Wednesday, July 13, 2005


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Were I to tell you that Orthodox Jews in one of the most affluent Jewish communities in the world are thinking of sending their children to public school, would you believe me?

Were I to tell you that a group of Orthodox Jews have decided they have had enough of paying yeshiva tuition on top of excessive property taxes and are about to deny their children a yeshiva education, would you think they have gone too far?

No, I am not making this up. I quote from The Long Island Jewish Herald: “A group of Orthodox families, frustrated with the rising costs of tuition for a yeshiva education, has approached the Lawrence Public Schools about using district school buildings to educate their children.”

Two people, “both of Woodmere, have organized a Committee for Supplemental Yeshiva Programs, comprising Orthodox parents in the Five Towns, to test the feasibility of joining forces with the Lawrence schools,” the article reports.

“The parents said they are paying between $6,000 and $18,000 a year to educate a child in the yeshivas. They would pay about $1,500 to bring a religious instructor into the public schools after school hours to educate their children. The students would study with other public-school children during the regular school day and then receive their religious education after hours in the public-school building.”

There are still some technicalities, like separation of church and state issues, that need ironing out before the program can begin, but those involved sense a spirit of accommodation and are optimistic that it will work out.

According to the plan, “During a typical day, the Orthodox students would daven… at a local synagogue, and then be bused to a public school like the Number Six School in Woodmere, where they would receive a secular education in addition to Hebrew language instruction. At the end of the public-school day, the Orthodox students - and anyone else who wants to - would meet in a school classroom for about 90 minutes of religious instruction taught by a religious-school teacher...”

A spokesman for the group told the Herald that “the idea of joining forces with the Lawrence Public School system is spreading like wildfire. In our town, our biggest issue is the ridiculous rise in the cost of a yeshiva education,” he said. “Under our plan, our kids will get a yeshiva education without paying for it. Obviously, we would pay the public schools for the supplemental yeshiva education.”

The spokesman told the paper that “he has met with Orthodox rabbis in the area to present the idea. ‘We expect our proposal to run into some opposition in the religious community and with the rabbis.’’”

According to the Herald article, the spokesman asserted that “some religious leaders said that even though they do not endorse the program, they would assist the committee in helping to keep the Orthodox children ‘connected to their religious contacts.’’”

It seems not all rabbis are closed-minded and intolerant; some are actually broad enough to assist the committee in keeping tabs on the doomed children.

Fifty years after the founding of Torah Umesorah and the many battles fought to establish and maintain Jewish day schools and yeshivos in this country, certain people would like to turn the clock back and negate these hard-won victories. These people are ready to tamper with the souls of Jewish children in order to trim their budget.

What is happening to us that people can actually devise such a plan without it being shot down right out of the box?

How can it be that in the year 2005, when people have money for everything under the sun, they are ready to relegate the chinuch of their children to the back seat?

It’s easy to fault the parents for their shortsightedness and misplaced priorities, to challenge their poor judgment by reminding them of what their children will look like after a few weeks in a public school class.

It’s easy to point out to them that they can forget about their children ever having a sensitivity to kedusha and taharah or a desire for shemiras hamitzvos and dikduk hamitzvos after being in a public school classroom. For how long will they continue to make brachos on their snacks? For how long will they agree to wear clothing befitting bnei and bnos Yisroel? How long will it take until they join their classmates in crossing the bounds of decency, in experimenting with all that kids in public school experiment with?

This paper is full of information about organizations in Eretz Yisroel and the United States that reach out to Jewish children and enroll them in yeshivas to save them from lives of oblivion and darkness. Yet here in our own backyards, we witness the sorry spectacle of the exact opposite process taking place.

How do we react? How do we call out to these perhaps well-intentioned but seriously misguided people? Do we tear kriyah? Do we hold a public fast day? Do we pine for an earlier tekufah when the opportunity to attend a Jewish day school or yeshiva was every Jewish child’s birthright?

When we think of Torah Umesorah, we think back in time. We think back to the larger-than-life years and dreams of Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, who while living in Williamsburg and Monsey in the mid 1940s perceived a spiritual holocaust unfolding in this country.

The Jewish people had lost six million souls in Europe; millions more would be lost if the spiritual holocaust in America went unchecked.

Where others saw wasteland, Rav Shraga Feivel saw opportunity; where others saw potential for disaster, he saw the possibility of greatness.

The situation everyone perceived as a nightmare inspired him to dream.

Back in his day, his idea of building a network of day schools and yeshivas was far from popular. Jews in 1948 said that it could not be done and were prepared to relinquish their hopes for a Torah future for the youth of America.

Rav Mendlowitz stood his ground and fought for the establishment of yeshiva day schools. His talmidim fanned out across the country, winning souls for Torah. Despite some hard-won successes, they at first, lacked popular support. They were accused of being un-American; of being “old-country.”

Financial backing was meager but their rebbe infused them with a burning dedication to carry on his mission and they made it happen. Their exhaustive efforts to lay the foundation of Torah chinuch in cities and towns across the length and breadth of the country bore fruit. We now take it for granted that every decent-sized city in this country with a Jewish population has at least one school where Jewish children can discover they are links in a glorious chain going back to Sinai.

That process is still growing and developing as every year new schools are opened, staffed and supported in more cities and towns across the continent.

And there are still thousands of children waiting for us to introduce them to the beauty of Torah and the eternal joys of its way of life.

How can it be that as those beachheads are being established, the yetzer horah has opened up a new front of attack? Can we just sit idly by and permit this to happen? As people deceive themselves into thinking that their kids can have a Gemorah rebbe and a davening monitor and an education for little more than they are paying for property taxes, will the plague spread to other cities?

We are accustomed to the idea that we are areivim for the Jewish children in Des Moines Iowa, in Las Vegas and Phoenix and Houston and Dallas. We know that we have a responsibility to them.

But we overlook our responsibility to the kids around the corner. We contribute to a myriad of Kiruv organizations, we are all besieged by so many askonim trying to stem the fallout of poor parenting, poor education or harmful social situations. Can you imagine how magnified the numbers will be of kids at risk if G-d forbid it becomes acceptable in certain communities to remove children from yeshivos and place them in public schools?

Can we afford for that to happen?

We have certain issues in our communities that we tend to sweep under the rug and make believe they don’t exist until they fester and balloon into big problems. Something should be done about this now, before it catches on and becomes the newest fad.

The Gemorah states in masechta Shabbos [daf lamed aleph amud alef], besha’ah shemachnisim odom ledin, omrim lo, nosatah venosatah b’emunah, kovatah itim leTorah, osaktah b’pirya verivya?

The Gemorah in Shabbos tells us that after 120 years when we all will face the final judgment, it will open with 3 questions: were you honest in your business dealings, did you set aside time for Torah study, and were you oseik in the commandment to be fruitful and multiply?

The Maharsha explains that the last question, Osakta bepirya verivya, addresses a person’s responsibility to help others find shidduchim. Were you oisek in helping bring about pirya verivya by helping pair up people who were having a difficult time finding their mates? The heavenly tribunal will ask every one of us if we cared enough about singles who had no shidduchim, to assist them in marrying and having families of their own.

I would like to propose that the preceding question of kavatah itim letorah can also be understood along those lines. The mitzva to learn Torah, is vehogisah bo yomam valayla. Kevias itim letorah is a fulfillment of the mitzva of vehogisah. Yet, the Gemorah tells us that we will be asked Kavatah itim letorah and not Hagaatah batorah which is the actual mitzva.

Perhaps the question will be whether we were kovea that others could learn Torah. They will ask us if we helped establish shiurim for other people. They will ask if we contributed to the cause so that another school could be established, another rebbi trained, another rabbi sent out of town to spread Torah.

We will be asked if we were kovea that Jewish children belong in a makom Torah and not in a makom tumah. They will ask if we knew that people started a campaign to empty yeshivos of yiddisher neshamos and transfer them to a makom zima and if we were kovea in a public way that this is intolerable and unacceptable.

We are all areivim for the Jewish children in Woodmere and Lawrence as well as those in Des Moines, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Houston and Dallas. We have a responsibility to all of them.

Every Jewish child is the bearer of a sacred tradition; every Jewish child has a mission to perpetuate the legacy of his forbears. Every Jewish child is entitled to a Jewish education in an atmosphere that can nurture his neshomoh. No Jewish child belongs in public school.

Let’s resolve to alleviate this situation and seek methods to get even more children enrolled into yeshivos in this country and wherever Jews reside. Let us do what we can to ensure that they remain there.

That way when the ultimate question is asked if we were kovea itim for Torah, we will be able to offer a positive response.


Blogger EtzChaim said...

With all due respect, you do not address the problem of high tuitions or suggest solutions. The problem of high tuitions, from my observations, is eating the higher income earners alive (i.e. those who are paying in full) much quicker than the lower income earners.

For example, a family with decent parnasah that does not want to apply for scholarship for obvious reasons, or who does not qualify for scholarship, in my place of residence (homes currently start at $400,000 and the property taxes are about half of those in NY, the next closest community is less costly, but my husband would have to endure commutes of over 3 hours per day), starts at $9,000 for kindergarten and increases to $15,000 after high school. A family of 5, must be able be able to designate $50,000 AFTER TAX to their children's school education, which entails a lot more than forgoing a new pair of shoes.

It is absolutely necessary for communities to come together, for everyone to give a little so that we can have affordable schools. As the system is now, one needs to earn salaries of over $100,000 to be able to support a faily at even the most modest level. Many of us, who live very modestly, are, quite frankly, priced out, even though we are rich by American standards.

10:54 PM  
Blogger Zev Mo said...

I am sorry to disagree. In my humble opinion, there are two issues here. The first being an integration into the larger community instead of being insular. The second being the inability for people to afford Yeshivot coupled with the fact that there is a lack of security and difference in benefits for Yeshiva teachers to make sure you have well qualified an motivated employees.
On the first point, it has long been the assumption of many in the Jewish community that sending kids to Yeshiva protects them from bad influences by separating themselves from the rest of the community. Now, while there may be some merit to that point, the dirty little secret of the Yeshiva world is that everything that happens in a public school happens in a Yeshivah as well. Drugs, sex, STD's, etc. are all a fact of life in the Yeshiva world. No one likes to admit it, but it is well and thriving through all walks of life. So, to me, that argument is not a valid one. It sounds nice in a political talking points kind of way, but it is far from realistic. School systems are being affected because as large parts of the population of a town are being taken over by Orthodox Jews the school system permanently loses parts of the student body and shifts the dynamic of the core group attending the school. Thank G-d, on the whole, Jewish kids are conscientious students, but when you refuse to bring talented students into the public school, how do you think it makes the public school perform? Their are people who go to Teaneck public schools who have no understanding what the Jews do on Shabbos. Why don't they know?! Because we have very little interaction with non-Jews except when we want something from the town or we need a Shabbos goy to do something for us. How do you think the non-Jews look at us? We have to really think about this point because it is a Chillul Hashem.

On the second point, who can really afford Yeshiva? The majority of parents are being forced to live beyond their means as it is to live in a Jewish community, then add the requirement because of a social pressure to have "Yeshiva" on their resume because without it, no matter how knowlegable, they get a frown when asked where they went to school. And try and go on a shidduch date with public school on the resume... yeah, they would be real popular!

Then, when Yeshiva teachers are not payed as well as public school teachers as well as getting a pension and healthcare (for free), the only reason many work their are for the discounts. And some Yeshivas are talking about droping those too! You can't compair the quality of a very diverse public school education to a Yeshiva. As the product of a public school education I can tell you that many Yeshiva graduates have a lot of "black holes" in their education. From history to geography, from politics to biology, from woodshop to drafting Yeshivot lose out from really creating well-rounded, highly educated citizens. No doubt, their are many brilliant Yeshiva kids, who are extremely knowledgable. But ask one to fix a flat tire, recognize the difference between Monet and Manet, or ask them what the rights afforded them under the fourth amendment to the constitution.

We have a real problem, and the reason is first and foremost cost. If Yeshivah was 2000/yr. there would be no problem. But the discussion I hear almost every Shabbos in shul and at the shabbos table is "Yeshivah tuition". Building funds for everything, trips, holiday expenses, it never ends. Instead of criticizing the parents who find it difficult to pay a huge sum of money per year to send their kids to school, try and work with them to find solutions to the problem. If it is about dress, insist on a school dress code/ uniform. If it is about food, make sure they have proper food. If it is about Jewish classes, work with them to develop a curriculum. Otherwise you are speaking twice as loud as you hear, which accomplishes nothing. Yeshivot are wonderful things, but the sad fact is that there is a finite amount of money to combat the problems and it looks as if it is a battle that cannot be won- except for those among us who can afford such extravagant expenses. Parents want the best for their children, currently Yeshivot may very well NOT be the very best choice for parents to make. I wish all kids could go to the best Yeshiva and learn all day long, it just isn't a reality any longer. Thanks for your time.

2:24 PM  

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