Cari Kozierok Bahar says it is hard to explain to her children that the Catholic school in the neighbourhood is just like the Jewish school they attend except the other school is funded.
Kozierok Bahar has five children attending Jewish day schools in Toronto. She says when her children see the beautiful Catholic school it contrasts with their school where the kids play in a parking lot.
“I can’t imagine a worse lesson in tolerance then saying they fund this faith but not anybody else’s,” she says. “Either you fund nobody or you fund everybody. And the truth is that funding of religious schools makes sense – it’s good for the community, it’s good for society.”
There are many reasons why the public education poses some difficulties for Jewish children. The religious holidays, for example, often fall on regular school days and it is hard for observant Jewish students to miss this many class days.
Lunchtime at a public school is also a tricky time, as observant Jewish families often eat kosher. There are some foods these families do not eat and rules about the mixing of foods.
“It would be inappropriate for an observant child to have a dairy meal at the same table with someone else who is eating meat,” says Kozierok Bahar.
This causes issues when school children want to share their food, which is a natural thing to do. Some very observant families say prayers and wash their hands before and after each meal, which may not be facilitated in all schools, says Kozierok Bahar. “The kids have to feel segregated.”
Many children in the public school system choose to have their birthday parties or social events on Saturdays. Schools sometimes organize dances on Friday nights. For observant Jewish families, these are holy days.
“We don’t drive on Saturdays, and we don’t go to birthday parties, it’s our Sabbath day we go to synagogue and then we pray and then we are at home,” says Kozierok Bahar.
“These are the more subtle things that the kids feel very cut off from, and it causes a lot of kids to question their faith and rebel against their faith just because they are kids and they want to have friends. And that’s wrong,” she says.
When Jewish children are taught about their faith and understand it they can feel more confident when making decisions, says Kozierok Bahar. Therefore it’s hard for them to be observant if they are not in an environment that teaches them about the customs and laws.
Kozierok Bahar says she and her husband planned to ensure their children have the opportunity to attend Jewish education until at least Grade 8. With their two older (Grade 7 and 8) looking to enter high school, the tuition of $17,500 may be out of reach.
“The finances have been a crushing burden for us,” she says.
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