July 12 13

Almost a year ago I wrote a post addressing our decision to pull our children from Jewish day school right before my three were about to begin the 6th, 5th, and 2nd grades.

It went on to become the second most shared post on Cheaper Than Therapy. (The first belongs to a post I wrote about my unwise decision to take precious time to read the entire 50 Shades of Grey series—it’s time I’ll never get back, unfortunately.) Had I known that this post was going to resonate with so many people, was going to get people talking, was going to get shared through emails and Facebook and Twitter and other forms of social media, I may have written it differently, or better.

You see, at the time I had written it primarily as a form of catharsis.

We had made the—uneasy—decision that was right for our family and we were okay with it, we even owned the heck out of it. But there was so much TALK in our community, there were so many whispers, so many assumptions, so much gossip going around about us, that I felt the need to clear my head and clear the air. So I sat down at my computer and let the truth spill out. I’m a writer, it’s what we do. And there was TALK again. But this was different a completely different kind of talking. I got emails, text, phone calls, messages filled with virtual applause and support and questions—so many questions. People were talking, people were discussing. Not everyone agreed with my choices, but that’s the beauty of living in the land of the free and the home of the brave (or, you know, just north of it), isn’t it? We are free to make the choices that work for us. We don’t have to agree, but we can sure hope that we can respect.

There was so much unexpected respect.

The decision was incredibly hard for us, mostly, I think, because it’s just not a choice we ever thought we’d make. The path we had imagined our family would take turned on a dime and took a completely different one. We took the road less traveled by, to lift words that are entirely not my own. (With apologies to Robert Frost.)

But I sit here a year later and I want you to know that we are so incredibly happy.

It was the right decision.

For us.

I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

Academically, the year exceeded my expectations. All three of my children were pushed—hard. I had worried about where they’d be ahead and where they’d be behind, but that’s what mothers do, right? They had great teachers who made sure they were right on track for 6th, 5th, and 2nd grades.

Socially, the year exceeded my expectations. My children immediately made new and amazing friends. Some are Jewish, of course, and some are not. And I love that. They are all interesting kids and they come from all kinds of different backgrounds and have great stories to tell. They all live in the same neighborhood, and my front door became a revolving one for friends and classmates. The kids came home with different sidekicks every day. They used the skating rink in the winter, and the trampoline in the spring.

Financially, we are in a better, less stressed place than where we were last year. We are still driving the Grand Caravan, but we are sending two children for a month at a Jewish overnight camp in Wisconsin (Next week!). All five of us will be able to make it to the next family Bar Mitzvah in Israel. We are taking Isabella to visit her Bubbie and Zaydie in Virginia this summer. These are all things we couldn’t have easily done when we were writing three sets of monthly tuition checks.

Spiritually, probably unsurprisingly, is the only place where I struggle a little bit. Everyone always asks about the Jewish loss we take when sending our child to public school. “What about their Jewish education?” They ask.

My children all went to Hebrew school on Sundays and Tuesdays. They loved it, actually. They continued to use their already-strong Hebrew skills and came home with similar projects around the holidays as they had in Jewish day school—honey pots for Rosh Hashanah, Menorahs for Hanukkah, and homemade hagaddahs for Passover.

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Emily was in a Bat Mitzvah program that taught her what it means to be a Jewish woman—each week she did something special, including making gorgeous homemade challah covers and even homemade challah. I realize that it’s not a substitute for the day school system, and at some point my children may lose interest, or they may outgrow the program. It’s not perfect—but neither was the day school they were in, if I’m being honest. For now, it’s working. And I’m okay with that.

My children are very curious about Judaism and about religion—we ask a lot of questions, we look up a lot of answers.

When I say that we are struggling a little bit spiritually, what I really mean is the community aspect. When my kids spent many hours within a Jewish day school environment, we were immediately part of a community. Now it seems like that same community in which we were active participants doesn’t really know what to do with us. People are surprised that we still have Shabbat meals. (We do, we love them!) People are surprised when we show up at a synagogue on Saturday. And there are some community things I really just miss—standing in the back of an auditorium on Yom Hashoah watching a room full of children listen to a Holocaust survivor speak, seeing a sea of blue and white march down the street on Yom Ha’atzmaut, Isabella being the Shabbat Ima at school and watching her face fill with glee when she gets to light the candles in front of her friends.

So what can we do? Search for, find, create a new community. Continue to rely on friends and family and camps and trips and, well, each other for community. Continue to allow our children to ask their questions, continue to help them find the answers.

It’s not perfect. Is anything, though?

But it’s good. It’s so very good. My children are happy and thriving, and can’t wait to go back to school next year. My husband is happy. I am happy.


And that, to me, is enough.


  1. So, so happy to hear that everything worked out so well for all of you. :)


    Comment by alyinponderland on July 12, 2013
  2. Absolutely enough. And more, even. xo


    ali replied on

    Yes. Even more. I think you’re right.


    Comment by Louise on July 12, 2013
  3. Yay! Although I am a bit sad that just because you don’t go to the school that the community isn’t the same. I mean, you’re still Jewish.

    But so glad it worked out so well for everyone!


    Comment by Kristabella on July 12, 2013
  4. Does Jewish Day School go through 12th grade or will all of their former classmates join them in public schools at some point?

    Not feeling stressed financially is so important for a family. And think about all of the great experiences they are living at camp and on these wonderful trips with you!

    Sounds like you made the right decision and you know it.


    ali replied on

    My husband and I went to Jewish day school straight through until college. My brother even went to a Jewish college!
    Most kids I know in the JDS system stay until then—some leave before high school, though.


    Comment by Alison on July 12, 2013
  5. Thanks for that great post-I agree with everything you wrote and it its ok, I wanted to post the link of this post into my blog-I have also been struggling as to why we cant afford religion in my family (at least in regards to JDS). The stresses of deciding to either eat or pay for school for my little ones is one of the major reasons my kids are going to go to Public school.


    Comment by Abby on July 16, 2013
  6. [...] because there were three tuition’s (for a total of $45,000.00) that was not being paid for ( http://www.alimartell.com/index.php/2013/07/12/the-jewish-day-school-elephant-one-year-later/). This brought a HUGE smile to my face because it hit so close to my home.  I went to Jewish Day [...]

    Pingback by Why religion is too expensive for my family | The left side on July 16, 2013
  7. Hi Ali,
    Greetings from Ottawa! Unfortunately our one Jewish day school has raised tuition by 20%. We have now decided to keep one child in and put one in public school. It should be an interesting year for us juggling both. We are caught in the middle, where our income is not low to get subsidy and we have already sacrificed a lot so there is no where else to cut our expenses. I appreciate your honesty in your writing and hope you continue to blog on this topic. I also worry about loosing a sense of community when you are not in the day school environment especially in a small Jewish centre such as Ottawa.


    Comment by Jackie on August 6, 2013

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