By: Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
Last week we began to outline some of the initiatives that will need to be proactively taken in order to address the broader issues that I have been raising over the past few months. In this column, I will pick up where we left off – with the subject of recreational opportunities for our children.
RECREATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES FOR OUR CHILDREN – A NECCESITY, NOT A LUXURY
To sum up what I have written on this subject over the past few months, I believe that providing recreational opportunities for our children and teens in today’s challenging climate is an urgent necessity. Nearly all ‘out-of-town’ communities have Jewish Community Centers that provide an array of sporting, swimming and recreational facilities. Why shouldn’t Boro Park, Flatbush, Monsey and Lakewood have similar facilities that can meet the needs of the tens of thousands of children, b’lei ayin horah, in these communities? To be fair, there are some facilities in these areas, but due to their limited capacity or availability, they are mere drops in the bucket.
According to the East Ramapo Central School District records, in my hometown of Monsey there are, b’eh, more than 13,500 children between the ages of 5 and 18. There is one public swimming pool in the area, owned and operated by the local college. As the pool is in use during most of the hours that the college is in operation, the Orthodox community has the use of the pool barely 5 hours per week. And that is for nearly 14,000 children! (Not even counting anyone above the age of 18). I do not have any accurate figures, but my guess is that there are similar dismal ratios for the other major Jewish areas that I mentioned above.
Why is this so? Don’t our children deserve healthy recreational opportunities? I do not believe that there is a shortage of funds to build and maintain several such facilities in each of these communities. In fact, such a facility may even be financially capable of sustaining itself – by charging yearly memberships and one-time-use fees. There may just be a shortage of vision and the sense that these are critical needs for young men and women. This attitude simply needs to change.
RECREATION IN THE SCHOOL SETTING
As far as recreational and physical education programs in schools are concerned, I have been stressing the need for schools to consider a physical education program for children a priority item. I must add, however, that there is a significant financial component to this as well. And there is much that lay leaders and interested parties can do to make a difference.
Parents, grandparents, philanthropists and foundations need to consider assisting our beleaguered school administrators by underwriting the costs of recreational facilities and physical education instruction in our schools.
If you are a regular reader of this column, you know by now how passionately I believe in the importance of physical activity for children – and adults. In yeshivos across North America, however, this vital need must compete with all the other pressing matters for the attention – and financial commitment – of Heads of School.
Take my yeshiva, for example. Last summer I upgraded the sports facilities at our rented location. Fortunately, I was able to enlist the support and active participation of a parent in our school who underwrote the twenty-thousand-dollar price tag of the renovations to our playground.
I have been seriously considering hiring a gym teacher for my 265 talmidim for the past few years – and I am frustrated that I have not yet done so. Doing this, however, would add about thirty-forty thousand dollars to our annual budget.
SOME TOUGH CALLS TO MAKE – FOR YOU AND ME
This is a tough call for me to make. Should I take a deep breath, follow my heart and plunge ahead? Or should I be fiscally responsible and see to it that I continue to channel my (limited) fundraising energies to make payroll in a timely fashion? Or devote my kochos to raising money for our new building – where my talmidim will have a full array of recreational facilities?
How does this need stack up against the need for an enrichment program for my talmidim? A resource program for my kids who need additional help? An innovative limudei kodesh extra-curricular program? Educational tools or staff development for my rebbeim and teachers? These are real decisions that my colleagues and I make each and every day.
I drive by the local public schools in my community and see their well-manicured lawns, acres of playgrounds, and millions of dollars in sports facilities. My heart aches that my children and talmidim do not have the opportunities to stretch their limbs several times each day (during their much-longer daily and weekly schedule) in similar conditions.
DEMANDS FOR OUR ATTENTION – AND DOLLARS
My dear readers; there are urgent demands for our tzedakah dollars. And just as my colleagues and I need to prioritize the allocation of our scarce resources, so too, do you need to do the same with your ma’asar or charity funds. There are wonderful kiruv programs and there are projects for outreach to immigrants from the former Soviet Union. There is the life-saving work of Hatzolah and Tomchei Shabbos. And so many others. All deserving of your support.
Please bear in mind, however, that if the Ribbono Shel Olam blessed you with financial means and you are thinking about where to commit meaningful tzedakah funds, just remember that nearly 100,000 of our dear kinderlach in the NYC Metro area are spending 40-50-60 hours each week in classrooms and simply not getting the life-saving exercise they so desperately need.
In the last column, I wrote about firefighters and fire prevention – and the need for us to be more strategic and proactive in combating teen drug use and at-risk behavior. (Please visit my website www.rabbihorowitz.com to read the column, “A Time for Action I”).
I propose that we all consider investing more in the recreational and emotional health of all our children while they are younger and help avoid heartache – and much larger bills – later.
In my professional life, I run two major organizations – my Yeshiva and Project Y.E.S. A mainstream yeshiva, and a program for at-risk teens.
Your choice: Pay me now or pay me later.
Rabbi Horowitz welcomes your comments and letters on this column. He can be reached at email@example.com
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