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August 27, 2016 / 23 Av, 5776
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Does It Bother You when your Kid Comes Home Feeling like Junk?

Response to Rabbi Wallerstein's Agudah convention speech.

Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein

Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein

The talk of the town is how direct Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein was when talking at the Agudah convention about the effect our educational system is having on our children. For a long time now, I’ve been having an issue with trying to recognize where the Torah/Truth is in the way we live as frum Yidden.

If an outsider first learned the Torah and then did a study on how observant Jews live their lives, he/she would have many questions. There are numerous things that we do that not only don’t fit with Torah values but they are anti Torah values. We have systems set in place that make most of us live beyond our means. We are fiercely protecting an educational system that goes against everything we actually believe in. We put a huge amount of unneeded pressure on ourselves that literally dictates how we live our lives.

What is sad is that we all know it, we all think about it and it bothers us all. What is sadder is that it is a BIG deal when a Rabbi gets up and actually expresses what we are all thinking. What a strange thing, a phenomenon, that there exists a society that puts so much value on being truthful and emesdik, but at the same time has this vested interest in not only not expressing or talking about an entire educational system that is flawed at its roots, but even protecting it and making our own children suffer through it. It becomes this huge deal when Rabbi Wallerstein actually says something about it. We have to question our sanity and values around this.

What are we protecting? What are we so scared of? Who are we nervous about not impressing?

Let me ask you a question. You don’t need to raise your hand, but raise your hand if you really deep down knew what Rabbi Wallerstein was talking about. Raise your hand if these issues have been bothering you all along. Raise your hand if you are worried about your own children’s love for Torah and Yiddishkeit. Raise your hand if you think that our educational system is not giving you any fuzzy comfortable feeling that they will help your children stay on the derech. Raise your hand if you feel like you make your children do things that are absolutely ridiculous in the name of being part of our educational system. Raise your hand if this is not the system you would come up with if you were asked to develop a system from scratch. Raise your hand if you feel bad sending your children off to school. Raise your hand if you hate seeing how much homework your kids come home with and how many tests they have.

How would you do if you had a job that went from early in the morning to late in the afternoon or night and then came home only to continue working for a few more hours, knowing all along that you really won’t be paid anything extra for the work you’re doing? How long can you keep that up for? How long would we be able to keep up a real love for Yiddishkeit and learning when all it means is memorizing material long enough to regurgitate it on a piece of paper in the form of a test? We know every one of our children is different. How much does it bother you that they are all judged only by the grades they get no matter how hard or how little they try (depending on their IQ or memory).

How much does it bother you when your kid comes home feeling like junk and overwhelmed every day? Does it hurt to see your kid growing up with practically no time to actually be a kid? How natural is it for our kids to be sitting at desks for hours and hours on end learning? How well would you do with that? How many of the school rules do you really agree with in terms of tznius way beyond the letter of the law? From the way the parents dress, we know the answer to that. And I’m not talking about parents dressing un-tzniusdik. I’m talking about the parents who are dressed tzniusdik – but of course the day they left school they changed the way they dress to what was tznius and comfortable and something they actually felt good in and made sense to them.

Bezalel Perlman

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46 Responses to “Does It Bother You when your Kid Comes Home Feeling like Junk?”

  1. Dan Silagi says:

    Bravo. Judaism needs more guys like you and Rabbi Wallerstein. Who knows? I might become a born-again Jew yet.

  2. Esther d says:

    Beautiful! Well-written! Excellent points and thought provoking. Thank you!!

  3. Sonyaelli Perlman says:

    So true it hurts

  4. Bezalel – your words are so wise. You are a breath of fresh air!, I love that your angle is always compassion for people. We are so hungry for change. I'm grateful to be living with someone as brave and insightful as you.

  5. Glenna Frank Ross says:

    Spot on! A number of us have been saying this for years. If we keep going this way, the Jewish infrastructure will not have enough resources to support it. This next generation will not have the resources to support the shuls and schools that their parents did. It is a huge concern.

  6. Rachel Schreiber Levitan says:

    As a BT a lot of things have always seemed strange to me. I never would have expected my parents to support me when I was an adult. In the frum world it seems to be the norm. Too much emphasis is placed on outward appearances and that is not what we teach our children, but it seems to be the way we judge others.

  7. Chev Bacher says:

    You probably hear me cheering all the way from South Africa. Although every community struggles slightly differently with various issues, so many of the extremely valid and disturbing points you brought up regarding the chinnuch of our children are so universal and experienced by us all. Yasher koach for bringing to the fore added awareness and insight on such important matters.As a side, you write and express yourself in a way that really reaches the reader. Thank you! And keep writing, you have so much to add!

  8. Bezalel, this was an amazingly honest and brave look at what’s missing in our educational system. Where do we begin? Well, now that you put it out there, lead the way and we will be right behind you. כל הכבוד! I’m proud of you!

  9. Mark SoFla says:

    The evite.com thing is a great idea. That way you don't get stuck with any super-frummies that don't use the Internet! 🙂

  10. this article is unbelievable. It is the best thing on this topic I have read.

  11. Nitza Chana says:

    My husband asked me to hold off commenting on this post. He said he really wanted to share a few things about it and why he loved and agreed with it so deeply. I agreed but did want to share it with those of you who are not friends with him. I will, however, comment on it soon after him. Please read and share.

  12. Nitza Chana says:

    B'H for you both. It is not easy to stand sometimes but it is always the right things to do.

  13. Brittany Newmark says:

    Spot on.

  14. Avi Glazer says:

    Oh, now it makes sense. Someone focused like a laser beam on spreading the beauty of Judaism? There had to be a Klatzko connection somewhere, right? 🙂

  15. Joe Berry says:

    Raise your hand if despite the huge sacrifice to pay enormous tuition bills, you are sick and tired of your kids receiving a mediocre Jewish day school/yeshiva education at best!

  16. David Lubega says:

    My experience is not unlike your own. Growing up as a Seventh-day Adventist Christian, I had many, many rules to follow. Early in life, we learned that we “couldn’t” do this or that. Much of it made absolutely no sense to me. However, my growing understanding of life, along with my expanded vocabulary, allowed me to amend or modify my response from my earlier years. I now said, “We don’t do this or that”, and explain if asked why. I thought it was a more ‘mature’ way of handling things. My heart hadn’t changed, though. I was still very frustrated and confused about so much.

    The educational system is very similar. It believes in reinforcing the value system taught at home. However, so many of us grew up hating our value system because of what we couldn’t do. A big part of our disillusionment was the fact that we were explicitly (and implicitly) taught not to question anything that couldn’t be easily explained. I honestly used to hate my parents for so many things that they couldn’t explain. I now see that nobody explained things to them, so they couldn’t pass along what they didn’t have. I have a younger brother and sister, and I tried to explain things to them from my experience, especially things that were not explained to me.

    I have seen the educational costs go up substantially over the years. I remember one preacher saying that “if we continue to preach that our children must be schooled in Christian schools, yet place the costs out of reach of most people, then we have made the salvation of our children dependent upon finances.” This is from grade school to post baccalaureate levels. And I believe it is true.
    I think I went through a ‘rebellious’ phase. If something couldn’t be explained to me, I did my own research. Once I discovered ‘juicy’ bits of information, especially things that would diametrically oppose what I had been taught to accept without question, I breathed a sigh of satisfaction. A smirk also came on my face. At that point, parents, pastors, teachers, authority figures of any kind, and whomever else had nothing further to say to me about the particular issue I had researched. That was a good feeling. Yet it still didn’t fix the problems. Solutions could come only if the whole system underwent a change.

    You said that a reason for lack of change is the fact that people don’t want to feel like they no longer fit in. I understand that to an extent. But I also know that in my experience, many of my fellows no longer care that they don’t fit in. They don’t want to fit in. The fact that they never did fit in is what bothers them to begin with. They left it all behind and never looked back. And there is no shortage of disparaging remarks they could make against the system they know so well.

    All in all, I believe that because the whole system is built on a lie, it was always taught that one must accept everything by faith, lest the lie be discovered. For some of us, it was just a matter of time before we verbally articulated our discovery of the lie and actually make up our minds for ourselves regarding how and what we would do as a result. We know that it is just a matter of time before the system topples, as you have spoken. We feel sorry for the friends that are holding on for dear life. We have found liberation in breaking away, whatever the reason may be. I wish this liberation on everyone.

  17. בן וקסמן says:

    i disagree with the premise that schools have to change simultaneously. if everyone is really so turned off with what is going on, the parents at a school can demand change there, others will then follow. or you know what? not everyone will follow, some will follow and you'll create something very healthy: a second track. a different pathway. and maybe there will be another group of parents who try something else entirely and you'll have three tracks, etc. the end result will be a healthier society for everyone involved.

  18. Tal Segel says:

    Hi Bezalel! Totally agree with you here. In the name of pnimius we've become the most chitzoni society – everything is about looking just right and saying all the right things, and so so many people are slowly rotting on the inside. Out of fear of what we might find we never go deeper or ask the honest questions, and perhaps that is safer, but is an empty shell something worth saving!? Only by being real and honest can we build real ovdei Hashem and a beautiful Torah world.

  19. Yael Aldrich says:

    I'm not so impressed (all respect due to Mr Perlman). Why do "all the schools" have to change lockstep, why does "the system" beat us down and make us hate Judaism/Yiddishkeit? We are not sheeple, nor lemmings.Our forefathers and mothers didn't just do what everyone did. We don't have to mindlessly go through this life. Yaakov wrestled with Aisav's malach (angel) and changed his essence and his name. There's no reason why we can't step out and say "no!" or "stop!" or "this needs to change!". Stop kvetching and do something; so what if you are a pioneer!?!?

  20. Take example from home school kids, they r happy & thriving

  21. Chaya Nebel says:

    wow. super well said.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for writing this. As BT's, it's been incredibly challenging trying to stay on a path of authenticity and emes while dealing with a dysfunctional system. Our children say they are frum despite the system. As for our kids who aren't sure where they are holding vis-a-vis Yiddishkeit due to the spiritual trauma they've experienced in school, they say that the only normal Yiddishkeit they've seen is in our home…the question is– how can they duplicate that if the whole system is unsound??? Our lives, to them, are an anomaly–what an unspeakable tragedy that the system has turned off a generation of beautiful, pure neshamas…

  23. Yael, Mrs Perlman here, we agree with you 100%. That's actually what this article is about. On a personal level we can do that. That's why we've homeschooled our kids at different times and serve hot dogs for sheva brachos instead of knocking ourselves out making a 6 course meal with speeches on a weeknight that no one wants to sit through. But we are not everyone .We have the luxury of growing up ffb and in very open homes without the need to know if we fit in or not. This change needs to be spoken about bc the mainstream society doesn't pioneer or homeschool, they look to leaders, and to the very community that they signed up to be a part of.

  24. YES! Our best years were when we homeschooled our kids!!

  25. WOW! I really like this train of thought

  26. Caycee Polun says:

    Thank you for writing this Betzalel. It's a very thought-provoking article and I think it took courage to put it out there. I agree that guidance from our Rabbanim is very critical here. These are crazy times we are living in.

  27. Odes Sher says:

    Wonderful article and I am in complete agreement with most of the premise. My wife and I recently moved our kids to public school and developed individual learning programs for our kids. The backlash from some Rabbis has been utter shock that we would risk the soul of our kids to the influences of the non-jewish world. From our friends the response has been positive and maybe even a sense of envy that we are saving so much money on tuition cost. The reality is that for us it was not about the money (even though this change has allowed my wife to stay home and have the proper energy to be there for OUR kids when they get home from school). Our point is that there is as much danger (maybe even more) learning yiddishkit improperly as there is in being in a non-Torah environment (our public school is safe, honest, and caring, but without the preaching). Our kids wear their Tzizit and kippa, which meant that we had to be able to explain to them WHY observant Jews wear those items. There is non kosher food so we had to explain to them the beauty of kashrut. So many things they (and we) took for granted had to be handled directly. How are we different than non Jews? Why does Hashem care if we do mitzvot? And most importantly, who is Hashem and why are we meant to have a relationship with Him? Having worked with “off the Derech” kids for over 10 years, I have found that when the Torah we teach is a living Torah, meaning that all the stories and mitzvot are directly meaningful to the STUDENT and their own unique relationship with Hashem, then the natural result is a healthy Jew that has a meaningful relationship with God. Someone that is just told what he/she must do, usually is either robotic or disconnected from the essence of what they are actually trying to achieve (been in most shuls lately :)). In my opinion the system works for a few and they thrive, but for most it’s an expensive and negative man-made Jewish bubble.

  28. Thank you so much for responding and sharing your thoughts about this article. The response has been overwhelming and I’m so happy that for the most part it touched a sensitive chord that is very much on many of our minds. I wish that I had the time to respond to each one of your comments. There is so much wisdom that you are sharing. I would love to hear what plan you would come up with if you were in charge of effecting change. I want to clarify for those people who think that it took a lot of courage for me to write this article. It did not take much courage and overcoming of fears to write it. We have disconnected ourselves a long time ago from the need to follow everything in our system. If something does not make sense, we don’t feel the need to do it anyway. We are not worried about shidduchim for our kids. We know that the wonderful people that Hashem has chosen, and announced 40 days before they were born, for our children, will find our children when the time is right and they will be OK with our children and our family. They will be OK with the fact that we not only use plastic tablecloths but they are disposable. They will not care that sometimes our house is a wreck and that we sometimes use disposable paper goods. That takes off a tremendous pressure and gives us the space to do what we feel is right as much as we can and of course within the boundaries of Torah and our mesorah. We really feel like things will be OK. Not listening to our own inner voices has a catastrophic effect on us and it begins to make us question ourselves and take away our self-confidence and the special unique qualities that each of us have to offer. The payoff for not listening to yourself is simply not worth it. We need to start being comfortable with respecting our own ideas and know that it will be OK if you do express them and make changes based on them.

  29. Anonymous says:

    While it is true that schools have much to be desired, the real failure is in the home. If a parent is really committed to their children's success, they CAN find a qualified school, with good mechanchim, and with good middos. Most parents simply don't care enough and would rather complain than do make any accommodations. Choosing the closest school to one's home, or one that is convenient, or one that costs less, is simply irresponsible. If you want to have successful children who make good choices and have Derech Eretz, then you need to lead by example. School's can and will adapt if parent make good choices. Then can and will improve – but only if the parents demand it.

  30. this is an amazing article, a must read!!! Lets be part of the revolution for creating the needed change in Jewish Frum Community life…especially the chinuch and school system…

  31. Chanie Katz says:

    You and Rabbi Wallerstein are definitely on the money but the truth is that many in the frum and nonfrum Jewish community buy in to the theory that their child has to be a top lawyer,doctor or Talmud chochumm-the professions are different but the attitude is the same and until that attitude changes and children are respected for whom they are and not their iq's, I don't know how much any yeshiva can do-the mentality that is ingrained in most people is that you have to be the best or else you're not worth much-if the parents'attitudes change,maybe yeshivas will grab on to the "new wiorldview" and change too."-we can only hope and pray….

  32. Jennifer Meltzer says:

    Amen. And the mentality in some ways is even worse in Israel, from what I hear among the Hareidi community. And as my son-in-law would say, the rest are burning garbage cans in Meir Shearim.

  33. Jennifer Meltzer says:

    Amen. And the mentality in some ways is even worse in Israel, from what I hear among the Hareidi community. And as my son-in-law would say, the rest are burning garbage cans in Meir Shearim.

  34. Gary Pickholz says:

    one of the most fundamental flaws in American education is the complete mismatch of hashkafa and fundamental beliefs between the community and those appointed to positions of chinuch, which is invariably significantly wiiiiiiiiiide to the right of the community. As a result, our children rapidly learn the fraud of our lives, and the subtle message of "play along with them even though we don't really share common beliefs", while the Rabbonim look down on our children for pursuing hashkafot we truly believe in for their future. This is madness, and societal suicide. Job one is to remove the faculty and Rabbonim out of sync with the communities they service.

  35. So now we know and now the Rabbonim know what are they going to do about it ???????

  36. Jackie Wolf says:

    Thank you for this article.

  37. Tracy Steele says:

    Thank you for this. For what its worth, in my effort to understand my place in the observant community, and to make choices that are not fear driven I have simplified the equation to 2 questions:
    1. Is honoring HaShem and doing His will at the top of the priority list?
    2. Are people coming before things?
    If the answer is yes, then I feel good about moving forward. When confused, we seek das Torah for help. My goal is no longer to fit in per se, but things are easier when that happens to work out. I don't go against the trend just for the sake of statement making….only for the sake of being true to the most real me I can be.

  38. For someone that preaches this you sure are quick to judge people who always grew up in pants, hung out with boys, and went to public school where it is normal to smoke marijuana. Hanging out with boys does not aways mean sex unless doing it to rebel and even talking to a boy means going to hell. As for marijuana many people experiment or use it recreationally it is not an issue till people are doing harder stuff. PAnts are many times way more tzniut then the mini skirts girls wear. Instead of worrying about elbows showing kets worry about knees being covered. A vagina and butt is way more attractive to guys then an elbow. Just saying.

  39. Nancy Asher says:

    Hi Betzalel,

    It was a good article! You are right that we should not be sheep and resemble our oppressors of all the ages. You are right that it takes courage to do what you believe is right for yourself and your children in a Jewish world and secular world, by the way, where conformity is what is most valued. It is time we start following our Perkei Avot, and our biblical forefathers who certainly had the courage to think and do for themselves and be supported and strengthened by Hashem for it. And may you and your beautiful family be blessed! Not worry about shidduchim, as each of your children is a star!

  40. Natalie Reid Cooper says:

    Interesting article and interesting response by Mrs. Perlman. Oddly enough, it's because my husband and I _didn't_ grow up FFB that we feel free to homeschool, to make a small bar mitzvah for our son, to wear colors beyond black and white. 🙂 But we also lived for over a decade in a community where conformity was absolutely vital and homeschooling would have marked us as "at-risk" or "OTD". So I can really identify with those who feel trapped into conforming to norms they don't necessarily agree with and making simchos they can't afford. Hopefully more of us will have the courage to make our own way, choosing the derech that's best for our families and most likely to help our kids find their place in Yiddishkeit.

  41. Thank you Nancy. You and your family are true role models for how to be great Jews who are true to themselves.

  42. Anonymous says:

    Bezalel: Marietta pointed this article out to me, and had no idea it was yours!
    When I was running Kol Hanearim, i was trying to get around a system that treated parents like deadbeats, threatened them with expulsion of their children, and withholding of transcripts, if they couldn't afford the tuition. It was suggested to me by a Chashuva Rav that what we really needed was a free school for poor people, and the teachers would be baal ha'batim. Great. Kids who already feel like dirt, get to go to the poor house school, and be taught by people who don't know how to teach. I finally gave up, when my own son needed me to help him heal from the oppressive system you describe. The board of Kol Hanearim was comprised of regular people – not rich, not Rebbeim – wo themselves had to deal with tuition issues. In the end, it did not work because the old boy network wouldn't support it. They had too much of an invested interest in the status quo. Nothings going to change until people just bolt, and create a new paradigm. My advice – avoid setting up rigid organizational structures. It is the nature of institutions to forget their original purpose, and start to serve the needs of the institution itself.

  43. Totally agree. All the insanity was why I left. I was miserable and it was mostly shaker. Now I safely ensconced out of town!

  44. Dov Nelkin says:

    I don't get the connection between what he said and wallerstein. Also, while I liked most of what he wrote, why is the in school educational change he recommends only not having girls memorize rashi /ramban? It felt like a weird example.

  45. Dov Nelkin says:

    I don't get the connection between what he said and wallerstein. Also, while I liked most of what he wrote, why is the in school educational change he recommends only not having girls memorize rashi /ramban? It felt like a weird example.

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