The High Cost of Being Jewish

Cheri Scheff Levitan (Atlanta, GA)

For “fun,” while my husband was out of town, I decided to go back in time and add up how much we’ve spent – er, invested – in developing the “positive and confident” Jewish identities of our two children.  The list included:

  • An annual synagogue membership (to ensure we’d have a place to go for our son’s bris, the kids’ b’nai mitzvot, high holiday services, etc.);
  • 13 years of a day school education (K through 8 at The Epstein School and 9 through 12 at The Weber School);
  • An annual JCC membership to ensure that the kids would be able to attend:
    • Over 5 years of various JCC sports programs;
    • 8 years of various JCC summer camp programs;
  • A semester in Israel with the Alexander Muss High School in Israel program; and
  • Numerous round-trip plane rides to New York, Florida, or Israel to celebrate family holidays and simchas.

While I’m not complaining (actually, I guess I am), this list of “costs” is deceptive.  You see, while membership has its privileges, all of the organizations associated with the list above strongly request (or require in some cases)  – in addition to tuition – contributions to annual fundraising campaigns too.  I’m sure that even my Christian friends and relatives can relate to these challenges.  Adding up the numbers, I almost fainted!

So, how much did we spend in total?  Before I tell you, I must share two things that happened earlier this year.

The “easier” event to talk about involves an unpublicized, perceived act of anti-Semitism at a high school in Eugene, Oregon.  While, admittedly, I don’t know all the facts, it seems that a teacher who has been “earmarked as a racist” inserted an anti-Semitic slur (the K _ K E word) into a question on a discussion sheet about the movie “Swing Kids.”   The movie is an interesting portrayal of resistance by German youth during the Nazi regime.  However, Jewish parents and their students were not warned in advance about the film’s screening or content, especially as it pertains to the ways Jews are portrayed.  As a result, many of the Jewish teens in the class reported feeling uncomfortable, and even traumatized.

The second situation is a bit more complex.  Unless you don’t read newspapers or watch the news, you undoubtedly heard about the rabbi, his two children, and the principal’s daughter who were murdered outside a Jewish day school in Toulouse, France.  A letter from a woman named Becky (Rebecca “Beck” Caspi, Director General, Israel Office and Senior Vice President, Israel and Overseas of The Jewish Federations of North America), who attended the victims’ funerals, crossed my desk shortly after the tragic event.  She wrote:

“I’ve been thinking about how a father, who chose not to pursue fortune or fame, but to dedicate his life to teaching, lost his life because of that decision.  And I’ve been thinking about his wife – now a widow – who lost not only a husband, but her two beautiful sons.  Aryeh was only six and Gavriel just three.  And I’ve been thinking about Miriam Monsonego [the principal’s daughter] who got up to go to school and was brutally murdered instead.

None of them had to be at the Ozar HaTorah School in Toulouse [that] Monday morning.  They were part of a Jewish community that was building a Jewish future – securing our continuity as a people – by investing in education.  And for that, they were sacrificed.”

As both of these situations highlight, we pay a price for choosing to become, to stay, and to be Jewish.  Sometimes, the price is financial.  Sometimes, the price is fear.  Sometimes, the price is anger (and accompanying ulcers).  Sometimes, the price is life itself.

I feel bad about having counted my “identity-building” dollars in the wake of all of this.  Does it really matter how much it has cost us?

The choice to be Jewish – and to ensure the Jewishness of our children – is ours.  With it, there is a price that we willingly pay.  So be it.  Regardless of how it all gets added up in the end, the price is clearly very high to those of us who make this choice.

Cheri Scheff Levitan wrote this piece for her blog, Through Jewish Eyes (, where this excerpt first appeared in slightly different form. It’s reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.

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Filed under American Jewry, Jewish identity

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