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September 30, 2016 / 27 Elul, 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.

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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.

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.

Bezalel Perlman

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