Since May 2010, “$200K Chump,” who claims to be “an average full tuition paying parent at one of the local Bergen County yeshiva day schools,” has been sparking lively, often heated, exchanges on his “Bergen County Yeshiva Tuition” blog.
With no-holds-barred tirades against “legacy” [established] schools, “Winthrops” [wealthy benefactors], “admins” [yeshiva administrators] and “leeches” [those he accused of abusing the scholarship system] the anonymous Chump not only coined a new vocabulary but won legions of fans and critics: he claims the site gets over 3,000 unique hits per day.
Detractors argue that the blog — which has included suggestion that scholarship families be subjected to unannounced home inspections and various commenters referring to African Americans as “Jamals” — is inaccurate, uncivil and divisive, and have questioned the credibility of an anonymous forum.
Last week, Chump announced that, with the low-cost, high-tech Yeshivat He’Atid set to open next fall in Bergenfield, his mission is accomplished and he plans to close down the blog. In an exclusive interview via e-mail (he declined to speak by phone and refused to reveal his identity to this reporter), Chump reflected on his blog.
Q: What spurred you to start the blog?
A.: I was fed up with the polite, respectful conversation about tuition that our community has been having for decades and felt that something a little more “edgy” was needed to wake the rank-and-file community members up and to spur the leaders of our community to stop talking and actually take real action.
Why did you feel it was necessary to remain anonymous?
In order to keep the conversation edgy and honest.
What are some of the wackiest e-mails and comments you’ve gotten?
I have received all kinds of crazy threats from people. I’d prefer not to get into detail, lest I give any nuts who may be reading this article any ideas. People have tried to take certain steps to hack into my blog, and some think they have uncovered certain information about me, but I have always been one step ahead of them. … Most of the threats have to do with exposing my ID (because people think they know who I am) and having my kids thrown out of one of the local legacy yeshivas.
Have you done any analytics to determine who your readers are, in terms of location and demographics?
Over 90 percent of hits are from Bergen County or NYC (where most Bergen County parents work during the day). The other 10 percent are from Israel, Canada, California, Florida and other areas with large Modern Orthodox Jewish populations.
How many children do you have and what kind of work do you do? Is your salary actually $200,000?
My salary is in the “chump range.” No further comment on type of work or number of children I have.
Will your kids be going to He’Atid next year?
If I had children of the proper age for He’Atid [the school is opening with pre-K, kindergarten and first grade] I would send them there.
What role do you think the blog has had in spurring the creation of He’Atid and in addressing the day school tuition crisis?
I would like to think that my blog created the necessary type of atmosphere to spur the creation of a real alternative to the legacy schools, but I deserve none of the credit for the creation of He’Atid. I have no affiliation with He’Atid. All the credit in the world goes to the men and women who founded He’Atid and have put in many hundreds of hours behind the scenes. The entire community owes them a huge debt of gratitude. Even those who don’t send their kids to He’Atid are already benefiting from it as numerous legacy schools have recently cut prices for certain grades and put in other pricing gimmicks to try and compete.
What are you most proud of?
Changing the tuition discussion from a polite but unproductive discussion to one that is edgy, but where real action is being taken by the leaders of our community. There is nothing more satisfying than getting e-mails from legacy board members telling me that their school had a board meeting and refrained from taking certain actions because they were concerned about the coverage such an action would get on my blog and the reaction from my thousands of readers.
What are your parting words to the Jewish community?
Your voice can make a difference, and it is important to keep the pressure on the legacy schools in whatever forum and way you feel comfortable doing so. … Although I am retiring as a blog host, the discussion will continue on a new blog called “YeshivaSanity.” A certain individual has graciously agreed to take over the conversation. … I look forward to posting comments on this new blog from time to time but will not miss the responsibility that comes along with actually hosting a blog.