Editorials are posted and archived on JN Online:
Excess To The Max
he Detroit Free Press did a great dis-
service to Detroit Jewry when it chose
to exploit high-end bar and bat mitz-
vahs with a story of significant length
and placement in "The Way We Live" section
on April 13.
Four weeks later, the outrage toward the daily
newspaper's "Mitzvah to the Max" story contin-
ues to reverberate. The Detroit Jewish News con-
tinues to receive complaints about the coverage,
which got far more newspaper space than the
narrow topic merited. People are saying it was
unfair and overkill — and rightly so.
The story dwelled on some of the most lavish,
expensive bar and bat mitzvah celebra-
tions in our community. There's no
question such talked-about affairs, with
hundreds on the guest list and six fig-
ures in cost, are part of the fabric of our commu-
nity. Cash gifts total thousands of dollars, though
it's not unusual for the 13-year-old recipients to
give a portion to a favorite charity.
Still, high-end affairs don't represent the vast
majority of such celebrations. But the Free Press
story barely paused to acknowledge that "some
Jews ... still reject the spectacular" for more mod-
est get-togethers of family and friends.
By not giving greater prominence to home
gatherings, a synagogue Kiddush or smaller
birthday-type parties — where giving to a specif--
ic charity sometimes is encouraged in lieu of
bringing a gift — the story played to the inflam-
matory stereotype that there's no sense of social
balance among Jews.
Notably, it also didn't get into the mitzvah
projects of celebrants or spotlight a family that
has chosen to celebrate in Israel.
Party planners, well aware of wide-ranging atti-
tudes about this early stop in the life cycle of Jewish
learning, typically tailor their services to accommo-
date a variety of themes, requests and budgets.
The bottom line is that the Free Press failed to
make it clear to its diverse readership that Jews, just
like people of other faiths, mark a common reli-
gious experience in fundamentally different ways.
The paper didn't do the families involved in the
story any favors: It put them on the hot
seat of public scrutiny solely because of
their party choice. It glossed over the
meaning and impact of becoming a bar or
bat mitzvah, regardless of how the milestone is
We're perplexed why the Free Press chose to
focus on what it called "elaborate and creative
soirees" in the Jewish community rather than
give proper context and examine the changing
face of all major life-cycle stops in metro Detroit
— including showers, graduations, weddings,
anniversaries, funerals and religious milestones.
Too often, Jews are fair game for news stories
hatched from preconception, stereotype and
imbalance. Serving one of America's most endur-
ing Jewish communities, the Free Press, especially,
should know better. ❑
Avri4oR ► ry
A Dream Realized
hat began as a fragile, even risky
experiment in Jewish education three
years ago has yielded a much-antici-
pated dividend: the first graduating
class of the Jewish Academy of Metropolitan
On June 10, 21 of the school's 112 students will
earn a diploma from the newly accredited pluralis-
tic Jewish high school in West
Bloomfield. The caps and gowns, and
the college admissions letters, will vali-
date the quality of the JAMD's leader-
ship and the caliber of its students.
Nothing was certain when the coeducational,
independent school opened in August 2000 with
53 students and tuition of $10,000. There was a
hope among parents and professionals, as they nur-
tured their dream, and a daring among students,
who forsook the comfort of established high
schools. But the JAMD never would have hap-
pened without the support of Detroit Jewry; the
Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit has
ticketed about $2 million for the school so far.
That support level is envied wherever Jewish edu-
cators are scrambling for start-up, operating and
capital funding for day schools.
But Federation won't always be there to offer
"rainy day" relief, especially with a projected $6.2
million shortfall in its General Fund for 2003-
2004 and the resulting budget adjustments.
Fortuitously, the JAMD got a $20 million
endowment from an anonymous donor last
year, the single largest gift ever made to a
part of the Detroit Jewish community. If the
school meets certain stipulations placed by
the donor — stipulations that have not been
made public — that gift will help keep the school
solvent and scholarships available.
Significant as it is, the endowment is not a
Tuition is up to $12,500 this school year as a
12th grade was added and subsidy levels fell.
About 25 percent of the students get tuition assis-
tance, an amount destined to rise in light of an
estimated $20,000 annual cost to educate each stu-
dent and the goal of tuition covering up to 80 per-
cent of operating costs.
Over time, the endowment will bring and keep
Related cover package: page 87
better staff, programming and facilities to the
school's secular and Jewish studies tracks. But
tuition controls must be paramount. The endow-
ment must be exactly that: limited-access, endowed
dollars. It must not be an operating fund spigot.
The JAMD draws students from diverse Jewish
backgrounds though there is no Reform feeder
school. Some students come from public schools,
but public school districts have nothing to fear: the
Jewish community remains an unabashed support-
er of public education. Jewish afternoon school
programs run by synagogues and communal agen-
cies also remain popular.
In the afterglow of Graduation Day 5763, the
JAMD must assure that it maintains a mix of stu-
dents, especially from unaffiliated and under-
involved families; a challenging, broad-based cur-
riculum; inspired teachers and administrators; a _
range of co-curricular activities that enrich and
stretch students; an ample scholarship pool; and a
bold, exciting blueprint for learning.
Rabbi Lee Buckman, the head of school, is the
JAMD's indisputable bedrock. But as. he seeks
more budget balancers — like fund-raisers, trusts,
grants and new givers — in a time of economic
retrenchment, his goal still resonates: students who
inherit the beautiful tradition that is ours and
pass it on to the next generation." El