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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.

What 5 things would you change that would take a huge burden off your shoulders? What 5 things would relieve most of the pressure you live with all day and night? Maybe it’s the pressure of making a certain type of bar mitzvah or chasuna. Maybe it’s to have less time in school for our children and less homework. Maybe it’s the ability for women to dress in more colors than black, white and some shades of gray? I would venture to say that most women do not enjoy being limited to dressing in just those colors. If they had to pick out clothing without the pressures of what everyone else was doing, they would not come out of the store bragging about the nice black and white funeral dress that they just picked out.

Let’s be real. Maybe it’s to not have to live with the pressure of all our sons needing to fit into the very small box of being great learners and going into kollel at least for a while? We would never say that everyone in the world needs to be lawyers no matter what their strengths and personalities are. But we do say it about our children. Amazing. This is one of the questions an outsider would have. Why are you trying to make everyone the same? Maybe it’s not having to live with the pressure in shiduchim of needing to make believe that not only is the girl or boy absolutely perfect, but the entire family and extended family going back at least 4 generations are all perfect. An outsider would say to themselves we all know that everyone has their areas they need to work on. Everyone knows that every family has to deal with issues and unhealthiness in their families. I’ve never seen a people that all know this but at the same time are all making believe that they are perfect to each other. The entire system is built on lies. Maybe it’s not having the burden of trying to figure out how you’re going to support your grown married children in kollel besides trying to support yourself. What would it feel like to know that your children have something in place that they will be able to support their families with?

How about asking what are we tolerating? If you looked at the system in which we live in like a business and you were the CEO, what would you change immediately? What would you absolutely not tolerate? We are making ourselves crazy trying so hard to live in this system and to make believe we love it. It is making many of us miserable. We are watching ourselves and our children be uninspired and going off. Many of us are an empty shell. Just the outside appearance is still intact. What a way to live. We are not happy with the system and it makes us live in ways that are full of pressure and deceit.

So the big question is why are we all tolerating it? Do we not have the most beautiful Hashem and Torah? Do we not have the best guide for life from our manufacturer? Are the ways of the Torah not the sweetest and most pleasant? Di’racheha darchei no’am vechol ni’sivoseha shalom. We are certainly not lacking direction. As the matter of fact we are the only ones in the world who actually have perfect direction for us and the rest of the world. So what are we running away from when we see there are major problems in the way we’re living and that we’ve gone way off course?

My theory is that everything is connected and built on each other. Certain people maybe of power and/or wealth may have set certain standards at certain points in time and ever since, we have been trying to keep up with those standards at all costs. All of our education is built on the premise that we have to get the guy or girl into the best yeshiva or seminary so that they can get the best shidduch.

That standard makes it that every school has to push every kid as hard as possible to become that person. The curriculum is set up to stuff in as much information as possible even if it will be meaningless for the actual students in their lives. Not just meaningless, but detrimental to most students because they learn to hate it. The schools are all in competition to be the best at producing perfect people who will get into perfect Yeshivas (who are also in competition) who will get the perfect shidduch. No school wants to take the leap to educate in a way that they actually believe in because that would mean that they no longer hold the standard and they are now the school for nebuchs and underachievers.

The standard for weddings was set by whomever it was and then a whole bunch of other people followed until it became that if you don’t follow the last guy, you are not living up to the standard. What’s the point of living up to the standard? Besides keeping up with the other guy, NOTHING. What you gain is you’re still in the game. You just passed the latest hurdle of let’s say making a chasuna and you’re still part of the club because you borrowed enough money to live up to the standard of some wealthy person who set it. Someone set the standard for shidduchim that the guy or girl and their family have to be perfect and in order to stay in the system and stick to that standard, we have to lie and deceive everyone.

So why aren’t we changing it? I think that there is a tremendous fear of not fitting in. No one wants to be that first guy to change things. No one wants to be the second guy either because that also takes too much guts. Once two do it, it gives permission for more to follow because there’s now a new system that you can belong to without being considered weird. There is of course a fear of any change but I think people are cracking and feeling the effects so strongly of not changing, that they are ready to change. It’s more the fear of not belonging and being looked down upon and all the fears that come along with that like not getting shidduchim…

What needs to be done? A good start would be for everyone to put pressure on the powerful Rabbanim, leaders and educators to get together and decide all together that they will all make certain changes all together at the same time. The only way schools will be willing to change is if other schools also change at the same time. I can’t describe the feeling of relief the educators would feel if they could actually make the changes they believe in. Once schools change, the standard will be different and all the other schools will follow. If they don’t follow, they will or could be looked at as the school that oppresses children. An example of change in the school system would be to have shorter days. Another example would be to not make girls learn and memorize every Rashi and Ramban on Chumash. Weddings have been changing a bit but still have many standards that make people spend way more than they can afford. Some people and I would say especially wealthier people have to start making more simple weddings and that would give permission to everyone else to not have to make a fancy weddings.

A simpler wedding could be just a shmorg after the chuppah without having to do the shmorg and then a meal right afterwards. We don’t need new benchers at every wedding either. If someone wants a souvenir from the wedding, they can save the invitation. If it is all built on living up to a certain standard (not a Torah one in any sense) and being part of the club and fitting in, then all people need is permission to follow a different standard and they will jump on it faster that we can blink. Who wouldn’t jump on the opportunity to not have to borrow money they don’t have and have no idea how they will pay it back? On a personal note, when we were making our first bar mitzvah, we were thinking about the invitations we had to order. We asked ourselves one question. Why would we pay for invitations if it is way easier, way more efficient and FREE if we used evite.com? Our answer was the only reason we would do it is because everyone else is doing it. So we decided that that was a ridiculous reason and went with evite.com for free. Guess what? Everyone loved it and no one cared that they didn’t receive a paper invitation that they would throw out after putting the date and time into the calendar.

This is why it’s a big deal to everyone when Rabbi Wallerstein decides to be straight about the situation. It’s because he is doing what everyone is scared of. He’s saying things that could put him out of the system and standard and we are all petrified of that. It gets us uncomfortable and nervous that maybe if there is change, we ourselves may then be out of the system. I don’t think it’s because we are all shocked by the content he shared. We all know it because we all have to deal with this every day with ourselves and our children.

Change must happen because the current system is crippling us and it is keeping us from being happy and proud. We all have to work on making the changes that are needed. Just ask yourself do I want my children sending my grandchildren to the same exact school system that they had to go through? Another question to ponder; Do you think the school system will look like this in the times of Moshiach? If the answer is no, there is only one way it will be different and that is to make the changes needed TODAY. If we don’t consciously repair the system, Torah life will begin, as it has already, to decay more and more on its own. A system that is not emes has no legs to stand on and will eventually topple.

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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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