My wife and I have three children attending the same school. The twins are in kindergarten and the other is in pre-school. This being New York City, the city buses the kindergarteners, but not the preschoolers. So each and every morning I take all three kids to the bus stop, put two on the school bus, wave goodbye and then follow the bus in a taxi, subway or MTA bus to the very same location... and then find my first Starbucks of the day!
Talk about a waste of time.
You may ask, "If you are bringing one to school each day, why not just bring all three?"
I'll tell you why.
Two reasons. First, I believe in utilizing government welfare whenever it is offered. And second, my kids are Israeli so if they are going to be tough enough at eighteen to either perpetuate the occupation or fulfill the Zionist dream of providing a homeland of peace and security for the Jewish people (depending on your political outlook), then I'd better start toughening them up now. After all, they're not veal.
So each morning starts with this same procedure and each afternoon I do the same routine in reverse.
Sitting at Starbucks (now you understand why I need my morning and afternoon coffee), I realize that the location at 67th and Columbus is Methadone Maintenance for the rich and famous. Suddenly I realize the best thing about having spent these two years in New York wasn't that I have a hit Off Broadway show or that my wife finished an MA in Talmud that she'd been working on for 10 years. The best thing about living in New York these last two years is that no matter what we do in Jerusalem next year we'll be able to say, "Well, at least it's not as expensive as living in New York."
Take school for example.
Our children are in kindergarten and pre-school and, arguably, you could say they are still not in "school". And yet, our small Jewish school is 15,000 dollars a year, per kid. All of the other parents assured us that this is the least expensive private school in the city. Of course I didn't believe them. How could they be telling the truth and it be that expensive? I did meet someone whose child attends Collegiate or Dalton (one of those very expensive, very prep school sounding schools) and they are paying $40,000 for 4th Grade. That's insane! Isn't it?
Though with our school, it's $15,000 in up front tuition and then another 15 grand, five dollars at a time. That's the way it seems anyway as there is an added cost to everything! On top of that, we buy a weeks worth of snacks for the entire class every ten weeks. Since we have twins for us it's every five weeks.
In Israel, school is free and the students actually get a strong Hebrew education. We do, however, have to supplement the secular studies. So the choice really is which would you rather supplement... the secular studies in Israel or the Hebrew and religious studies here? You're going to have to do one or the other.
That being said; free is hard to beat.
Here, 10 kids are in a class with two teachers. There, it's 35 to 40 kids in the classroom, and some would argue, no teachers at all. There the kids arrive and sit in the classroom alone until the bell rings and the teacher suddenly appears (kind of like that Michelle Phieffer movie where she handed out candy and suddenly the kids were well behaved). It's such a hard decision because we want to be in Israel for so many reasons and Jews are the people of the Book. You'd think that we could pull off good schools in Israel, right?
And I shouldn't complain...my wife went through the Israeli school system and she survived. Actually, she's still in school and she's in her mid thirties. In fact, she shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. I, however, took one college class twenty-five years ago, got an A and figured, "Why screw with a 4.0."
It's hard to decide where we should send them to school; there really are benefits and drawbacks to each side.
One thing is for sure: I'm never gonna see the show I see each morning at Starbucks, anywhere in Jerusalem.
Yisrael Campbell is currently starring in "Circumcise Me" at The Bleecker Street Theater in New York City
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