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The OU’s Yeshiva Bailout

The OU’s Yeshiva Bailout

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

The Jewish Week’s Carolyn Slutsky reports this week on efforts by the Orthodox Union to address the crisis facing yeshivot during the worsening recession. Ideas include starting a national health insurance fund for teachers that, with an estimated 3,000 members, would have a lower premium than most yeshiva plans and wrangling funds for Jewish education via vendors and shul donations.

The OU will also join the lobbying for a tax break for parents who pay private tuition in addition to funding public schools through their taxes. This is a very unpopular idea that has gained little traction in state legislatures because powerful teachers’ unions view it as a siphon of education funds.

Also on the table is development and distribution of an OU Internet browser toolbar that would generate income with each click on advertisers that would then flow into the yeshiva fund.

All these measures involve corralling other people’s money to help the yeshivas. But surprisingly, the OU, which brings in untold millions through an essentially recession-proof industry of kosher food supervision (according to its own Web site, “the OU supervises more than 400,000 products, making it the world’s most recognized and most trusted kosher symbol”), is not yet proposing setting aside any of its own cash to help these yeshivot keep their doors open, or to help struggling or jobless parents keep their kids in yeshiva.

”That’s under discussion,” Rabbi Saul Zucker of the OU’s day school department told me. “It may or may not happen.”

He noted that the income from kashrus supervision already funds numerous programs, from the NCSY youth group to marriage counseling programs and synagogue and community services. “It’s not like the money is lying around waiting to be spent,” he said.

UJA-Federation’s coffers consist entirely of dwindling public dollars and charitable donations. And yet, as Stewart Ain reported in December, the organization is still putting up $1 million to fund scholarships of up to $5,000 to help cash-strapped parents afford a Jewish education for their kids. A token amount, considering the level of demand, but a strong, symbolic start. The organization is doing this at a time when demand for its other programs, particularly employment services and direct assistance to the poor, is skyrocketing.

In coordinating an effort to raise money for yeshivot and day schools, the Orthodox Union is investing its own capital in terms of manpower hours and other resources. But it’s hard to imagine why there would be a discussion about whether to directly invest money in strengthening Jewish education in troubled times.

What could be more kosher than that?

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