Still others, rejected by yeshivas with minimal general studies programs, are ill equipped to even find their way to public education. They are particularly vulnerable to the ills of the secular world and they too often end up in the streets, aligning with the most undesirable elements of society. Whatever family contact they have continues to fray until it disintegrates as their parents and other relatives shun the “outcast” in their midst.
In this way, families and generations are lost. Why? Because a menahel determined that a child “doesn’t fit in.”
Who will answer for these lost souls? Who will be big enough to reply to the Ribbono shel Olam who will surely want to know, “Why did you allow My beloved children to forsake Me?”
Who will respond to the mother who asks, “Why did my daughter fit in through eight years of elementary school, and then one month before school opened for ninth grade she suddenly didn’t? What changed? Won’t anybody tell me?”
* * * * *
It wasn’t all that long ago that rabbanim and others concerned with the Jewish future in this country looked “with candles” for students to register in what were then fledgling institutions. Yeshivas were starved for talmidim. Bais Yaakovs for girls were barely a dream.
During that time, everyone was welcome. Everyone fit in. Many community day schools came into being because local Orthodox rabbis – overwhelmingly members of the Rabbinical Council of America – went door to door to any and all Jewish families soliciting not money but any Jewish children whose parents would enroll them in this new phenomenon.
In Lakewood, New Jersey, the late Rabbi Pesach Z. Levovitz dared to dream that a day school could be a reality. He literally begged for Jewish kids in and around Lakewood, Howell, Freehold, Farmingdale and Toms River where Jewish immigrants, mostly Holocaust survivors, initiated successful egg farms and businesses.
“Just come!” he enthusiastically told one and all. “Give me a chance.” His persistence laid the groundwork for a community that would ultimately become the “Lakewood” we know today when Rabbi Levovitz welcomed, embraced and assisted Rav Aharon Kotler, zt”l. The rest is history.
In the Bronx, the revered Rav Yeruchem Gorelick, zt”l – rosh yeshiva and dreamer and my unforgettable rebbi – established Yeshiva Zichron Moshe and Bais Yaakov decades ago and expressed great satisfaction and enthusiasm when the city allowed for students to be bused to the schools of their choosing. He felt busing was introduced min hashamayim – that it was divinely ordained in order for everyone to come and fit in.
So it was across the country. In Pittsburgh, the late Rabbi Joseph Shapiro knocked on doors in the evenings when both parents were home, asking for the opportunity to explain why a day school education made sense for all Jewish parents, even the “greeners” who wanted to rid themselves of any real Jewish observance and identity. That was the beginning of Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh and many other Hillel academies throughout the country.
All were welcome. All fit in. They only needed to come.
* * * * *
The issue is not whether every yeshiva and school needs to accept every student. Rather, it is whether there is a seat for every child who wants to attend a yeshiva, a Bais Yaakov, a day school. There must always be a seat at the table – and an acknowledgement that the table is large enough for everyone.
The great imperative of Judaism is to learn and teach Torah. Veshinantam levanecha. Who are we to determine who is worthy to learn? Who are we to suggest that someone is not worthy?
About the Author: Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran serves as OU Kosher’s vice president of Communications and Marketing.
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