement. That’s not our responsibility. Plus whatever dollar you are not paying, I have to pay or I have to raise.

David Bashevkin: 
So let me ask you a little bit about, for some reason, and we’ll get to it in a moment, we don’t just take parents at their words. Somebody comes to you and say, “Look, Richie, you know, you know me, I’m David. I need the help. I need the help.” You don’t just say, “Oh, David, I take you at your word.” I assume that is because when money is involved, it is possible that people may be tempted to pull shenanigans. I am curious if you have ever caught anybody pulling shenanigans when it comes to tuition assistance, and what are the most common forms of shenanigans that you have found parents being involved in, in order…

David Bashevkin: 
That you have found parents being involved in order to get a reduction in their tuition bill?

Richie Hagler: 
I want to reiterate that I think that the vast majority of parents are honest, there’s overwhelmed… I mean, are there funny stories over the years? Yeah. A funny story is that we were looking at a guy’s, the tuition assistance application. We’re looking at it. And there was a thing, what did you do? I went to vacation. What did you do for the Yeshiva Week? And this was a regular customer. We still did our due diligence every year, a regular customer. And he got something from the Yeshiva every year. And we’re looking at the form, and we noticed something that never appeared before. Well, they went on a Disney cruise. And I said, “Aha, I’m going call the guy on it.” Oh, he knew he was caught. He didn’t mean to put that down. All right, he put it down, so that was a funny story.

We had one guy who always wrote a letter with his form. And every year it was the washing machine broke, the dryer broke, the stove broke. I needed a new car, I needed a… Every year he needed something. And so at the end of five years, we made a list and said, “Okay, so now you got a new washer, a new dryer, a new car.” That kind of stuff, sometimes it’s true. But you kind of know your customers. Well, it used to be because now it’s much harder to do, I guess, than it used to be. Is that when people were in what they call… And I’m using air quotes now, you can’t see them, but I’m using air quotes saying they were in a “cash business”. All right? Professionals.

That is not the case too much anymore. Yeah, there’s just people around in it. I’m not the IRS. We’re not the IRS. That’s not our job. But we expect people to be honest. We expect them to tell us the truth. And as I started to say before, the biggest thing problems that we have now are blended or split families. And that is a problem like you can’t believe.

David Bashevkin: 
Why is that such a big problem? Tell me.

Richie Hagler: 
So the first thing I will tell you that when the unfortunate divorce happens, lately in the last five or eight years, it’s been much more pronounced than in past. You split with your ex, all right. And if you’re lucky enough to finish up and that you have an agreement with your ex that you’re going to pay X number of dollars in tuition. All right? Yeshiva is not part of that agreement. I didn’t sign an agreement, so I have to get the money… And invariably one parent is more comfortable, one parent is less comfortable. One receives alimony, one gets alimony, all right?

I have seen all kinds of deals over the years. I’ll tell you a very sad story. This really broke our heart. There was a parent, they were married and the wife worked. Put the husband through medical school, and he finished medical school. And two years after he finished medical school, he said to the wife, “Bye-bye, I’m out of here.” Right? And he could afford a good lawyer. And she unfortunately could not. And whoever did it did it. And she signed maybe the worst deal I ever saw in my life. And the mother in the deal took 100% responsibility for paying tuition. Which means I can go after the father, but the father wouldn’t sign a contract with me or wouldn’t talk to us because he didn’t care. That was the deal. Her mother couldn’t afford to squat.

We didn’t know how badly it was until I got a call from another parent saying that their son went over to plant this person’s son’s house. And he said, “Mommy, mommy, can my friend stay for dinner?” And she said, “Of course.” And the three of them shared one piece of chicken. And they came home, said, “Did you eat dinner?” And he told his mother, the mother called me to tell me the story. And I did a little checking. More often than I would like to have spoke to the rub of that person’s shul. A lot of times they’re clueless, by the way. They don’t have a clue. They didn’t even know about it.
And I said, “This guy doesn’t have any money. This lady doesn’t have anything.” So we immediately fixed whatever we needed to fix with tuition. And I had a fund because I had some incredibly generous baalebatim and they just trusted my judgment. And if I said that person needed to get from the yeshiva, not only not give get. I’m proud to say that we gave out tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years. And I’m not talking about special Yom Tovim time. We did that, and without saying. These are people that needed our help, and I would call certain people and I said, “You got to help more.” And all people through me. And that the person never knew who gave it to them. There was no, “I need a receipt for it.” There was none of that stuff.

David Bashevkin: 
There’s something very moving about the way schools function as the eyes and ears of the community. Because you really have a perspective that others don’t. How do you give money when you don’t want people to know where it’s coming from?

Richie Hagler: 
Oh, well, money could be given into a special fund, that Sukkah a fund usually controlled by either the executive director, the roshei yeshiva principal all working in concert. And they would get the money to a charity fund, and it would be set up that way. There were records kept, always records kept. And those people got, they got charity. Money came from a charity fund. Schools give out charity, give out Sukkah. And that’s what they did.

David Bashevkin: 
In this tuition committee, is there an in-person meeting where they come before this foreboding, beis din like court, and they plead their case? Or does everything go online through this process that you spoke about?

Richie Hagler: 
Well over 90% of the people do not have meetings.

David Bashevkin: 
What do you need a meeting for? When is that necessary?

Richie Hagler: 
It’s something just doesn’t sit right. Okay? If something in the form doesn’t make any sense. Or if the bill is a large bill, and they want to pay nothing. Or the bill, there’s a discrepancy in what they filled out in what they say they need. It just doesn’t make any sense. I would tell you that in the number of meetings we had in our 40% that our tuition assistance, it’s a lot if you have 1700 children in the school. So do the math, you had well over 450 families. We had less than a dozen meetings a year.

David Bashevkin: 
Wow.

Richie Hagler: 
It was not a lot. I mean, sometimes, okay, we know our customers. And occasionally you’d get that phone call. And this was pronounced during the pandemic era, where people were working, all right? Yeah, it’s before everybody figured out how to get the free money. We had one fellow, a very comfortable guy making a decent salary, and he was in a business that was directly hurt by the pandemic. He been working for a company that was basically shut down. I don’t want to give that away, because people will figure it out. I’m not going to even give you a hint. But he paid full tuition for all the years.
And he calls me up at… He finished up, right, march of 2020 when the world shut down. He called me in August of ’20 and said, “Rich, I can’t, I have a problem. Nothing’s been coming in now since February, March, April. I’m living off my savings, which I have. But I’ll pay you something, but I can’t.” And then he said to me, “I’m not sending my youngest kid to yeshiva this year. I’m going to keep him home because I just can’t afford the extra salary for.” I said, “No. You got to send the kid. You’ve paid in for the last 17 or 16 or 15 years or whatever it was. We’re going to carry you. Whatever happened, happened.” But meetings will happen when something doesn’t match up you.

But the thing nowadays, in a lot of the neighborhoods, all kinds of neighborhoods, say people lease cars. Very few people buy cars today, right? But if things are tight, you’re not going to get a new car every three or four years. You’re going to keep the old car, you’re going to run it. You get an extra two or three or four or five years out of it. We all know people do that. There’s nothing wrong with that. So a person who’s tight on money is going to buy a car, pay it out and keep it. And maybe if you’re getting a new car every year, or if you have to lease a new car because that you work, you’re not going to lease a car that’s 700, those days.

Now 700 it’s like normal. But $700 or $800 a month, you’re going to get a $300 car. You have five kids, you need a minivan, fine. You don’t need the top of the line minivan

David Bashevkin: 
On the board, how many people in your system, or maybe on average sit on a tuition committee? How many people were privy to all this knowledge?

Richie Hagler: 
All the knowledg?. All the knowledge, just two people. Just me and my registrar are people who the… person who worked with me on the committee. Not everybody on the committee knew every case. All right? First of it’s too much for them to retain. We were paid to retain this. All right, we had to retain it. And it’s a load. It’s a load. And the committee’s turned over. I was a believer that committee should turn over every few years, because people come jaded after a while. I know what to do with this guy, I know what to do with that guy. And I used to get new people.

But I would say we tried to have six or eight people on the committee. It was a struggle sometimes to get six or eight people. Not all six or eight people came to every meeting or were available to come. And those meetings lasted hours and hours and hours. Because remember, I’m giving away Yeshiva’s money. We’re giving away money that you paid in to help in. And we’re giving money that was raised for the scholarship dinner that was done for this. We’re giving away that kind of money. And we wanted to make sure that we did the best job that we could.

Sometimes we may have squeezed people and they came through. And if somebody really couldn’t come through, I never had a case where… Yeah, did I have people coming to see me all the time? Of course they did. They came to see me all the time. All of us who do this, see or speak to people on a regular basis. And two things. Number one, if you don’t have a heart, you can’t do this job. All right? That’s the most difficult part. You’re sitting in judgment of other people. It’s very difficult. Very difficult.

Who made you the boss? You’re working there. And sometimes people came and cried during the year, “Things are not good.” And the worst one, the absolute worst is when you get a call that, “My spouse is sick.” Or even worse than that, and we’ve had that over the years, and everybody has had it over the years, “My child is sick.” You want to cry with-

David Bashevkin: 
You’ve had parents cry to you, adults who come to your office and cry?

Richie Hagler: 
Unfortunately, yes. It’s a hard thing, and we work with them. We of course, treat them… You’re supposed to, at least I did, treated them with the respect that they deserved that they needed. I thought somebody was having a nervous breakdown in my office more than once, and calmed them down. We weren’t even that hard on them, and they were having a nervous breakdown, or it seemed like a nervous breakdown. It’s high pressure. High pressure. It’s not simple. So yeah, I’ve had people sit and cry in the chair. I didn’t always sit behind my desk. I had a couch in my office and sometimes I sat on the couch and they sat on the couch and we had a conversation back and forth.

David Bashevkin: 
Let’s get general. I really appreciate this insight in schooling and the cost. Let’s talk about the future. It seems like every week there’s another hair-brained scheme for how we’re going to solve the tuition crisis. Tell me the reality. I have no doubt you’ve heard every plan, every idea. We’ll tax the wills, we’ll do estates. We’ll come up with an endowment. We’ll get it from the government. Where does our hope lie? And what advice would you give to parents looking, particularly in the tri-state area, where the cost of tuition is reshaping the very fabric of our community?

It’s very hard to be a part of our community if you’re not in a certain tax income. Where do you look for the hope of solving this existential crisis? Will it ever be solved? At what advice do you give to young parents to make sure that they’re going to be able to provide their children with a Jewish education?

Richie Hagler: 
So a few things. Number one, solving the crisis, I don’t know that it’s solvable. Dealing with the crisis is a different story. You have to be able to put everything in perspective, okay? And I’m not saying anything other than, first find the school that best fits your needs, fits what you want. That’s the first thing. What fits your individual school? Find the right school for you. If you have a financial need, talk to the people that are in charge. Talk to them upfront. You will find that most of them, I can’t say everybody. That’s no such thing as everybody. Most people have a heart. Most people understand your needs.

And they’ll say, “Listen, I’m sending my kids to your school. I want to send them in. They’re bright kids. They need little help, and whatever else they need. But I’m going to work. I’m going to help the yeshiva. I’m going to do give you the best I can. I’m going to be honest with you. And I’m going to do the best that I can to send my kids there.” Very few places will tell you to get lost. I haven’t met the place yet. All right?

We understand. You have five children? That’s fine, that’s great, that’s fantastic. I think it’s great for Klal Yisrael. Find the right school for you. Find out what you can afford. Do your spending within reason. Understand that just like you make sure you have the money to pay the mortgage every month, whatever tuition you agree to, make sure you have that money. And don’t accept the deal that you can’t afford. Not just say, “Okay, I got to get the hell out of this guy’s office. I’m just going to say yes to this deal. You know that you’ll do it for September and October. Come November, oh, oh.

Talk to the people. My best advice is don’t hide. Talk to the person in charge of tuition. Talk to whoever it is that you need to talk to. Explain to them and be honest. If you’re honest and you’re upfront, and you’re straightforward, people will respect you more. I can’t tell you how many people that came to me beforehand. It’s hard. It’s a very hard thing to do. Again, I want to repeat, I want to emphasize. This goes almost throughout the country. And I have contact now with schools all across the country. And I will tell you that I still have not heard. And yes, there are cases of people that get thrown out of school because they couldn’t pay. I’ve heard people getting thrown out because they were lying or they didn’t tell the truth, or they put their kids…

Don’t put your kids in the middle here. Don’t do that. Be a big boy, be a big girl. Deal with the situation. We all know where all the money comes from anyway. It all comes from up there. That’s not the banking floor, that’s the top floor. And deal honestly and deal with the truth. There are things that you can do to help. There are things that you can do to mitigate. You can’t make money where there’s no money to be made. If you are doing the best that you can do, do it. And hopefully with organizations that are helping to raise funds for schools, and there’s where we’re going. So you know the STEM programs, the New York State programs that the… And current schools hire good teachers, who get money back from the state.

David Bashevkin: 
Has that affected your bottom line? The government advocacy?

Richie Hagler: 
Absolutely. The government advocacy about the major organizations such as the OU that they’re doing is an incredible new stream of money for us that we never saw before in our lives. Okay? The government advocacy of getting funds, these are fronts for nothing. We are teaching kids courses that they want taught. We’re preparing kids for the jobs of the future. And STEM is such a thing, or STEAM is now called. And it’s important, these are fresh streams of money. Fundraise when people come. Listen, we’re all inundated with requests. We’d all like to accomplish everything and send 1000, or 2000, or 5,000, or pick a number to every single one.

Pick the ones that are nearest and dearest to your hearts and help them. You know what? If your kids are in your sheet, but support those yeshivas. If you’re out of yeshiva and you finish paying tuition, don’t say, “Oh, I’m finished with that stuff. I don’t want to do it anymore.” Hey, say thank you. It’s something that we don’t do enough of. You know what? My kids all went to Torah Vodaas. I got to send them a couple of hundred bucks a year. It’s a nice thing. Support their dinners, so help them, help those people.

David Bashevkin: 
Are you happy with the way… I’m kind of embarrassed now. Are you happy with the support that alumni give DRS? I feel like nowadays, people like myself, I’ll be honest, I don’t give DRS money every year. I have no idea why. I give other yeshivas that I’ve been affiliated with. Rabbi Kamaneski asked me once for money, and I was so taken aback. I said, “Whatever you need.”

Richie Hagler: 
Right.

David Bashevkin: 
But I’ve only been asked once.

Richie Hagler: 
So David, that’s on us. Meaning that’s that’s on the administrators of the Yeshiva. People are busy, have busy lives. We’re busy 25 hours a day. And you mean it, you mean to get help. But that’s what good fundraisers do. That’s why people who are alumnis, you might say, “Oh, I got this annoying letter. Got a box of Hanukkah candles in the mail from this organization.” You’re going to say, “You know what, they sent me a box of Hanukkah candles. It cost three, $2, whatever it costs today. You know what? I’m going to send them a check to say thank you. This organization did something to me.”

The problem is that there are so many organizations. People used to say, I know when Yom Tov is coming up because I have a calendar. Now, I know Yom Tov is coming up because the letters increased. But that’s just what it is. People do not tap their alumni enough. They should. Some Yeshivas in this native do a fantastic job. Others do a less than stellar job. And alumni is a source. You know what? If you are former Rosh Yeshiva or you’re principal or your former, somebody from the school says, “Hey David, you went to DRS. You know what? We want to buy a safer Torah and dedicate it to the Rush Yeshiva.” Or we want to… You know that classroom that you destroyed when you were in 10th grade?

David Bashevkin: 
I sure do.

Richie Hagler: 
I sure remember that.

David Bashevkin: 
I sure remember that.

Richie Hagler: 
I remember it.

David Bashevkin: 
Oh, oh.

Richie Hagler: 
Oh, oh. Oh God, I remember those days. Yes, yes, yes. But in any event, you know have to go out and ask for the money.

David Bashevkin: 
Let me ask you a final question. Sure. Are you still optimistic about the future of Jewish education in our community? There’s so much angst around it. It has reshaped our community, that in sometimes it feels that in order to be Orthodox in some parts of our community, it’s really about a certain socioeconomic status. Do you think we’ve lost the script, the real motivation for what it means to provide a Jewish education? Or do you still remain an optimist?

Richie Hagler: 
I’m a big optimist. I’m a very big optimist. I wish there was a better system I how to pay for. If there was a magic wand if I hadn’t solved that, nobody has to pay anything. But I don’t see that. I don’t see a magical solution coming up anytime soon. What I do see is there are more Yeshivas for more kids. By the way, one thing we didn’t address, and I want to take one minute of your time to address it.

David Bashevkin: 
Please.

Richie Hagler: 
Is that the proliferation of special needs programs today is greater than ever before. Back in the ’60s and ’70s times that I could relate to, some kid couldn’t read. We used to call him a dummy and put him in the corner. Today that same kid is reading and writing. That kid is reading a book and the special ed that goes on in every school in our neighborhood. It’s a factor that costs tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. And more often than not, it works and helps the child, it helps the family.

Okay. So sometimes the child has a mental issue that has to be dealt with, a non-physical issue. Sometimes it’s a physical issue. But I will tell you that the special ed today exists like never before in our history. And nobody pays for the special rebbe. When a child needs help, one-on-one, one on two, one on three. If people have CRE experts, people have reading experts. Invariably, if you can’t read the Chumash and can’t read the siddur. That is something that did not exist back in the day.

So yes, I’m very optimistic as we move on in time, every yeshiva in every neighborhood that I’ve been around in the Northeast and in the southeast were I’m very involved nowadays. It’s packed. They’re full, no matter where you are on the spectrum of Orthodoxy, the yeshivas are full. And they’re trying their best to educate the kids. And parents want the Jewish education for their kids. Parents are proud of it. Things like Chumash play and siddur play from first, people are very proud of that. That’s a fairly recent invention. Maybe the last 20 years. When I got my Chumash, it was: Here’s your Chumash, have a good day. Right?

David Bashevkin: 
I’m that generation too.

Richie Hagler: 
Right? That was it, okay. Now I just went the other day one of my grandchildren had a first grade Chumash play. Okay, I was lucky, I knew all the songs 10 years ago. It’s a great thing. And yes, I’m very optimistic and very upbeat about the state of Jewish education today. We have to continue to encourage people to go into it that should be going into it. And we know who’s calling the shots. And hopefully with organizations such as the OU and such as the Agudah and other things like that that are supportive. I think one of the greatest innovations of the last 10 years is to teach AYS. I think Mauri and his guys do a fantastic job in making people aware of what’s available for them. I had the pleasure of working with them for many years. And seeing organizations like that will help get other things.

And we’re dealing today, there is two new schools, the Shepherd school existed for many years, special ed, didn’t need it. A language-based disabilities. Today, there’s one school in New Jersey that just opened, and another one to open up in Bell Harbor in the fall, to help children who have things like dyslexia. Dyslexic students can’t work in a room with 22 kids and 23 kids. It doesn’t work that way. They need small environments. 99.5% get mainstream after four or five to sixth grade. Whatever it is on the individual child. So yeah, I’m very optimistic about the state of Jewish education. It continues to improve. We will continue to work with people to try to make it better. And those people that need help, it’s our obligation and our job. You need help and support them, give them the help that they need.

David Bashevkin: 
Richie, my only regret when we speak up and catch in our later years that I feel like I did not sufficiently appreciate you when I was in high school. I didn’t.

Richie Hagler: 
You’re not supposed to in high school. You’re not supposed to in high school. Okay, here comes Zoe’s father. I guess what the heck does he want to bother? But what is he bothering me about? Go away. He’s walking around with the principal. Please! What does he do all day long? It’s okay. It’s all right.

David Bashevkin: 
The only conversation we had in high school is that I had two very close friends in 9th and 10th grade and both of them were very frustrated with different aspects of the school and both of them were planning on leaving. And you pulled me over at a Shabbaton, and you said, “One of them is right. This is not the right place for him. He would be better off in a different high school.” And he actually left. And you said the other one, he said, David, he’s going to do great here, you should encourage him to stay. And that’s exactly what happened. That not only did he stay, but the last time I visited the high school, he’s a member of the faculty now.

Richie Hagler: 
I know who you’re talking about. And yeah, he is a member of the-

David Bashevkin: 
And it was you-

Richie Hagler: 
… faculty yeah.

David Bashevkin: 
… who pulled me over and said… You had the eye. I didn’t know what you did. I had no idea. But you had the eye and say, “David, this kid is going to be successful here. You should encourage him to stay.” And he did. And it just shows that you have a reputation of being tough and gruff, but you are one of the most compassionate education first professionals I’ve ever met. And I am so privileged and appreciative that you took time to speak with me today.

Richie Hagler: 
David, you know a little trivia, you know that your first year you were in HALB, your mother worked for me.

David Bashevkin: 
I do know that.

Richie Hagler: 
Did you know that?

David Bashevkin: 
I didn’t think we were going to go there. I still am dealing with that trauma of having my mother come in, taking pictures of the… She was like the photographer.

Richie Hagler: 
Those were the days of disposable cameras, if you remember that. It’s this thing called film.

David Bashevkin: 
Yes.

Richie Hagler: 
Right.

David Bashevkin: 
And she would take cameras and do newsletters.

Richie Hagler: 
Yes, yes, yes.

David Bashevkin: 
And you know what? I don’t know if I could mention this, but I will. I believe part of the motivation, my mother was always very creative. I think part of the motivation was that they needed help to pay tuition. There were some tough years with my family.

Richie Hagler: 
Listen, you know what? People do what they need to do. People do what they need to do. And most people that I know will go the extra mile to make sure their kids get a Jewish education. And it’s our job to make sure they get it,

David Bashevkin: 
And you meet them them halfway sometimes, almost all the way. For all of us in the Jewish community, we’re appreciative for the work that you do in professionalizing and bringing excellence to Jewish education. So thank you so much, Richie, for speaking tonight.

Richie Hagler: 
Thank you for having me on. Thanks for reaching out and we’ll do this again sometime.

David Bashevkin: 
Richie Hagler in my mind is a hero of the Jewish people. He’s the one who lays the groundwork to ensure that our Jewish educational system is actually intact and can provide the education it does. And I know firsthand that somebody with his great deal of empathy and understanding of what’s going on behind the families. There’s nobody I would want more than Richie to really, really be able to understand that and guide the finances of a school to be able to reach the families. It reminds me of the work of Rabbi Bender. Rabbi Bender runs Darchei. Darchei is one of the largest at elementary school and has a high school that has a beis medrash.

And I used to go to camp there in the summertimes and I remember, and I say this with great love, it was gross. It was kind of disgusting. It would smell, there would be pockets that would be a little bit smelly in some places. There was like barbed wire everywhere. Was not in an especially good neighborhood. There was a great deal of crime insecurity. The security guard, Everett is actually taking a leave of absence. He’s going through sickness, in my prayers, of course, are with Everett. He’s the same security guard who operated in the camp when I was there in the camp time.

And I was recently driving by Darchei because they really rebuilt what it is. And the first time I drove past it and saw the building and what it’s become now, and I became really emotional. I don’t know that I started to cry, but I came pretty close. Rabbi Bender and what he’s done, particularly in building a educationally and financially successful institution, and doing it because of his empathy. And I think this is at the heart of a lot of success of Jewish institutions. I one time wrote from Mishpacha magazine that what moves me so much about Darchei, and this is a school I have never been to, is that there was a student in Darchei that I don’t think he knew all that much about the family named Chaim Shlomo. Was a special needs child.

And Rabbi Bender has done so much to make sure that every single child in a school gets the needs, get’s the attention, gets the care, gets the education that they absolutely deserve. And it happens to be that this child came from an incredibly, incredibly wealthy family who was able to support the yeshiva. And eventually, after many years, this family, the Lowinger family, Ronnie Lowinger partnered Rabbi Bender to really reimagine what Darchei is. And I look at the financial success, the educational success of Darchei really to be an outgrowth of that empathy. I know Rabbi Bender, I think he still does this calls in students before Yom Tov, and just assesses to make sure that the family doesn’t need anything for Shabbos, for Yom Tov. He’ll buy kids new suits.

It is that type of empathy that moves me most about Jewish education being the eyes and ears of the community to make sure that no child, no family goes overlooked. And it’s that kind of education that I’m most proud of. What we’ve built in the United States. It was not a given. It was not like this 100 years ago. We didn’t have the institutions that we have now. But to know that there are people who are still kind of knocking on doors and making sure that every child has what they need, being the eyes and ears of the community is something I find especially powerful, especially moving. It’s done by the heroes of Jewish education. People like Richie Hagler, people like Rabbi Bentder, people like Ronnie Lowinger, like Rabbi Kameneski. And the list goes on and on and on of the eyes and ears of the community knowing that what Jewish education is all about is really providing not just the educational needs but caring for each child.

But it still seems like it’s not enough. And there’s one person who I spoke to, a friend of 18Forty put me in touch with her. Somebody actually a former winner of the 18Forty annual survey contest. He won all the books. I forgot what books he picked up. But he put me in touch with somebody he works with at the UJA Federation. Her name is Chavie Khan, and which he works on, is really developing a long-term vision for Jewish schooling. Because sometimes it feels like when you’re working within a school, and I know this personally, aside from the fact that I myself am an educator though in higher education. There is a treadmill where every day being able to prepare class. Being able to come in with lesson plans, dealing with parents. It has become especially hard to kind of see what’s around the corner. What is going to be with the next generation?

And she’s doing incredible work in coaching schools to begin to think more long-term in their financial planning and in building endowments. But I think more than anything else, what we really need is somebody communally to be thinking long-term in terms of educational sustainability. Where are the products of our schools going? Is the educational standards and models that we are using still producing kind of that long-term connection with Yiddishkeit that is lasting and guiding our lives into adulthood that shift off the treadmill of the day-to-day needs into the long-term planning is something that is so desperately needed throughout our day school system.

It is not just that in regards to financial planning, though this is something that she speaks about that I absolutely want to kind of center because her work is so important. But I think it’s across the board to make sure that the next generation, that’s like my child, his father, he grew up in a world where almost everybody around him in his Jewish bubble were products of Jewish education. And to make sure that that next generation doesn’t take it for granted, doesn’t make the assumptions that it’s always been like this. It’s always been this way, but continue to devolve and develop with a long-term vision for the sustainability of the Jewish community, not just financially, but even more so educationally is such important work, which is why I am so proud to introduce our conversation with Chavie Kahn of the UJA Federation. Chavie Kahn, thank you so much for joining us today.

Chavie Kahn: 
You’re welcome, David. It’s really a pleasure and an honor, and I applaud you for taking on this critical communal important area of work.

David Bashevkin: 
I really appreciate this. I already kind of primed my listeners that when we decided to do a series on Jewish education, this topic means so many things to so many different people. I’ve primed our audience, we’re going to disappoint you. We’re not going to be able to cover everything, not even in the subcategories, but today we’re talking about funding for Jewish day schools. How do we make the day school system the ability to afford a Jewish education, particularly in the day school system? How do we make it affordable? Maybe you can share with me, there are avenues that we’re discussing on government advocacy. There are avenues that we’re discussing about the process of tuition committees and how that works. What is your primary focus in how to make day schools more affordable?

Chavie Kahn: 
I think that’s exactly the right frame. The communal question and the individual school question is more sustainable. And I think it’s a multi-pronged strategy. And we at UJA are laser focused on helping schools. And I like to suggest a few ideas. One is to build and create endowments. Endowments are not a secret. They’ve been around in the independent school landscape for years. However, Jewish day schools across the country and in New York, this is an opportunity that’s really been on the uptake over the last 10 years for schools to build endowment. I’m not talking about the 40 billion Harvard Endowment, but every single independent school, one of the three legs of their financial model includes endowment, which is number one tuition dollars and number two annual fundraising. But there needs to be a third leg of the stool and that’s endowment.

David Bashevkin: 
Let me ask you, when you say endowment, the way to structure this is to have one super mega endowment for all the schools to draw upon. Or is the way to structure this in your eyes, to focus on each individual school building their own endowment?

Chavie Kahn: 
Well, I would say that there’s two different approaches on the national level. There’s communal initiatives and then there’s also school by school initiatives. What we saw in New York is that there was an appetite for bringing schools together. And at the same time we recognized, and this is really to the credit of UJA leadership and particularly Eric Goldstein, the CEO recognized that this is an opportunity to provide match incentive funding for schools to be able to motivate donors to contribute to endowments. Endowment fundraising is difficult. Fundraising, we’re not talking about the Schwartz Library.
We’re talking about a multi-generational, often in times commitment to a school. And there are sophisticated donors that endowment really appeals to. So what we did at UJA with a lot of work was gather visionary philanthropists and foundations to create a 50 million match pool. And we provided a match for schools. 18 schools have been participating in the day school challenge fund initiative since 2017. And the bottom line is that they have received approximately 13 million in distributions.

David Bashevkin: 
Jews love matching funds. It’s our favorite thing.

Chavie Kahn: 
The highest level takeaway from the day goal challenge fund is-

David Bashevkin: 
We love matching.

Chavie Kahn: 
Exactly. Exactly. And it’s a little more sophisticated than that. We help to train development directors and school leadership. The other lesson is you really need a partnership between top lay leadership and top school leadership. This is a heavy lift and at the same time it works. You talked about the tuition committee. When the budget committee sits around the table, and this is the time of year that they do, and they start strategic planning for next year. If you have an endowment and endowments are for the long term, you see the distributions come back. And that’s one successful approach. Another successful approach is to think more creatively about your scholarship process and who are you giving scholarships to.
So just to frame a bit, it used to be the case that schools typically gave to the neediest, and that’s nationally. And in New York what we’ve seen UJA data reflects that over the past few years there’s been a shift partially because of Covid and for other reasons that there is now the issue of middle income affordability, which is families that typically before would never even dream of asking for financial assistance. The reality is, and David, I know that you’ve spent a lot of your energy and I really commend you for shining the light on this issue in our community. The question is, what are we doing in our school system to make schools more affordable for middle income families?

David Bashevkin: 
The squeeze-

Chavie Kahn: 
Exactly.

David Bashevkin: 
It seems like an outrageous term, but I almost call it like there are families that are suffering because the financial lift of being able to provide a Jewish education, it’s reshaping the very fabric of the Jewish community.

Chavie Kahn: 
100%. And also New York, I mean, there’s a lot of diversity. There are families in the system that are failing the squeeze. And I also want to add that there are families that are not even considered Yes,

David Bashevkin: 
Yes, yes.

Chavie Kahn: 
Coming into the system because of the threat of the squeeze. Yes. And we’re losing family.

David Bashevkin: 
Thank you for saying that. Thank you for saying that. It was something on my mind when I spoke to so many, I was talking to school educators and talking about their process when people come to them. And on my mind haunting me was what about the people who stop showing up? Because you have to really open your, forget about the financial transparency, which is necessary, but the pressure and the scrutiny, it is very, very challenging.

Chavie Kahn: 
I like to call this, we’re trying to move away from the colonoscopy approach to scholarships.

David Bashevkin: 
I like that a

Chavie Kahn: 
Lot, which no one wants to undergo and many people have to. But there’s another approach, which is to help schools to explore other affordability initiatives. And there’s schools in New York and across the country that are exploring how do we cater to middle income families? And this past summer, for example, UJA partnered with Prisma to hold a convening and subsequent.

Chavie Kahn: 
We partnered with Prisma to hold a convening and subsequent coaching for schools on how to do just that. One idea is the AGI approach. Westchester Day School does this.

David Bashevkin: 
Explain what AGI stands for?

Chavie Kahn: 
It stands for Adjusted Gross Income. If you look on their website, this is a perfect example, you will see a chart that says, “If you make under X amount, all you have to do is submit the first two pages of your 1040 and you will pay-

David Bashevkin: 
X.

Chavie Kahn: 
If you make X, you will pay Y. No colonoscopy needed.” Of course, there’s always the traditional route. I think another piece that you’ve also lifted up in this series is dignity. How do we keep the dignity in the system? How do we expand the reach of our schools to embrace the largest number of families?

And I also want to add that affordability’s not the only prong here. There’s also the issue of who are we trying to educate. Is it the elite? Is it the kids who are going to top colleges? What we’re also seeing in terms of data, both anecdotal and qualitative, is an increased trend in schools having students with learning challenges. This is a trend that started before COVID. There’s a direct upward reach in terms of the need. Another area that we’re focused on at UJA in the day school yeshiva work is supporting schools to bolster their capacity to meet the needs of students with learning challenges because we believe that the widest number of students should be able to be educated in our mainstream schools.

David Bashevkin: 
If our listeners want to learn more, you’re quoting a lot of the statistics and the research that you’ve done on this and there’s so many facts and figures that are thrown around at Shabbos tables, are any of these reports available to the public?

Chavie Kahn: 
Yes. Everyone can certainly just reach out to me, Chavie Kahn, kahnc@ujafedny.org

David Bashevkin: 
You may regret that.

Chavie Kahn: 
I’m on LinkedIn. I’m like one of the easiest people to reach, as you are too, David. Yes, I just published an article in the recent affordability Kaleidoscope-focused newsletter that Prisma just issued, and that’s actually a great source. I want to do a shout out to Prisma for dedicating an entire issue of their newsletter to affordability a few months ago.

David Bashevkin: 
Let me just ask you a final question. Most of our listeners, they’re not day school educators. They’re not day school administrators. They’re regular folk. They’re probably younger. Many of them don’t even yet have children in the day school system. Do you remain optimistic for the future of day school education in the tri-state area? I feel like particularly in the tri-state area, people are fleeing because of what you artfully fully called the colonoscopy approach. That’s not demonizing, God forbid, the tuition committees. It’s a necessary part for their sustainability. Do you remain optimistic? Tell our listeners, is there a future for this? Is this going to be able to continue?

Chavie Kahn: 
I do remain optimistic because I think that there are people like you and top leaders in our community, and what I’m seeing also is the younger parents are desperate to find a solution. I see top finance people who are really dedicated to talking about endowments in their various communities to spreading the gospel about the importance of day school education. I also see that there are really committed educators and committed foundations and philanthropists. The good news here is that we’ve identified the problem.

David Bashevkin: 
We know the problem.

Chavie Kahn: 
That’s the first step. It’s a little bit like AA. We know there’s a problem, and there are people that are committed to the solution. Is it going to be easy? No. Is there a magic bullet? No. Is it going to take multi-pronged strategies and deep commitment in terms of resources on many fronts? Yes. And it’s worth it. Every time I see a child, I live on West End Avenue, and every time I see a child in the morning go to Heschel, go to Manhattan Day School, take a bus across town to Ramaz, every time I see a five or six-year-old, I want to tell you, David, it gets to me because I know that this is the most immersive experience that a child can have. We all as parents and as educators and as community members owe it to those children to make it work.

David Bashevkin: 
And it is worth it. Chavie Kahn, thank you so much for your work and for joining me today.

Chavie Kahn: 
Thank you, David.

David Bashevkin: 
There is so much to talk about in terms of sustainability, aside from tuition committees, aside from endowments. The person who I think stands at the center of actual on-the-ground advocacy for dollars going to our day schools is somebody that I’m sure many of our listeners know, and if you don’t, please familiarize yourself with his work, and that is Maury Litwack. Maury developed a network called Teach, which has branches in nearly all the major Jewish communities, all the major states around the country, and he is leading a coordinated effort to secure more funding for our schooling.

Now, no effort like this is going to be perfect, but if there is somebody who is more central to the growing movement of just responding to the cries of parents saying, “We’re not going to be able to continue this. We’re not going to be able to continue building this way,” Maury Litwack really stands alone in somebody who has marshaled incredible resources to ensure that schools remain robust in their ability to provide an education. He was central in New York and New Jersey in ensuring that there were places for drop off to get food for young children, if you remember those long lines during COVID, sitting in your car getting boxes of food, and is really an incredible advocate and hero of the Jewish people. It is my absolute pleasure to introduce our conversation with Maury Litwack.

I’m going to jump right in. It is really a privilege and pleasure to be sitting with a colleague, somebody I’ve known for many years. I first met you at a Shabbos table at the former president of the OU’s house, Moishe Bane’s house. I met you and I was looking at you, and I’m like, “Who is this guy?” I didn’t understand. You were like this bulldog who came out from this Lazarus of political intensity. I’d never met somebody like you before, but it’s really been a privilege to work beside you. It is my pleasure to introduce our friend Maury Litwack.

Maury Litwack: 
Look, Ma, I made it. I’m on 18Forty.

David Bashevkin: 
Look, Ma, I-

Maury Litwack: 
I did it. I did it.

David Bashevkin: 
It’s really exciting. We have something very specific and very big to talk about because it’s a conversation that’s almost strange to diminish to two people talking about because it’s a conversation that takes place on every Shabbos table in every home throughout the entire country, and that is the question of the tuition crisis. There are families, and I really use the word suffer, that are suffering because of the cost of Jewish education has become so exorbitant. What I want to hone in with you about, and first you’ll try to help me understand why am I even talking to you, what I want to hone in with you about is, what practically can be done? I feel like every Shabbos table ends with some hair-brained scheme of like, “We’ll charge everybody $10 and then 50% of their will, and we’ll take this money and go there. Then we’ll do it. We’ll take off the charitable income.” There have been a thousand hair-brained schemes. The only person I know who has organized a real effort to address this is you. How did you get involved in addressing the tuition crisis?

Maury Litwack: 
When you say the words like bulldog-

David Bashevkin: 
Say that with love and affection.

Maury Litwack: 
I know you do, but when you say it, I think about the tuition crisis because I don’t think I’d be involved in klal work if it wasn’t for the tuition crisis. Because I have a background where I worked in Congress, I worked as a congressional aide, I worked for a presidential reelection campaign, I worked for a number of election campaigns, my path in life was supposed to be politics.

David Bashevkin: 
Can I just stop you right there?

Maury Litwack: 
Sure.

David Bashevkin: 
There are two types of politics. I know politics the way Jewish organizations and rabbis know politics, and that is taking pictures next to famous people. That’s what I know. You go to a rabbi’s office, he has a picture next to the president at a Hanukah party. He has a picture next to a governor. You were involved in a different kind of politics, which is actual politics.

Maury Litwack: 
Right. When I graduated college, I did what anybody does when they graduate college, which is, I looked around and said, “What is everyone else doing senior year?” I was at the University of Maryland, and everyone was taking this thing called the LSAT. I said, “Well, I guess I’ll just take the LSAT and go to law school.” It turns out that you have to study for the LSAT, which I didn’t realize at the time, David, that I had to study for the LSAT. I did not get a good grade, and I got rejected from numerous prestigious law schools, which I know is a big topic on 18Forty.

David Bashevkin: 
You stole my line.

Maury Litwack: 
I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I got rejected from numerous places. At that point I really had a decision to make what to do. The University of Maryland, for the Terps who are listening know it’s very close to Capitol Hill. I worked as an intern for a lobbying firm. When I was working for an intern for a lobbying firm, I worked for Blue Cross Blue Shield as an intern there doing data entry and basic stuff, and it was boring. It was hard work.

Right next to me, like 25 feet away, one day I hear, “Yes, yes,” and I hear champagne popping and excitement happening. I said, “Wow, what’s happening over there?” The group I was with, which is the IT professionals and the interning, looked over there and said, “Oh, that’s a lobbyist. They just got some big win over there,” which turned out was the Patient’s Bill of Rights, and they had gotten some win. I don’t know if I agree with it or don’t agree with it now when I look back. But at that point I said to myself, “That’s what I want to do. That’s cool. How do I do that?” I ended up getting a job on Capitol Hill answering mail. That job, when you walk into Capitol Hill, the guy who gives tours of the Capitol-

David Bashevkin: 
That’s what you were doing.

Maury Litwack: 
… I was that guy. I just started at the very bottom. They don’t let you touch policy. They don’t let you do anything until you start at the very bottom answering… When you send a letter to congressman, it was Maury Litwack, fresh college graduate, responding to you. Then going from there, they end up saying, “Okay, you did a great job with that. Now what do you think of this bill” “Okay, you did a great job with that. What do you think of steroids in baseball?” which I staffed when I was here.

David Bashevkin: 
Were you involved in that?

Maury Litwack: 
That’s right. I staffed the steroids in baseball when I was involved in that. I staffed the Judiciary Committee. At the time, it was called the Government Resources Oversight Committee. They change the name depending on if it’s Republican or Democrat. They change the names of the committees all the time. There’s only two constants in DC: an acronym if you want to create a bill, and them changing the names of every committee depending on if right or left is involved. So I did that, and I worked for a member from Utah and one from California. What they had in common was they were both Mormons, which allowed me to actually take off for Shabbos because they respected my faith. So I did that. It’s funny by the way, because like you’re saying, to me, this is politics. This is the inside baseball, which is I was passing bills.

David Bashevkin: 
You were deep inside.

Maury Litwack: 
Yes, I was passing bills. I was fighting for things. I was trying to get people elected to Congress. I was flying to Kentucky for a race. I flew to Ohio for the presidential reelection. There’s policies we want to pass. There’s bills you want to do. Then only later in life did I realize this thing, this idea in the frum world of how many pictures do you have of yourself with a politician, which I’d never heard of before I started working in klal work. I’d never even heard of that idea. To me, it’s, who do you work for? Which member did you work for? Which senator did you work for? Which president did you work for? What did you get done?

David Bashevkin: 
What’s the skillset? Because I know for so many people you don’t have such a fancy pedigree. You didn’t end up going to law school. You’re doing data entry. What is the skillset that you attribute to your success in this stage in your life in politics?

Maury Litwack: 
I always divide it into three categories of people in politics. I think that there’s policy people who have a background, usually a law degree or a master’s in public policy, something of that nature. There are the communication folks, those who know how to take a narrative and message and market it a certain way to the media and others. Then I think there’s the political people who know how to tie all those pieces together between what’s good legislation, what will actually get someone elected.

David Bashevkin: 
And good messaging.

Maury Litwack: 
Good messaging.

David Bashevkin: 
That’s politics, wedding those two together.

Maury Litwack: 
Yeah. I always considered myself a political person. I was always someone who looked at all those pieces and components and how does this fit together to get stuff done. For example, when I was in Congress, we were looking at something called the Second Chance Act that ended up passing, which is dealing with recidivism.

David Bashevkin: 
People who, after being released from jail, now are returning to jail, so to speak.

Maury Litwack: 
Correct. So we dealt with that issue, or we dealt with, how do we get DC to be a state? Do we trade-

David Bashevkin: 
Were you involved in that?

Maury Litwack: 
Yes. The idea was, do we add another seat to Utah’s delegation at the time that would be a Republican seat in order that there’s a Democratic seat in DC? All kinds of these types of things were things that we just went again and again and were trying to figure out, what is the messaging, the policy, and the politics behind it to sort of get it all done? I always considered myself a political person who looked at the totality of things. I think that background only comes from experience in politics. You cannot go and get a degree or go and read a book about that. It doesn’t work. There’s a feeling.

David Bashevkin: 
The art of politics itself. You could do policy from a book or from a-

Maury Litwack: 
Yeah, you could write a bill. I can’t tell you how many bills that I’ve been involved in passing. People said to me, “Well, you don’t have a law degree.” I said, “Yeah, but that guy did, and he can’t pass a bill.” At the end of the day, there’s the minutiae of the policy, and that which is good, but can you actually get the bill passed?

David Bashevkin: 
This reminds me of Lyndon Johnson, like real counting votes and all that stuff.

Maury Litwack: 
Yeah, 100%. I think it’s funny because Biden, whether people like Biden or they don’t like Biden, you look at a Biden and because he had that background and was in it-

David Bashevkin: 
He’s an old school politician.

Maury Litwack: 
… he gets stuff done, things are being done, and LBJ got things done. You keep going through politicians who knew how to get their way and get stuff done. It’s a lot of that art of the politics.

David Bashevkin: 
I want to move because I really want to be laser focused because it’s such a big topic that I’m so worried that we’re not going to really be able to unpack because there’s so much scheming going on in this area. When I say scheming, I don’t mean on the political level. I mean, at people’s Shabbos tables, how are we going to solve this? I don’t think there’s a topic that has more conversation around it. What brought you initially to work in the Jewish community? Was it this issue? Did you come in and say, “I want to address school funding”?

Maury Litwack: 
From my perspective, I started in klaugh work, and I had an opportunity in DC with the OU to start doing some lobbying in the frum world. I liked that. It appealed to me. I’ll never forget, and I’ve told this story that my father was in klal work for a very long time.

David Bashevkin: 
When you say klal work, you mean like klal, like the public policy, so to speak, of the Jewish people, serving the Jewish people?

Maury Litwack: 
What I mean when I say klal work is anyone who is working in Jewish nonprofit life.

David Bashevkin: 
Gotcha.

Maury Litwack: 
I used to say Jewish nonprofit life, but klal work just sound too much cooler.

David Bashevkin: 
It does sound cooler.

Maury Litwack: 
It does sound cooler. It’s like, “Well, what’s that guy doing?” With Jewish nonprofit, it sounds so official, and we’re doing non-Jewish nonprofit. With klal work, it’s like, “Whoa, that’s cool.” So when I first heard that term, I’m like, “Yeah, I’m in klal work. My father has been an executive director for a yeshiva. He’s the executive director of a major nonprofit. He’s been involved in this for a very long time. I never, growing up, thought I’d be involved in any sort of Jewish public service or anything. I didn’t think I was going to do that. But there was an offering to sort of merge my politics with trying to help the Jewish community when I left Capitol Hill. I said, “Okay, let me try this out.” I planned on doing it for six months, a year. What kept me in it was someone looked at me and said, “Well, what do you think about the tuition crisis?” I’ll tell you why that was so important to me, which is growing up, I remember that my family struggled with tuition costs-

David Bashevkin: 
Financially?

Maury Litwack: 
… financially. Our neighbors struggled with tuition costs. People talked about it constantly. I remember also that when I had my first kid, it was the absolute first thing that I worried about. When I’ve gone out and I’ve talked about the tuition crisis, and I’m very proud, I don’t think there’s anybody in the community or Earth who’s done more tuition crisis speeches than I have. When I’ve gone out, the number of stories I have, the two that have touched me so much to my core are that I had a grandfather come over to me and basically say to me that he’s depleted all of his retirement savings to pay for his grandkids’ tuition, and what should he do? I had a 23, 24-year-old look at me, tears in his eyes because he just had a bris for his son a few weeks before, and he had no clue how he was going to pay for it. I looked at him and I said, “It’s four years from now. It’s five years from now.” He’s like, “I don’t know how I’m going to pay for this.”

David Bashevkin: 
The angst is so real, I don’t think there’s a question, the family planning, the size of Jewish families. What scares me is that I’m worried that as a community, particularly in America, being Jewish and sending your kids to school is going to be less about a religious affiliation and more about a socioeconomic status where you’re going to be unable to provide your kids with the Jewish education that they need if you don’t have a certain level of income. As an issue, there’s nothing that scares me more, instead of being a part of a religion and a people, being part of a country club. That’s what we’re fighting against essentially.

Maury Litwack: 
It’s a real challenge. I think there’s that feeling, and it’s a combination of dread. Nobody wants to be in that situation. But there’s just also this feeling that there’s a hopelessness because people are like me and you where they remember their parents and they remember when they had kids and they remember all these situations. So I think we got to get past that hopelessness, past that dread, past that assumption that nothing happens, that numbness. We got to get over it.

David Bashevkin: 
Tell me a little bit, before we get to what you do, because you do something very specific and very strategic, give me a little bit of background of what people have tried to do to address the tuition crisis. I remember seeing huge billboards that were asking people to give a part of their estate for an endowment. I believe this was a effort that was pushed by Rav Binyamin Kamenetsky, the former head of South Shore. He was asking Jewish families to set aside money for a large endowment to support Jewish education as part of their estate planning. As far as I know, that didn’t get off the ground. People might give their estate, and it’s a wonderful thing to do. But there’s no central endowment to support Jewish education across the United States. Every institution may have its own. What have people tried to do before you got involved with tuition crisis? People have tried to make cheaper schools. It’s expensive to run a school. We spoke to an executive director. We know it’s expensive. Were there any concrete plans that really came even close, or what has been suggested to address this?

Maury Litwack: 
If a business has problems with costs, there’s only two ways you can possibly deal with that. Either they reduce expenditures, or they bring in more revenue. Those are the only two ways that any business can handle it. Any of your listeners in their own businesses with doctors or lawyers or others will understand those things. It’s very basic. When you look at the tuition crisis and you look at those two things, you either have solutions that are about how do we cut administrative costs. One of the most common complaints is, “There’s five administrators in my schools, and I only want to have one administrator in my school.” One of the most common complaints is teachers are paid too much.

David Bashevkin: 
Which I just want to say, I think that’s insane that we—

Maury Litwack: 
But it’s out there.

David Bashevkin: 
Sure.

Maury Litwack: 
It’s out there.

David Bashevkin: 
It’s out there.

Maury Litwack: 
It’s out there.

David Bashevkin: 
But we’re going to cut, slash.

Maury Litwack: 
Yeah, it’s out there. It’s like, “They’re paid too much,” which is crazy.

David Bashevkin: 
It’s heartbreaking when I hear that, but I have heard it myself.

Maury Litwack: 
It’s insane, and we can we come back to it. Another idea is cut all the afterschool programs.

David Bashevkin: 
Correct.

Maury Litwack: 
Cut the gym.

David Bashevkin: 
The leagues, basketball.

Maury Litwack: 
A lot of it, “I didn’t have this, so they shouldn’t have this. I didn’t have this growing up, I’m fine,” which is a whole nother topic. You can listen to many other 18Fortys to realize if we’re all fine or not.

David Bashevkin: 
We’re not fine.

Maury Litwack: 
We’re not fine. But it’s sort of like, “Oh, I’m fine. I survived.” Then, okay, so there’s all those measures. So now-

David Bashevkin: 
That’s cutting cost.

Maury Litwack: 
Cutting costs.

David Bashevkin: 
That’s on one side of the legend.

Maury Litwack: 
Now it’s increase revenue, bring revenue in. The biggest idea that comes around, and the greatest thing about this idea is everyone who ever comes up with the idea, and I get emails weekly on this-

David Bashevkin: 
I just saw something new.

Maury Litwack: 
… everybody thinks that you’re the only person. I feel so bad because someone’s listening to this right now and they’re like, “Well, it’s not my idea.” It’s your idea, listener. It’s your idea. It’s like, I’m going to put a billion dollars together in a fund, and it’s going to draw off the interest.

David Bashevkin: 
Like in a proper endowment-

Maury Litwack: 
It’s going to draw off the interest. It’s-

David Bashevkin: 
… 8% in there.

Maury Litwack: 
Yes, yes, yes. So there’s ideas. What you referenced as well, which is all the ideas, which-

David Bashevkin: 
Which would be $80 million a year.

Maury Litwack: 
Yes. Let’s put a billion dollars together, and then we draw off X number and whatever it is. That’s where the ideas come of super endowments.

David Bashevkin: 
Exactly.

Maury Litwack: 
That’s the idea of we all give 5% of our charity to this, like a-

David Bashevkin: 
Let’s start this fund that subsidizes the cost.

Maury Litwack: 
Correct, like a Warren Buffett giving pledge just for-

David Bashevkin: 
Jewish education.

Maury Litwack: 
… Jewish education. I always used to joke when I spoke about this publicly, which is I always loved this idea because-

David Bashevkin: 
I love it. It sounds great.

Maury Litwack: 
… it’s a great idea. It’s always proposed by people who’ve never raised $100,000 or $5 million or $10 million. All of a sudden it’s like, “Well, we’ll have someone who raises a billion dollars.” First-

David Bashevkin: 
They skip to the billion. They’ve already figure out, “What are we going to do with the money?” We already-

Maury Litwack: 
Right, right, 100%. First off, anybody who can raise $100 million that quickly probably is not doing it for the klal, not doing it for the community. They’re probably doing it just-

David Bashevkin: 
For a hedge fund or for a-

Maury Litwack: 
… for free money for their bud’s business or hedge fund. They’re probably out there doing it. It’s very difficult to raise that kind of money. Now, where this gets interesting is, what does it cost to educate children in America? We’re sitting and recording this in beautiful New Jersey, absolutely beautiful New Jersey. I’m trying-

David Bashevkin: 
The most lovely part of our country.

Maury Litwack: 
I’m trying, David, to help New Jersey out a little bit.

David Bashevkin: 
It’s gorgeous.

Maury Litwack: 
I’m trying out as much as I can to help New Jersey out, in beautiful New Jersey. In New Jersey, the cost to educate a public school child is somewhere between $19,000, I believe, and $22,000. The cost to educate a public school child in New York is north of $28,000 per child.

David Bashevkin: 
We’re already costing less than a public school.

Maury Litwack: 
Correct. But when I’ve put this out there publicly, so people’s eyes bug out and I try to explain to folks, I say, “That’s what it costs to educate a public school child.” They don’t have a dual curriculum. They don’t have Mishmor. They don’t have middos programs. They don’t have all the other stuff that we love in our-

David Bashevkin: 
Lot of them don’t have building funds.

Maury Litwack: 
… building funds, all these other things. That’s what they’re doing. So when you go back to what we said about an expensive product, and you say, “Okay, we’re going to cut costs,” well, what are you going to cut the costs to? What’s it going to get me to? Because right now we’re sitting in North Jersey and as always tell people, I say, “They say they don’t want to spend…” Tuition here, it can be anywhere from, let’s say, $10,000 to $25,000 or $30,000 for high school, more. You can go to Lakewood. It’s an hour from here.

David Bashevkin: 
Schools in Lakewood, could you go to high school for $10,000 in Lakewood?

Maury Litwack: 
You can go to high school. You can find high school for $10,000 in there. You can find a school for half. You can ride to Queens, you can find schools for less. You can do other things. So people say, “Well, no, no, Maury, I don’t want that. I want it to be affordable with the choice I want hashkafically. I want coed. I want separate gender. I want all these different things that I want to do.” Okay, all right. So how are you going to cut costs and bring costs down when we each want the choice that we want for our children, and we want it to be exactly the way… which we should have. Every parent should have that choice.
So now that we’ve dealt with costs… Even if you say to me, “Okay, Maury, you’re wrong, but how much are you going to bring costs down?” 10%, 20%, 30%. There’s been efforts to bring costs down, which we’ve brought them down, 10%, 5%, etc. But at the end of the day, what the biggest drivers of costs in any of these schools is going to be health care, it’s going to be benefits, it’s going to be all these things that we have to—

David Bashevkin: 
Staff costs.

Maury Litwack: 
Staff costs and other things like that, etc. Okay, fine. So now we get to we’ll generate more revenue. Many communities have tried to generate $100 million and pull it off, $200 million and pull it off, whatever it may be. Do you know what the costs of educating children in New York/New Jersey is for yeshivas? I know there’s listeners outside of there, but let’s just stick to New York/New Jersey. It’s over $2.5 billion a year. That’s what the spend is for all the yeshiva day schools.

David Bashevkin: 
What do you mean by that?

Maury Litwack: 
There are 170,000 yeshiva and day school kids in the state of New York, and there are over 55,000 in the state-

David Bashevkin: 
New Jersey.

Maury Litwack: 
… of New Jersey. If they were a public school population, those two populations combined would be larger than the public school populations in, I believe, 14 or 15 states in the country. It’s gigantic. You’re talking about over a quarter million kids in New York/New Jersey.

David Bashevkin: 
What was the $2.5 million dollar figure you—

Maury Litwack: 
The point I’m making is to educate those close to quarter million kids in New York/New Jersey, it costs over $2.5 billion dollars a year to educate those children.

David Bashevkin: 
Billion?

Maury Litwack: 
Two and a half billion, two and a half billion.

David Bashevkin: 
Oh, so I misheard you, $2.5 billion.

Maury Litwack: 
Yes, yes. That’s the estimates, $2.5 billion of cost to educate those kids. $2.5 billion has to be raised, $2.5 billion.

David Bashevkin: 
Yearly?

Maury Litwack: 
Yearly, annually.

David Bashevkin: 
Wow. Because you’re basically taking that number and multiplying it by-

Maury Litwack: 
Multiply by $10,000, whatever it is. That’s the-

David Bashevkin: 
Boy, oh, boy. I hope that math’s right. We’re going to hear it afterwards.

Maury Litwack: 
The point is that-

David Bashevkin: 
We’re not talking millions. I thought you really said $2.5 million. I’m like, “We could raise $2.5 million.”

Maury Litwack: 
No, it’s basically take 225,000 kids, 230,000 kids, whatever it is, extrapolate, $10,000. Let’s do it right here. What’s that number? Let’s say it’s $10,000 a kid for those kids. This is the average.

David Bashevkin: 
I’m taking out my calculator right now. You said how many? A quarter of a million kids?

Maury Litwack: 
Do 225,000 kids.

David Bashevkin: 
Then times 10,000. Yeah, I think that’s $2.5 billion.

Maury Litwack: 
That’s what your number is.

David Bashevkin: 
Wow.

Maury Litwack: 
When you look at that, and that’s not even talking about Florida and California and everything else like that, if you were to create an endowment, a super endowment, what would that endowment have to look like to draw…?

David Bashevkin: 
$2.5 billion a year.

Maury Litwack: 
Let’s not even say $2.5 billion, $500 million a year.

David Bashevkin: 
Just to subsidize.

Maury Litwack: 
It’s ridiculous. It doesn’t work. You’re not going to have that fund. It’s not going to happen. Now we’re saying, well, where else are you going to get the money? How else is it going to work? Now we talk.

David Bashevkin: 
This is where you entered. I want to cut to the chase because your model is so fascinating, and it clicked the one time you were telling me. I actually think that you, and I don’t know if you said this explicitly and I don’t know if you’ll find this offensive or misunderstanding the work you do, you basically do something very similar to AIPAC in the way that they support Israel. Meaning, I want to support Israel. I love the state of Israel. I think it’s a gift. If I send Israel $18, it’ll help somebody. I could send them Gilley’s goodies or some chocolate bar or something. But that $18, if I send it to AIPAC or a lobbying organization, can unlock the biggest gift that Israel could ever get, which is the support of the United States government. Basically, I’m paying lobbyists to ensure that that support continues. You took that model and basically brought it, which is really remarkable, not just to Jewish schools, but to religious schools in general. Is that a fair assessment of what you’re doing?

Maury Litwack: 
Yeah. Look, everything stems from a basic principle, which is, you don’t hear about the tuition crisis in Israel. You don’t hear about the tuition crisis in United Kingdom. You don’t hear about it in most countries. The reason why it’s pretty simple, because they subsidize the non-public schools, including the faith-based schools like Jewish and Catholic schools as well. We entered and we looked at that and we said, “Why not us?” it’s just a very simple premise, “Why not us?”

David Bashevkin: 
Who was the first person to really ask that question in earnest? Was that you just sitting in your office and just saying, “Why not us?”

Maury Litwack: 
What really happened was is that there was a real big push, I would say after the 2008 economic crisis. Probably around 2009, 2010 there started bubbling up over tuition more than ever before. What are we going to do? How are we going to do it? A lot of pressure, all kinds of things, super endowments. How do we cut costs? How do we do this, etc.? I was sitting there almost with my hand up a little bit saying, “Hey, I think we can make an impact in government.” I wasn’t the first guy. I was probably the 10,000th guy to say, “Hey, maybe we can make a difference there.”
The difference is that, number one, the organized Jewish community looked at me and said, “Great, you go do that. You go work on that.” Not to name names, but a number of different individuals who are leaders in Jewish education in America, not in the schools, but I would say big thinkers of how to think and solve problems, basically sort of laughingly said, “Yeah, you go. Good luck with that.”

David Bashevkin: 
Like a fool’s errand.

Maury Litwack: 
Yeah. Go enjoy your fool’s errand over there doing what’s never been done before. I’m trying to get serious money for our kids. When I started talking to people, I have these incredible lay leaders around the country that were all quietly doing their thing in their different states. For example, a man named Sam Sutton and Chuck Mamiye in the Sephardic community in Brooklyn were already investigating this thing. A man named Dr. Allan Jacob in Florida was looking at this as well. Sam Moed in North Jersey was looking at it. A guy named Elliot Holtz in Philadelphia was looking at it.

David Bashevkin: 
These people, were they aware of one another?

Maury Litwack: 
No, they weren’t aware of one another. They were all sort of trying to figure out, how could we make these things happen in our states, in our areas in a serious way?

David Bashevkin: 
The holy grail that we are after is not that the state, the government runs all of our yeshivas, but that they should subsidize the secular studies that take place within our yeshivas. Is that the holy grail that we’re after?

Maury Litwack: 
To me, the holy grail is the following, it’s equity. Equity and fairness, those are the things we talk about, equity and fairness. I’m sure people listening to this are immediately going to say, “Oh, church/state, I’m against this. I don’t like—

David Bashevkin: 
Well, hopefully the people listening to this have already listened to my conversation with, I know you work with him, Professor Michael Avi Helfand, my good friend.

Maury Litwack: 
Oh, so he’s cleaning all this up.

David Bashevkin: 
He’s broken down a lot of this.

Maury Litwack: 
By the way, I believe he got into law school. I think he did get into law school.

David Bashevkin: 
He did. He did. He just eked in.

Maury Litwack: 
He got in. Okay, good.

David Bashevkin: 
Just eked in. But the holy grail, we’re not looking to tear down separation of church and state. Tell me what you mean when you say you were looking for equity and equality.

Maury Litwack: 
Well, let me tell you what I mean by these things. A few years back, we started talking to the states of New York and New Jersey. We didn’t go in trying to burn down the house and saying basically, “We need funding, and it should come at the expense of public school kids, and it should come at the expense of everything. It’s our way or the highway.” We didn’t do that. What we did was we sat down in New York with the teachers’ union, we sat down in New Jersey with the teachers’ union, and we discussed, what are your priorities? What are our priorities? Because in the Jewish world, we respect and believe in a strong public school education in America.

David Bashevkin: 
My mother used to always tell me that. My mother would always emphasize, it doesn’t have to be either/or. We want communities that have strong public schools. You sat down with the Teachers’ Federation?

Maury Litwack: 
Yes. Would you believe that we were the first non-public school group to do that, certainly in the yeshiva side, but the first one to do that in that fashion with both groups in New York and New Jersey? Because you’d assume that someone-

David Bashevkin: 
No one had reached out to them?

Maury Litwack: 
No. You’d assume someone had reached out to them and sat down with them who were naturally the people who are going to be opposed to what we’re doing. In New York, we said to them, “We want to figure out, can we fund science and math in New York? We find a way to fund STEM education,” which is good for the state in that. They said to us, they heard what we’re doing. They remained neutral on the bill. They didn’t support it. They didn’t oppose. They remain neutral. Very good conversations. We will find out what their priorities are. Very good conversations.
In New York as of today, as we’re recording this today, the state of New York just invested another $70 million today to reimburse yeshivas and other non-public schools for the cost of science, technology, engineering, and math teachers at the rate the public school teachers make for their salaries. So you have schools that are receiving six figures or more from the state of New York, big, big game changer. In New Jersey, when we met with the teachers’ union in New Jersey, the teachers’ Union in New Jersey said, “Not only are we for it, but we have a way. This may work really well.” So over 45 New Jersey public school teachers leave their school day, and right now as we speak, it’s about 3:34, so they’ve left their school day and they go over to a yeshiva or over to a Catholic school or over to an Islamic school, and they teach math and science there, and the state reimburses them for their salary and benefits for teaching-

David Bashevkin: 
That doesn’t come out of the budget of the school.

Maury Litwack: 
It doesn’t come out of the budget of a yeshiva, doesn’t come out of budget of a Catholic school, Islamic school. It’s a win-win for the state. So instead of those public school teachers in New Jersey working at Walmart or CVS, they’re working in this school doing what they love. I’m not just making that up. That’s literally the quotes from the public school teachers saying what a win-win. But by the way, so people listening to this in New York and Jersey, say, “Oh, big deal, Maury, why is my tuition not going down?”

David Bashevkin: 
That’s the feedback you’ll probably get the most.

Maury Litwack: 
100%, 100%.

David Bashevkin: 
For all your work, “Why is my tuition still rising, or why didn’t I have dramatic decreases?”

Maury Litwack: 
I think the answer to this is that we are on the precipice of going much bigger in terms of the funding that the state should be giving to us, the federal government should be giving to us and other. I think you can look no further than to Florida, which is, four or five years ago in Florida, they were saying that to us. Most parents aren’t saying that to us anymore because in Florida-

David Bashevkin: 
There’s been a dramatic decrease-

Maury Litwack: 
Dramatic.

David Bashevkin: 
… of the costs of Jewish education.

Maury Litwack: 
In Florida, there’s scholarship dollars that the state pays for that go directly to parents. If you’re a Florida parent listening to this, they will attest to the fact that when they’re moving from New York or New Jersey to a place like Florida, they are receiving anywhere from $7,000, $8,000 per child literally directly from the state.

David Bashevkin: 
Is that like school choice tax credit?

Maury Litwack: 
It’s a tax credit. Yeah, it’s a tax credit. There’s two things that I think are extremely important to understand. Well, a couple things. Parents in New York and New Jersey are receiving heavily subsidized or absolutely free transportation dollars. So you send your kids to school, I send my kids to school, and it’s free. I used to live Maryland. It wasn’t free. I had to pay out of pocket for that. So parents here say, “Oh, it’s not benefiting me.” What are you talking about? If I lived in Maryland, it would cost me $5,000 for my kids-

David Bashevkin: 
To pay for that bus.

Maury Litwack: 
… to pay for it. Free lunch was something that we got during COVID that we’re working towards getting that we believe we can get back up and running. OT and PT services, my child has an issue, and they get pullout services from the county or others, that’s paid for by the government. That’s money that will cost you things. How much would other states love to have that service? They don’t have it. So when you look at the suite of services and things that we’ve been starting to add, and we’ve only been doing this for a decade, when you look at the things that we’ve been starting to get and preserve and work on, it’s big, it’s big. When people say to me, “Maury, it’s not affecting my tuition,” you’re right it’s not affecting your tuition because we have to keep going and get stronger and do it. Now, there are other reasons why it’s not affecting your tuition, which we’re very concerned about, and I’m happy to talk about.

David Bashevkin: 
What is that? I don’t know what you’re referring to.

Maury Litwack: 
At the end of the day, if a school costs $15,000 and government tax credits come in at $8,000 per child, and you get X money for STEM for another $2,000 or $1,000, etc. So the delta might still be $5,000. Now, if the school continues its fundraising where it is and they raise what they’re currently raising, maybe tuition is actually free for those students. But if the parents come in or the parents in the schools come together and they say, “Well, we want X, Y, and Z in the school, we want the product to be $20,000 per child or $18,000 child or $22,000 child…”

David Bashevkin: 
Something needs to give—

Maury Litwack: 
Yes. I think that’s a very important part of the discussion, which is, when I ask parents what they want, there’s a whole range of things, which is, I think parents want the absolute best product, the best thing in the world for their kids, but they want it free or heavily subsidized. I think that even with the government funding, it’s hard to do that if we’re not going to fundraise for our schools. It’s hard to do that if we’re not going to look at costs in our schools and make sure they’re good. So I do think there’s a whole nother element of this, which is, you certainly cannot just sit back there and say, “The government funding’s going to come in, and it’s going to take care of things.”

David Bashevkin: 
That’s why I called it the holy grail, which is, it’s a nice thing to dream about before you go to sleep at night. But on the practical level, in the time horizon within your and our lifetime, unless, let’s say, when we have school-aged children, let’s say, 10, 20 years, it’s not practical. We’re just trying to get tuition down to zero. We’re trying to get it more manageable. Is that fair to say?

Maury Litwack: 
Correct. You have a lot of situations in the states in York and New Jersey where they’ve looked at the tuition bill and they said, “Thanks to the work that we’re doing on the government side, they haven’t raised tuition or they haven’t increased tuition by two, three years.” We’re proud of that. We’re happy about that. But it doesn’t really excite me because I want to see tuition go down. I also want to see a situation where, if in 10 years tuition is still 15K, that’s at least stable with inflation. Someone once asked, we were at an event, and they said, “Well, should I give money to Maury’s thing, or should I give money to my kids’ school?” I quote him, Sam Sutton said, “Well, you’ve got to give money to cancer research and you have to give money to cancer patients when it looks like that.” So you’ve got to give money to kids who need scholarship needs in the schools and everything else like that, and you’ve got to give money to the guy who’s out there trying to solve your problem—

David Bashevkin: 
Cure this entire underlying problem.

Maury Litwack: 
I think the government funding is not the tuition silver bullet, but it’s an extremely important part of the solution.

David Bashevkin: 
And nothing’s going to have materially changed without it.

Maury Litwack: 
Correct. It’s even more… I used to be much kinder about this when I used to do these interviews and I used to publicly speak, I’d be like, “Well, there’s multiple things you have to do, and we’re 1%—

Maury Litwack: 
… etc.” I’m done with that. I think that when you look to Florida and you go to Florida or you go to Pennsylvania or you go to places where there’s tax credits, or Ohio where there’s vouchers and—

David Bashevkin: 
Meaningful change does not happen without that.

Maury Litwack: 
… you literally see people who are saying, “Wow, I moved here and I’m paying half my tuition. Wow, I moved here and I’m getting these benefits.”

Maury Litwack: 
We’re saying, “Wow, I moved here, and I’m paying half my tuition. Wow, I moved here, and I’m getting these benefits,” et cetera. If transportation went like that and disappeared in the State of New Jersey New York, people would lose their minds.

David Bashevkin: 
So I want to pause for a second. You mentioned something about kind of your outreach to public schools. I want to hear what do your critics say about you? Not your personality, that I know, but what do they say about your efforts? I’m sure there are people who are critical and say, “You are not directing your efforts in the right way.” What is the most common criticism of your efforts and strategy that you hear? That it’s at the expense of public school students, that it’s not really doing it the right way? What is the number one piece of criticism that you hear?

Maury Litwack: 
The number one thing we hear is how is it affecting me?

David Bashevkin: 
I haven’t heard seen my-

Maury Litwack: 
Bill yet. I want to see if you getting $500 from the government, I want to see my thing go down by $500.

David Bashevkin: 
Correct.

Maury Litwack: 
My response always is basically like, that’s not my problem. That’s not my problem. That’s not my job to go do that. Do you think my job is to go school by school and govern how the dollars are being spent? The only dollars that come outside the community are the dollars that are being advocated for from the government. My job is to make that as high as humanly possible. But if in the state of Florida there are schools who decide that they’re going to take that money and they’re going to increase the gym by five times because that’s what the parents demand or they’re going to give every teacher a 20% raise…

It’s always a case, it’s so funny, by the way. I remember reading somewhere where people said with their elected officials, they said, “Oh, I don’t trust congress or I don’t…” And many people say, “Well, do you like your mayor?” “Oh, I like my mayor.” So it’s similarly like, oh, I don’t trust the boogeyman that is the school administration or the school cost. Well, do you think your teacher deserves a, your first grade Morah Debbie deserves a increase? Of course, she should get a 30%, 40% increase. So I think in the nuts of bolts of how the spend-

David Bashevkin: 
You’re not dictating the school’s how-

Maury Litwack: 
It’s crazy. That’s your job. I’m getting the money and generating the money in. As parents, as leadership in the schools, as schools, et cetera. You have to decide how as tuition paying parents, as people involved in their schools and institutions, how that money is going to be spent and how you’re going to do it. For me to go into every school, the thousands across America and say to them, well, we got X and you have to do Y with it, I would have a parental revolt because they’re going to send an email off and saying, “Well, we lower tuition, but guess what? By the way, none of the teachers are getting a raise.” Or, “Guess what? By the way, now we’re renting the gym out for this thing or that thing,” and on and on and on. That’s our number one critique. But when you look at our number one problem, we can deliver so much more funding in the states we’re doing even in Florida and other places. There’s bigger things we can go after, but people in our community don’t vote to the level they’re supposed to.

David Bashevkin: 
We’re going to get to that in a second. I want to address one other critique and then we’re absolutely going to get that. I’m being mindful of the time. I want to be very careful about this, but this is just too important.

Maury Litwack: 
18Forty is like a four-hour podcast, right?

David Bashevkin: 
At least.

Maury Litwack: 
Okay. Okay.

David Bashevkin: 
We have minimum four hours. But I have a question about feedback that I one time shared and we had a kid in, one of my children was in public school. Right now he’s in yeshiva, thank God. But he spent two years in public school and I was extraordinarily critical of my experience, an aspect of my experience, not the teachers, not his education, but the way the public schools responded to getting services. I thought it was very, very broken and I had a lot of people who reached out and it was almost like sacred. It can’t be at the expense of public schools. You have to make sure those are intact. I have no doubt that there are people who look at your efforts and say, you are going to destroy the infrastructure of public schools in America, which could absolutely tear down society. Why are your efforts not coming at the expense of public school children?

Maury Litwack: 
When you look at non-public school education in America, when non-public schools are opening, they are traditionally not pulling kids away from the public school system and schools are shutting down. Whereas with charter schools and when charter schools are opening, they’re an existential threat to public schools because charter schools are public schools despite whatever anybody listening or beyond wants to believe about a Hebrew charter school. A Hebrew charter school is a public school. And so when charter schools open up, they do that. When our schools open up, they don’t do that. When a yeshiva closes in a particular area, another yeshiva opens up. The idea and concept that it’s going to take away from public schools that it’s going to hurt it, et cetera, is just a traditional old political trope which does not have any bearing, or the economics don’t have any bearing in it.

David Bashevkin: 
Do you still have a good relationship with the teachers union?

Maury Litwack: 
We have an excellent, we’ve never bashed teachers union one time. I think the reason why we have an excellent relationship with them is because it hasn’t been born out that it’s hurt their schools at all. It’s so funny because one of the biggest criticisms, which I think is a fair criticism, is people say, well, Maury, you don’t understand the budget. You take a hundred million dollars and it comes out of the pot of the public schools.

David Bashevkin: 
That’s what I’m asking. Yeah.

Maury Litwack: 
And they say that, and I say to people, I said, it’s such a funny thing because last week in New Jersey, they were extolling the fact that new Netflix center arrived here in New Jersey, and then I think it was hundreds of millions of dollars in Hollywood productions came through New Jersey. Now where did that come at the expense of? That came because they incentivized all of them to come with hundreds of millions of dollars of tax credits. But yet you don’t hear one person saying that when there’s Hollywood tax credits-

David Bashevkin: 
It’s going to hurt the public schools.

Maury Litwack: 
It’s going to hurt the public school system. Nor you do that when there’s business tax credits. Nor do you do that when there’s earmarks in pork barrel spending, which happens all across America.

David Bashevkin: 
Could you just pause? Because I hear that term all the time, and I’ve always been embarrassed as what is pork barrel spending? I always hear that term and I never know what it refers to.

Maury Litwack: 
How great it would be if I had no idea what it was anyway? So the pork barrel spending means typically in state legislatures and Congress, and there’s less of it in Congress than it used to be, the idea is that there’s a pot of funding that’s sort of available and that you could say in your district, okay, here’s the five or ten places I want to give $25,000 out in government funding, $50,000, $100,000. And the reason why they call it pork barrel spending is because it’s basically just a lot of excess fat that’s being spent.

David Bashevkin: 
And there’s more discretion on how to spend it.

Maury Litwack: 
Right. Correct. Correct. So if you look at it in New York, I think the pork barrel spending number is hundreds of millions of dollars or others. So it’s just funny because we used to have a problem where our work, by the way, includes-

David Bashevkin: 
Not just Jewish.

Maury Litwack: 
No, not just Jewish, but includes-

David Bashevkin: 
But not just Orthodox.

Maury Litwack: 
But if you speak to New York, New Jersey schools across the country.

David Bashevkin: 
You work with Solomon Schechter, correct?

Maury Litwack: 
You’ll hear from communal schools. You’ll hear from Solomon Schechter schools. They will know this work. They’ve been support of this work, and the reason why is because all ships rise. But what’s interesting is that I still have people who say to me in Jewish circles, well, you’re hurting the public schools. And I say to them, no problem. Why are you going after these pork barrel benefits for this Jewish project and that Jewish project, et cetera? Because in multiple states, there’ll be all kinds of earmarks and pork barrel spending that’ll come for different Jewish projects, but we don’t look at it and have that calculation that it’s going to hurt the public schools.

My point, to wrap it up, is when you look at the total government budgets, I believe that we should start by fully funding the public schools, and then we can talk about everybody else. But what’s happened is, and what’s been very politically convenient to say, well, when that group’s doing it it’s coming at the expense of public school education, not when business and energy and environment, everything else like that is doing it. In America, in every single state, they’re subsidizing NFL stadiums. They’re subsidizing soccer stadiums, NBA stadiums. Where is the public-

David Bashevkin: 
Outrage.

Maury Litwack: 
… outrage that is taking money away from public schools? Because it certainly is. It certainly is, more than I am.

David Bashevkin: 
I realize now that I don’t really have an understanding. I use this analogy of AIPAC lobbyists. I don’t have the faintest clue about what that is. Can you take me through, imagine somebody gives you a check for a million dollars to open up the branding of your efforts, is called Teach.

Maury Litwack: 
Yeah.

David Bashevkin: 
And it goes state by state. You’re in a whole lot of states. Take me through, I give you, I don’t know what it takes to start one, 5 million to start one in a new state. Where does that money go? You’re handing envelopes to congressmen with dollar bills in them? I have no idea what it means to actual lobby where the efforts go. I’m sure some of it goes to brochures and to pay a staff, but I don’t know. What do those staff members do? Are they hanging out in Congress saying, don’t forget about the kinderlach? The kinder?

Maury Litwack: 
Yeah. Well, I tell you… Right. So nobody hands out bills under the table anymore or does that. We’re both history guys.

David Bashevkin: 
Yeah.

Maury Litwack: 
So I think there’s a number of great books on Tammany Hall that you can read.

David Bashevkin: 
Okay.

Maury Litwack: 
About-

David Bashevkin: 
Those days are over?

Maury Litwack: 
Yeah, unfortunately, I think in politics and in the business of influence in general, I think there is a extraordinarily sorted past of nepotism and all kinds of things that go back hundreds of years in politics of people wining and dining elected officials and major breaches of ethics and things like that. I think most of that’s been pretty cleaned up. In general, I look at any operation that you’re building when you’re building a lobbying in three parts.

David Bashevkin: 
Yeah, what is it?

Maury Litwack: 
Very simple.

David Bashevkin: 
Tell me.

Maury Litwack: 
A third of it is the business of the sausage making, the policy, which is you need to write a bill, you need to hire people, typically lobbyists, to take the bill through the sausage making process, through committees, through speakers, through governors.

David Bashevkin: 
Are they actually writing the bill, people that work for you or it’s kind of the congressmen?

Maury Litwack: 
So it’s usually a combination of if it’s done correctly, it’s usually done, the bills drafted in the legislature, but usually if it’s done well, the legislature will ask your opinion on the bill language.

David Bashevkin: 
Gotcha.

Maury Litwack: 
So that’s typically the strategic take.

David Bashevkin: 
That’s one third.

Maury Litwack: 
That’s one third. One third of it is marketing. You have to package an idea.

David Bashevkin: 
Sure.

Maury Litwack: 
You have to have a white paper. You have to-

David Bashevkin: 
Get communal support, get congressional support.

Maury Litwack: 
Correct. Correct. But you have to really market it. It’s the billboards you see. One of my favorite ones is Uber. When De Blasio said he wasn’t going to allow more Ubers, if you remember this in New York City, they put on every single Uber app saying, well, we might not have as many Ubers to you any more unless you-

David Bashevkin: 
Unless you get involved or vote or…

Maury Litwack: 
Yeah. It’s that packaging of it so that people understand what you’re trying to do and how you’re trying to do it. And I think that the last third is all of the grassroots, the voting, the door knocking.

David Bashevkin: 
The organizing.

Maury Litwack: 
The organizing.

David Bashevkin: 
And you’re paying a staff to do that.

Maury Litwack: 
The next month we’re bringing 2000 Yeshiva kids to Albany. The whole idea behind all of this is imagine if you’re an elected official. You’re waking up in Albany and you turn on the radio as you make coffee, man, what an old school environment we have here. So you’re turning on the radio and you’re making coffee and you hear, “Assemblyman so-and-so, why won’t you pass such and such?” Or you hear on the radio an ad saying, “I’m a Yeshiva kid and all I want is safety and security for my kids.” Okay. So that’s to marketing and messaging.

And then the assembly member goes to his office and they’re waiting for him as a lobbyist, or they’re waiting for him as twenty activists who say, “This is the moment number one most important issue to me.” He drives home at the end of the day, long day, and he finds himself in the Bronx where he has his house. As he’s going home in the Bronx, he sees billboards and he sees messaging all around the same issue. He talks to his local district office and he says, how many people showed up today? And he says, “I don’t know, like 500 Jewish, Catholic and Islamic kids showed up in the district office here in the Bronx to get your attention on it.” This is the totality of what is lobbying and how it’s supposed to be.

David Bashevkin: 
And then things start to move.

Maury Litwack: 
Things start to move. You got to remember that when I worked in Congress on a daily basis, and I was one of a number of legislative aides, fifty to a hundred people would come in the office to come see me a day. Fifty to a hundred people. You have to break through the noise. And one of my favorite sayings in politics is, if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu in politics.

David Bashevkin: 
If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.

Maury Litwack: 
Yes.

David Bashevkin: 
I love that.

Maury Litwack: 
And that’s the basics. It’s vicious, but it’s true. Yes.

David Bashevkin: 
I want to get to that final point, and this is really the most important point, and I’ve actually become much more vocal and put my money where my mouth is on this issue. Families, and I don’t use this word lightly, I really believe families are suffering in the very fabric of the Jewish people in the United States is at stake in the next twenty years of what it means to be able to provide your children with a Jewish education, somebody who has a great deal of money. And most people, I don’t think are shy about it. Most people who kind of, you’re working with most intimately in helping this have a great deal of money to support your effort because it does take a lot of money to hire lawyers and lobbyists and the marketing and all that stuff. But your average Jew, like myself included, is strapped.

I remember I one time came, you did like a parlor meeting, had a mutual friend of ours in Paramus, and I offered you, I said, “Maury, I feel bad. Should I write you a check?” And you asked me very, not in a mocking way. You’re like, “What were you thinking?” And I said, “I think $180.” You said, “You know what? Keep the money. There are other ways that you can help.” For people like myself, I’m not able to write… I wish I could, God willing, one day, I’ll strike it really rich, your average person can’t write you big checks to subsidize this stuff. I’m sure you accept small checks. So you’re probably doing me a favor. How can we as a community address this in meaningful ways? I feel like there’s so much kvetching. “It’s so expensive. We don’t like the schools, and it’s so…” What are meaningful ways that people could get involved to really move the needle on the cost of Jewish education?

Maury Litwack: 
By the way, I’m glad you brought this topic up. First off, because I don’t remember the conversation like that. I actually brought an invoice here for $250. So I’ve been, I only agree to-

David Bashevkin: 
You’ve been waiting on…

Maury Litwack: 
… I only agree to the podcast.

David Bashevkin: 
You’re like, “Yeah, I’m recouping that.”

Maury Litwack: 
Yeah. I really am just shocked you haven’t paid that after all these years. No, no. Look, I think the reason why we certainly… Small donations are, I don’t ever consider something a small donation. I think every donation is extremely meaningful. I just think that sometimes people come up to me and they say, I’m shifting my priorities on this tzedakah or that tzedakah or things like that. And they say, “That’s the most valuable thing that I can do for you.” And I say, “No, it’s not. Are you registered to vote?” And many times they say no. I say, so we’ve really come down to two actionable items that we’re asking people-

David Bashevkin: 
Give me two actionable items.

Maury Litwack: 
Two actionable items that we’re asking people to do. And first off, obviously people can go to our website and I’m sure it’ll be on the thing. People can go up there and look and put your name in, et cetera.

David Bashevkin: 
Do you want to say the name of the website? Just because-

Maury Litwack: 
It’s TeachCoalition.org.

David Bashevkin: 
Great.

Maury Litwack: 
So that’s what it is: TeachCoalition org. But there’s two actionable items that you can do. Number one is that you can go and you can say, I’m going to make sure that ten of my friends are voting, ten of my friends and family are voting every election.

David Bashevkin: 
I want to admit something. I never, ever voted, ever, ever. It was like, it just seemed very strange. I didn’t know what to do. And as I mentioned before, when we had a child in public school, I felt that the services that we desperately needed to just get a basic evaluation, that whole process was, they looked at me when we first came and the person, it was an administrator said, “Shouldn’t the yeshiva just deal with him better?” And I was hurt. I was hurt. I said, “I am a tax paying member of my local community. If I come to you for my child to get a basic psychological evaluation, don’t look at my yarmulke, don’t look at my religious affiliation. I am coming to school system for help.” And I began voting because I felt that this is really something that we needed. It is messy. And every year, I’m that annoying person. I post the sticker of me voting, I will take off from work and vote, but I know myself it never got through. Have the voting numbers gotten better or worse over the last five years?

Maury Litwack: 
It’s gotten a lot better, I think because that there is awareness by community leaders like yourself and others who stepped up to do it even though they didn’t understand it initially.

David Bashevkin: 
And where do you need to vote? This is another important thing because I feel so strongly about this. When you say voting, we love to talk about the presidential elections. That’s where it’s fun. It’s like sports. Which election is the most important for people to be voting in?

Maury Litwack: 
Every election.

David Bashevkin: 
Every election.

Maury Litwack: 
Every election you got to vote in. I’ll tell you, people don’t understand. Elected officials do not know who you vote for, but they know if you voted. And when people understand that, it’s just their eyes bug out. So again, elected officials don’t know who you voted for, but they know if you voted. And so when you go to an elected official’s office, it’s very highly likely that they Googled and just looked in and said, did David Bashevkin vote? Did his crowd vote? And things like that. And that brings me to the second topic of what I think is so important from a CTA, a call to action is if you’re not going to do the voting piece and you’re going to say, ah, I don’t want to reach out to ten of my friends or whatever it is, pick out two friends and family members. Just pick out a chevra and say, I’m going to meet with my local elected official and say this is important to them and we will try to help you set that meeting up.

David Bashevkin: 
I have no idea what you even mean by that.

Maury Litwack: 
I’m going to-

David Bashevkin: 
Call them on the phone?

Maury Litwack: 
… walk you through it. I’m going to walk you through what I mean by that. Doug Bashevkin lives in-

David Bashevkin: 
Teaneck, New Jersey.

Maury Litwack: 
… Teaneck, New Jersey. You have two members of the assembly, one senator, you have a congressman, you have local municipalities.

David Bashevkin: 
On the state level?

Maury Litwack: 
On the state level.

David Bashevkin: 
Assemblyman is the-

Maury Litwack: 
Yeah, even on the federal level, if you were to go and reach out to two of your friends and say, “Hey, I was really inspired by this thing. I want to tell them how much the tuition crisis hurts me. What are they doing for and how am I doing it?” We will help you set a meeting like that up, our team-

David Bashevkin: 
In person?

Maury Litwack: 
In person, whether it’s a Zoom, it’s something.

David Bashevkin: 
With my congressman, with my assembly member?

Maury Litwack: 
With your congressman or your assembly member, Senator, we’ll help you out. We’ll help you figure out.

David Bashevkin: 
Okay.

Maury Litwack: 
But at worse comes or worse and it doesn’t work logistically to get it or et cetera, we’ll help you draft the letter. We’ll help you send out, we’ll write something.

David Bashevkin: 
Does that do anything?

Maury Litwack: 
I’ll tell you what it does. It’s the same as with voting. If every single 18Forty listener were to do that, you’re talking about thousands of people voting. If every one of them were to reach out to ten of their friends, tens of thousands of people voting. If every one of them were to reach out in Teaneck, three people were to do this a hundred times, it’s 300 people in touch points they’re hearing on it. It’s massive.

David Bashevkin: 
And someone’s reading? You send an email, you send a letter, someone’s reading that?

Maury Litwack: 
One hundred percent. Someone has to read that. But more often than not, they’ll take the meeting with you. More often than not, the senator will take the meeting with you. Assembly member will take the meeting. I don’t know if you’re going to get ahold of your US senator, your congressman, your mayor, your governor-

David Bashevkin: 
The state senator will meet with you?

Maury Litwack: 
Yeah. But even worse and worse, we say there’s some Maury Litwack working for some member of Congress. There’s some Maury Litwack working for your senator or governor or something else like that.

David Bashevkin: 
And it’s their job to make sure that you’re heard?

Maury Litwack: 
A hundred percent. And all those people who work in those levels, taking those calls and doing that, many of them become members of Congress. Many of them become presidents. Many of them do all kinds of things; that’s very common. That’s the farm system of American politics.

David Bashevkin: 
I said this to you when we recorded a video together, and I still hold by it. Whenever someone starts to kvetch or talk about the tuition crisis, my first question is, did you vote? And I said, voting is your ticket to kvetching. If you want to kvetch, you could kvetch all you want, but you have to have voted. If you did not vote, if you did not participate in the system, I don’t care who you voted for, but if you didn’t even show up, I don’t want to hear your kvetching because then it’s just kvetching.

Maury Litwack: 
We used to have these hats we gave out called “Stop kvetching, start voting.”

David Bashevkin: 
You made hats?

Maury Litwack: 
Yeah, we made hats. We have to bring them back. Maybe if the 18Forty-

David Bashevkin: 
I never saw a cut of that.

Maury Litwack: 
I know. Maybe if the-

David Bashevkin: 
That’s so interesting.

Maury Litwack: 
… 18Forty listeners bother me on social media. I can convince my staff to bring them back. But I love them. And I used to walk around with them saying, “Stop kvetching. Start voting.” And Jew and non-Jew on the streets were like, you’re right. What’s funny, by the way, is I’m giving you actionable items in communal work. So many times people say, “They just want my money. They just want my money. They don’t want… They blah, blah, blah, they all want money.” I’m giving you actionable items that you can take to make a difference.

David Bashevkin: 
Don’t cross the dollar.

Maury Litwack: 
I’m telling you, there’s a lot of listeners that’ll be like, “Ah, I’ll just write them a check.” Don’t. Don’t write me a check. Go do these actions and see what happens. It’s transformative. It’s transformative because you know what’s going to happen when you vote and others vote? You’re going to be more informed on the issues. You know what’s going to happen when you meet with elected officials who represent you? Maybe you’re going to have experience like David did where literally the elected officials or the government tells you, “Who are you? Why do we care?” And you’re going to remember to yourself, “If I’m not at the table, I’m on the menu. Maybe I’m on the menu right now.”

David Bashevkin: 
If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. And I had that experience with my own child. I felt like I am on the menu. I am not being seen. And I got much more involved. And I think as a cause, in order to perpetuate Yiddishkeit in order to be able to maintain the very fabric of our community and who Torah and who Jewish education is for our involvement across the board, nonpartisan. It’s not even a Jewish cause necessarily. It’s our ability to have equity and equality at the table for our children to support their growth and their support. And that is why it’s really such a pleasure to support all of your efforts and all of your ideas. And thank you so much for meeting with me today.

Maury Litwack: 
I just want to conclude what the following, is years ago there was a study that basically said tuition crisis… 97% of the community thought the tuition crisis is the number one issue in the community. Do we think 97% of us are involved in it? And many times people say, well, I don’t know what to be involved in. We’re giving you actual items. We’re telling you there’s ways to be impactful. We’re showing you that it’s making a difference. We’re showing you that it can lower your tuition, it can bring relief, it can bring services to you and to your kids. Will 97% show up?

David Bashevkin: 
Maury Litwack, I cannot thank you enough for meeting with today. I always close my interview with more rapid fire questions.

Maury Litwack: 
Go for it.

David Bashevkin: 
I am curious, a book that has informed your political advocacy and in the way that you approach. You have a favorite book on politics? You have a favorite book on even the school system and how it works?

Maury Litwack: 
The book series, to me that is very impactful, that made a difference on my advocacy and I think is very informative for people in wanting to make a difference is the trilogy by Taylor Branch on Martin Luther King. But I strongly recommend that people read that trilogy, not just to learn about civil rights in America, but to learn about how to get things done. Because it talks about Martin Luther King’s trials and tribulations dealing with literally opposition at all points and opposition that if any of us went through, we would say, I’m not dealing with this issue anymore. Him being arrested, being beaten up, but also forming coalitions, the Jewish community members being involved, having the FBI director and presidents of the United States literally go to war with him.

David Bashevkin: 
And the name of the book one more time is-

Maury Litwack: 
Is a trilogy by Taylor Branch.

David Bashevkin: 
Taylor Branch. Okay.

Maury Litwack: 
And I think the first one is called Pillar of Fire.

David Bashevkin: 
If somebody gave you a great deal of money and you actually had the grades to go back to school and get a PhD, what do you think the subject and title of your dissertation would be?

Maury Litwack: 
I’m a big history guy, so I’m really fascinated by the individuals. There’s two concepts in history, which is either the individuals make history or the periods.

David Bashevkin: 
Sure.

Maury Litwack: 
I have this theory that you can trace basically all of American political history through four people. So I would probably do my dissertation on those four people.

David Bashevkin: 
Who are those four people? Enlighten me.

Maury Litwack: 
It’s John Quincy Adams.

David Bashevkin: 
Okay.

Maury Litwack: 
Because John Quincy Adams started with his father, literally on a ship with his father when his father was negotiating in France.

David Bashevkin: 
Okay.

Maury Litwack: 
So he was there beginning and he continues on as the sixth president, continued on as a member of Congress.

David Bashevkin: 
Okay. That’s fascinating. I did not realize how central he was. Who are your other three?

Maury Litwack: 
John Hay, who was Lincoln’s 20 year old assistant, 21 year old assistant and continued on as Teddy Roosevelt’s secretary of state. So this is a guy who started with Lincoln and continued all the way to Teddy Roosevelt in the third century.

David Bashevkin: 
Wow.

Maury Litwack: 
Then I would go with Senator Taft, with Taft’s son who was involved with his father’s presidency and then continued-

David Bashevkin: 
These are eclectic. These are nice funky picks.

Maury Litwack: 
Exactly. He continued as the Republican leader in the Senate as well as he continued there. And then I would end with Kissinger. And I think that basically if you look at these four men’s lives, you can track all of American political history from the start of the revolution ’til today as Kissinger is still alive.

David Bashevkin: 
Still alive.

Maury Litwack: 
Still active.
And still active.

David Bashevkin: 
Absolutely fascinating. My final question, I’m always curious about people’s sleep schedules. What time do you go to sleep at night and what time do you wake up in the morning?

Maury Litwack: 
I go to sleep at about 10:30, 11:00, and I usually wake up like 4:35.

David Bashevkin: 
I am shocked at how early you go to sleep. I’m actually actually shook right now.

Maury Litwack: 
Yeah, I’m an early bird. I’m an early bird.

David Bashevkin: 
You’re an early bird. Maury Litwak, what a privilege and pleasure to speak with you today.

Maury Litwack: 
Thank you very much.

David Bashevkin: 
I got a heartbreaking WhatsApp message from a Jewish educator and a rav. Many people reached out when we saw we were covering this and it was absolutely heartbreaking. A condemnation on our community. Something that I have heard from many, I don’t know exactly where this finger is pointed. My suspicion is that there’s no one person responsible for this, but this is a major communal issue. And I want to read to you what this WhatsApp is. This is so real and raw. I want to share it with you now. This is what he said: “Good morning. I hope you are well. I see you have a very nice series on Jewish education. As I’m sure you know, our community has a major problem, as there are many — in all caps — boys and girls, who tonight,” and I got this mid-February at 6:00 PM, “will not be accepted into any yeshiva high school.”

This is somebody who’s writing about the tri-state area and acceptances go out from all the schools at the same time. And there are some kids who are not getting into any Yeshiva High School. He continues: “This is primarily actually exclusively driven by ego, kavod, and money. I know this is because I used to be a part of the problem. This is really bad and really ugly. There are 14-year-old boys and girls who will go to sleep tonight on pillows, soaked in tears of shame, rejection, and pain. We are not talking about the Philadelphia Yeshiva or Bronx Science. We’re talking about major schools in the tri-state area.” And he lists them. “Ever consider doing an episode on this?”

I am not going to do an episode on this problem though I absolutely wanted to highlight it in our closing from this entire series. We can do an episode on this particular problem in the future, but there are a list of problems and issues and concerns and opportunities that we can talk about Jewish high schools. And this is definitely one of them. That we have areas in the tri-state area where more than any other place, maybe outside of Israel has more choice and more options for Jewish schooling. And yet there are people who are graduating from Jewish elementary schools who do not get into a Jewish high school. Nobody accepts them. This is the actual reverse of where we began. I began my conversation, the first conversation this series talking to Rabbi Kaminetsky and about his grandfather, Joe Kaminetsky. People like him, people like Mrs. Miriam Nadoff, who their job was going around to make sure that everybody had a place for their Jewish education. And we have come so far in the area where we have the most success, the most money, the most schools.

And we have kids who are not getting into any Jewish high school. As great as our schools may be, as wonderful as Color War and whatever programming and camps and gap year, we cannot look at our era as the era of the golden age of Jewish education if this is happening. If a victim of our success is building up more doors for those within our community, for those who already opting into a Jewish education that there are children who are not getting into any Jewish high school. Something is still broken. I want to end this series with a Torah idea that has always stuck with me. And I first heard it from a mentor of mine who I hope to have on one day. His name is Moishe Bane. He just stepped down. He’s the former president of the Orthodox Union. I think he may even be called the President Emeritus.

I don’t know him as either. I know him. I grew up at his Shabbos table. He is a very incisive thinker, really understands klal issues, issues that relate to the community. That was a very name of a journal that he ran for many years called Klal Perspectives. And he shared an idea that he heard from his rebbe, Rav Yaakov Weinberg, who was the Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Israel in Baltimore. But it’s an idea that I have found so moving, so powerful, that I really want to end this series because it’s the idea of everything we’ve been talking about today.

The Gemara in Bava Basra, the Talmud says that the Jewish educational system did not always work that there were schools. It used to be the Talmud says that parents would teach their children. And the Talmud in Bava Basra, on Daf 21 says that it used to be that parents would educate their children except what happened? And we saw this again in the modern era, not every parent had the knowledge to educate their child. Not every child had parents from whom they could receive an education. So somebody got up named Joshua ben Gamla and set up an educational system to ensure that every child got a Jewish education. He set up a schooling system. And the Gemara says that from the time that he created this system, he is going to be remembered for good. And it uses a really remarkable phrase:

The Talmud says that if not for the schooling system that was set up by Joshua ben Gamla, Torah, Yiddishkeit would’ve been forgotten from the Jewish people because he was the one who set up this schooling system. And Rav Yaakov Weinberg asks a fascinating question. What do you mean Torah would’ve been forgotten from the Jewish people if not for the schooling system? That is not the case. Torah would not have been forgotten. Many children would’ve continued. Those who came from homes with parents who were knowledgeable enough, parents who knew enough, they would’ve continued learning from their parents. Torah would never have been forgotten. Why do we attribute Torah not having been forgotten to Joshua ben Gamla because he came up with the school system? It was very helpful, but it was primarily designed to help those kids who didn’t have parents or didn’t have knowledgeable parents, but the kids who did have knowledgeable parents or did have parents who were able to teach him Torah would’ve continued with them.

Why do we attribute his effort to saving Torah from the Jewish people? In the Aramaic, If not for him, Torah would’ve been forgotten. And the answer is so remarkable. And frankly, especially in the moment we’re in now, so chilling. Rav Yaakov Weinberg said, “A Torah that is only preserved for some kids is not called preserving Torah. If we only preserve Torah for children who have parents, if we only preserve Torah for children who have parents who are knowledgeable, who are wealthy, who can afford it, who can get in, who know how to play floor hockey, who know sports, who understand the cultural milieu, who are cool enough to get into the right high schools, who are in the right place and had the right application to get into the right schools, if it’s only for those kids, that’s not called preserving Torah. Preserving Torah means creating a doorway wide enough that we can preserve it and sustain it for all Jewish children.”

And that was the innovation of Joshua ben Gamla. If we’re only preserving Torah for some kids, for the right kids, for the good kids, for the wealthy kids, for the kids who can afford it, that is not called preserving Torah. And it was specifically Joshua ben Gamla who created a system that was designed for everybody that we attribute to him who, if not for him, Torah would’ve been forgotten. And I ask myself, and I think all of our listeners can ask ourselves, is the Torah that we are preserving for all children? Have we found a way to preserve a Torah that relates, that can sustain, that can be handed over for all children regardless of their socioeconomic status, regardless of what their parents know, regardless of how frum or how shtark or how cool or how in the know or what community they live in, what part of the community, what shul they daven in?

Do we have a system to sustain Torah for everyone? And this is the question of our generation in Jewish education. We can’t allow one elitist vision of sustaining Torah to be the model through which we filter and sustain Torah for all Jewish children. We need doorways through which all can enter. And there are so many other questions that plague Jewish education, children with learning disabilities, children with special needs, children who come from homes that are broken, are going through issues, going through financial distress.

And the question that we need to be able to collectively answer together that if we’re only sustaining Torah for some kids, is that really called sustaining Torah? And I think the model of Joshua ben Gamla is that if it’s not for everyone, that’s not called sustaining Torah. And I hope in our collective efforts to bring Jewish education to all Jewish children, to cultivate the next generation of Jewish children who are joyful, cared for and feel seen by our schools, by our communities, by our families, this is an effort that we all need to go out, knock on doors, and ensure that we have entryways, doorways, through which everyone can enter.

So thank you so much for listening. This episode, like so many of our episodes, was edited by our dearest friend Denah Emerson. It wouldn’t be a Jewish podcast without a little bit of Jewish guilt. So if you enjoyed this episode or any episode, please subscribe, rate review, tell your friends about it. You could also donate at 18Forty.org/donate.

Thank you again to our sponsors, Ari and Danielle Schwartz for sponsoring this episode in honor of Danielle’s grandfather, Baruch Mappa, Baruch Ben Asher Zelig HaLevi. Your efforts really help us reach new listeners and continue putting out great content. You can also leave us a voicemail with feedback or questions that we may play on a future episode. That number is 917-720-5629. Once again, that number is 917-720-5629. If you’d like to learn more about this topic or some of the other great ones we’ve covered in the past, be sure to check out 18Forty.org. That’s the number one eight, followed by the word forty, F-O-R-T-Y.org, where you can also find videos, articles, recommended readings, and weekly emails. Thank you so much for listening and stay curious my friends.