Sisterhood Blog

Birthright For Babies

By Elissa Strauss

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As a recent Forward editorial noted, a new Pew study found that 40% of breadwinners are now mothers and 40% of children are now born to single mothers.

This shift towards the breadwinner mom, which experts say is irreversible, has us all thinking about the kids. Three-quarters of Americans believe that the rise in women working for pay is making it harder for parents to raise children and half of them believe that children are better off if a mother doesn’t work. What about Dad, you might ask? That funny guy? Only 8% of Americans think that children are better off when pops is around.

The concern over the children of single working moms is even higher. Around 64% of Americans think the number of children being born to single moms is a “big problem.”

So yes, these new demographic trends have us all worried about the children. But when it comes to actually making things better for working parents and their children, we are a far way away. Or, as Forward editor Jane Eisner put it in her editorial, our social structures don’t match our new reality. Our paternal leave policies stink, our childcare system is broken and our school schedule is based on an agrarian lifestyle that most of us haven’t lived for a long, long time.

Last year Kveller editor Deborah Kolben wrote an op-ed for the Forward calling for subsidized Jewish day care. She said that in her 20s there seemed to be dozens of organizations looking to engage her with, and subsidize, a Jewish life. And then she had a kid, a time when she actively sought out community and tradition, and there was nada.

Do you want to know the best way to ensure that young Jews get involved in Jewish life? Jewish day care. I can promise you that if you open amazing child care centers with bright open spaces, flexible hours and loving teachers, we will come. And we will love you. And our kids will observe the Sabbath. And we will make Jewish friends.

With the insight of the new PEW study, I think it is time to revisit Deborah’s demand, and perhaps even up it. In addition to Jewish day care, why not also figure out a way to make Jewish preschool cheaper and more accessible? Right now the going rate for a three-hours a day five days a week seems upwards of $12,000 a year, and three-days a week is around $9000.

I can’t help but think that in many cases the major funders of the Jewish world would get more bang for their back if they subsidized pre-school or day care for a year instead of sending young adults on a 10-day trip to Israel. I am saying this as someone who went on Birthright and has attended alumni events. A love for Israel is no substitute for a real flesh-and-blood community that young families can connect to and rely on.

As the PEW report shows us, the demand for affordable and safe solutions for working families is only going to rise. And I can tell you first hand that us young parents really want to send our young kids to synagogues and Jewish community centers to be educated and cared after. We trust Jewish institutions with our kids, and long for our kids to feel connected to tradition and community from an early age. This is the case with parents who are already engaged themselves, as well as those who haven’t stepped into a synagogue since their Bar or Bat Mitzvah. But somebody needs to do something about those price tags, because they are pushing many of us outside the organizational Jewish world when all we want is in.


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