A few years ago, a local couple* approached me with a dilemma. Their new business was finally doing well enough that they could consider sending their 12-year-old daughter to a Jewish school,They wanted to refuse the generous offer and they had made an appointment that morning to register her for the coming year. While they were thrilled with the orientation tour, and impressed by the principal and teachers, they were a bit disturbed by a conversation they’d had with the administration officer.

She had been looking through their paperwork, noticed that they had a younger child about to enter a local public school and suggested that the parents consider registering him as well. Till that minute, my friends hadn’t even considered the possibility of sending both children to a Jewish school. They were hard-pressed to afford just one set of school fees. And besides, they were willing to make the necessary sacrifices so that their high schooler made Jewish friends, but was it really so important what school a five year old attended? Their intention was to put their older daughter through high school first and then transfer her younger brother to a Jewish school.

That’s when things got interesting. The school offered to take in their younger child at a significant discount—almost two for the price of one. And that was their dilemma: their gut feeling was that they wanted to refuse the generous offer, but they couldn’t work out why.

I explored with them their resistance to the proposal. Were they worried that their older child would feel resentful that her younger brother was receiving something that she hadn’t? Was their son resistant to the idea of leaving his friends? Did they not value Jewish primary school education?

No, no and no. Their daughter was a mature girl who realized that her parents were relatively recent immigrants who had to start again on arriving in Australia. Their son was secure enough to make friends wherever he was. And the parents, both graduates of good Jewish schools in their hometown, were absolutely convinced of the value of Jewish schooling.

So what was their issue?

They were very tempted to take the scholarship and run. But they they realized that quality Jewish education costs, and if they weren’t paying, the money would have to be sourced elsewhere.

They didn’t feel it was morally correct to allow the school to fundraise from donors and foundations to cover what was their responsibility. What right did they have to accept public funds to educate their own child?

I accept their reservations and respect them for their qualms. In an ideal world we’d all be able to pay our own way. No one feels comfortable being on the receiving end of charity. However—and I tried to impress this upon them—the scholarship they’d been offered was not charity.

Look at it as a community investment, I suggested. The school, on behalf of the Melbourne Jewish community, is so impressed with your children, and so hopeful of future “payoff” in terms of Jewish involvement, that they are willing to subsidize their development in advance.

True, your son is only five, but now he is in the primary stages of his development into a committed Jew. Sure, you can opt in at any age, and the home is all important, and many fine Jews never stepped foot into a Jewish school in their youth, and all the other self-evident truths. But after all that’s said and done, you currently have a golden opportunity to get him into a great school, with wonderful teachers and amazing learning opportunities from day one, and the only thing holding him back is you and your conscience.

You’re not convinced that your young child is deserving of so much communal munificence? Well, the community thinks otherwise, and is more than ready to invest now, confidently expecting to share in your nachas in the future.

Future Payoff

In Parshat Shemot, we read how Moses asks G‑d about the prospects of successfully rescuing the Jews from Egypt. Moses looks at the nation, and all he sees is an immature bunch of slaves, ignorant of the tenets of Judaism and wholly undeserving of G‑d’s miracles. These are the people to whom he is supposed to devote his life? These are the objects of G‑d’s concern?

G‑d reassures him: “I will be with you,My investment is not predicated on the past, but a predictor of the future and this is the sign for you that it was I who sent you. When you take the people out of Egypt, you will worship G‑d on this mountain.”1

I’m not taking them out because they deserve it, said G‑d, or for anything they’ve done to date, but because I can see the future, and I know that one day soon they’ll be worshipping me on Mount Sinai. My investment in them is not predicated on the past but a predictor of the future. They will be good. They will be pure. And that’s why it’s worth saving them now.

Every Jew is an entire world. Every one of us is the child of G‑d, and, by extension, the responsibility of the entire community. It takes a village to raise a Jew, and one is never too young to begin an education—growing and developing into a unique role of serving G‑d.

*All identifying details have been changed or adapted.