Enough Of The Inner City!

By Arlene Peck

I surprised myself yesterday. I received a call from The Jewish Federation solicitation for my yearly donation. In the words of Theresa Kerry, I almost told them to 'shove it'. Frankly, my reaction shocked me. I used to be one of those people who sat at the phones and made those calls to people like me.

I came from a family of big federation workers. In fact, in my hometown of Atlanta, I believe at one time or another many of my relatives have been president of that particular branch and founded most of the Jewish organizations there.

My doubts about the value of this particular organization began many years ago when my kids were little. My husband came to me one day, demanded a divorce and I didn't know where to turn. Here in California, everyone is either a therapist, or seeing one. However, in those days and in that city, I didn't have the leisure of that choice. So, I turned to the Federation for help.

Silly me. They told me that they were busy settling the "Cambodians" and could give me an appointment in six months. I pleaded with them that the situation being as it was, six hours might be too long. Nothing moved their "family service" department and I was left waiting for them to get around to me after they finished making their plans to settle the Cambodians.

I've spoken to too many others who've had that same experience. One friend recently told me "I was widowed with no income and they told me that unless I was a minority they wouldn't help. It's appalling that the Jewish Federations think that "Jewish" is the wrong minority.

The output of funds into these organizations and where it's going needs to be examined. Maybe after having to deal with CEO's like the Michael Eisner's of the world who live like kings on stockholders dividend checks I've gotten suspicious. Or, maybe it's the simple fact that some of the people leading these organizations and Israeli consulates seem to have the IQ's of eggplants. Whatever, I've gotten where I don't want to give them a dime until I see where that money is going. And, from what I've seen, too little is going into Jewish education.

One would think that after all of these years their attitude would have changed. Not so. I'm seeing the same callous attitude toward Jewish education twenty years later. My children were given a background in Judaism. Now, my daughter thankfully, wants to continue to see that her children are able to have what she was given. However, now she is having to face the fact that if she wants to have her three babies of three, four and five years old get that Jewish education - then she must pay the tab of thirty-six thousand dollars a year to keep them in the Jewish Day School. Thirty-six thousand dollars a year!

My other daughter and her husband are planning a family. Where they once spoke of three or four children it's been cut down to two. This, so they might be able to see that their children have the Jewish education they want to give it. Atlanta is cheap by Los Angeles standards and the going price for a good Jewish Day School (grammar, not college) is seventeen thousand dollars a year per child.

This, in my opinion, is crazy. Not only that, but it answers my question of why there is no great connection instead of to the 'new generation' to Judaism. They have no idea what the word Jewish means. Israel? They couldn't find it on the map because the values of Judaism were not into them from babyhood. They had a Bar Mitzvah and that's about it.

Jdate? I hear from my daughter how her Asian and blond, Nordic girlfriends think it's a really neat way to meet cute Jewish guys. After all, they don't beat their wives, drink too much and are 'good to their wives'.

I asked the girl on the phone what programs that the Federation was promoting. I wasn't surprised when she went on about the plans they had to help the 'inner city' kids. I remember in Atlanta how busy everyone was working with the black churches in sending kids from the 'inner cities' to the Jewish camp the week it closed for the summer. I wondered then, what black group has ever worried about having a joint program with the Jewish children? Name one of these benevolent groups that feel they must include Jewish children?

Recently, I spoke to a group at the synagogue in Portland Maine. I told them that they best be looking into the growing problem of children not having any Jewish identity and the reasons behind it.

While I'm not privy to what the inflated salaries of our leadership moguls are, they have so much money and channel it into their ideas of worthy causes. Unfortunately, most times, the idea of a child getting a proper religious education doesn't even cross their minds.

Funds are being cut to the Jewish community centers, which is bad enough. But, the price of seeing a Jewish child stays a Jewish child is forgotten. Good Lord, lately they've even taken to closing Jewish Community Centers which is, in my way of thinking, the unthinkable. With all of their fund-raising, the cost of the average person being able to join these centers and day schools is getting beyond the affordable limit.

I'm a strong believer in protecting Israel. However let me tell you something. The belief begins early. The Leadership of the Islamic fundamentalist movement understands this and they train their children in hatred beginning with their nursery rhymes. Jewish youth have to be taught in the same way but to have a love in their hearts for Israel.

In Judaism the key word has always been education. Education with a capital "E". Yet, in today's high flying world, the very basics of our religion are lost in high tuition.

The Hollywood crowd? Forget them. They have no love or concept of what the word Israel means to them. Why? Because they probably also grew up in a Federation world where Aid's victims in Africa and Children's Hospitals in LA were benefits they should attend to raise money. Most of their trophy wives think Jewish is something that's 'cool' like Kabala and they can go with Madonna and Britney. If they are convinced to attend a fund-raiser, then they are usually paid a hefty price just to put their name on the list of 'attendees'.

Israel does its best by promoting low cost trips to visit for high school students. Even my own kid benefitted, probably for the rest of her life from the SAREL program that she was part of. Yet, that's not enough. It has to begin long before that first trip to Israel.