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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
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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

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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.

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

  1. Esther d says:

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

  2. Sonyaelli Perlman says:

    So true it hurts

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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! :-)

  8. 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.

  9. Nitza Chana says:

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

  10. Brittany Newmark says:

    Spot on.

  11. 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? :-)

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

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

  15. Chaya Nebel says:

    wow. super well said.

  16. 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.

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

  18. WOW! I really like this train of thought

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

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