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July 29, 2014 / 2 Av, 5774
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Rabbis Denied My Daughter a Jewish Education

I hoped the school would be supportive, and though the teachers were wonderful, the administrators made it clear they did not feel their school was the right place for her.

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Tomorrow I will be registering my 14-year-old daughter in public school. I never in my wildest dreams believed I would be doing something like this, but we have been left with no other option.

My oldest child, a son, graduated from the local all-boys yeshiva and my 17-year-old daughter recently graduated from the all-girls yeshiva high school. While both of them were never more than adequate students, and my daughter had her share of academic difficulties, they were able to complete their Jewish educations.

My 14-year-old daughter’s school career was much more difficult, especially when she transitioned from elementary school to middle school. She suffered from Attention Deficit Disorder, and though we tried almost every medication available, none of them seemed to work.

She received some support the first year of middle school, and more support the next, but after the first year her self-esteem suffered a severe blow and she ended the year anxious and depressed.

I tried to give her as much outside support as I could. I hoped the school would be supportive, and though the teachers were wonderful, the administrators made it clear they did not feel their school was the right place for her.

I hoped things would change, that the school would decide it would continue to support her and help her through, but that was not to be. I had sent my children to the same school for 17 years, but the school decided it was not worth the effort to educate my third child.

I turned to the local yeshiva day school for help. Though I had not opted to send my children there from the beginning, I thought the high school might be a better fit for my daughter. I worked at the school as an outside consultant and was intimately aware of the services the school offered and the level of student they were able to accommodate.

I took my daughter to visit the school, and after spending a day there she asked if she could go back. She felt comfortable in the classes, was treated kindly by the other students, and felt this was a place where she fit in.

Much to my dismay, however, the principal informed me that his school did not accept students who had been rejected by other schools. I had not heard of this policy and told him that if she could not go there she would most likely end up going to public high school. He agreed to consider her application, but after a few weeks I received yet another rejection.

My local rabbi, when informed of the situation, was very disturbed. He agreed to speak with the school’s principal, who in turn agreed to reconsider my daughter’s application. I gave them the numbers of the various individuals who work with my daughter, and allowed them full access to all her information. (These professionals later informed me they told school personnel they felt my daughter could be successful in a mainstream curriculum with support.)

After several weeks I received a phone call from the principal, who once again told me my daughter would not be able to attend his school as he felt the school could not accommodate her needs. I respectfully disagreed with him, telling him I was fully aware of my daughter’s cognitive and emotional issues but I also knew very well the services the school provided. I told him I felt the school could, in fact, accommodate her needs. And I told him once again that if he would not accept her, she would have to attend public school. His answer was still no.

I tried other schools farther outside my local area but still within busing distance. One school was not dismissive and truly appeared to care about the welfare of my daughter; their program, however, was full and there was a waiting list. I tried two other schools outside my area but neither one seemed interested in trying to help us, citing the by now familiar reasoning that my daughter would not be successful there.

Our only other option would have been to send her out of town, but she did not want to leave her home and her parents to go to school, and I did not feel that forcing her to do so would be in her best interests.

When I was a child, I lived with my grandparents and attended the local public school. I don’t remember every detail or how it all took place, but I know that a group of local rabbis contacted my grandparents and had them enroll me in a Talmud Torah, an after-school Jewish learning program.

After a few months in the program, the rabbis again contacted my grandparents. They told them that a Jewish girl belonged in yeshiva, not public school. When my grandparents, who lived on a fixed income, told them the cost made it prohibitive, the rabbis told them it would all be taken care of.

From third grade on, I attended yeshiva and graduated from a yeshiva high school, all because a few rabbis cared enough to make sure a Jewish child was able to receive a Jewish education.

I wish I knew where those kindly rabbis are today, so I could thank them. I am sure I would not be the person I am now, with the Jewish values I have, if it was not for the fact that they cared. I am also sure they would be astonished at the behavior of the rabbis who are denying my daughter a Jewish education.

Now that we’re in the month of Elul, perhaps the rabbis who have caused us so much distress should take notice, think about their actions and the consequences of those actions, and pray for forgiveness.

I hope God will be watching over my daughter as she begins her high school career in an environment that is foreign to everything she has been taught and exposed to thus far, with no Jewish atmosphere, no Jewish learning, no Yiddishkeit.

I will be praying that her Jewish identity and her Jewish soul remain intact.

About the Author: Michelle Gross is a school psychologist in New Jersey. She can be contacted at Meeshpsych@aol.com.


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76 Responses to “Rabbis Denied My Daughter a Jewish Education”

  1. Brian Kent says:

    I would publish the name of the yeshiva and the principal's phone number and ask the readers of the Jewish Press to call and protest this policy. He would get thousands of calls and maybe new students might reconsider his yeshiva.We have an obligation to back Jewish education for all!

  2. Fatt Lipp says:

    I have a friend with 3 kids and they where turned down support to pay for the expensive schools in france., all 3 boys heading for public school now.

  3. Myriam Obadia says:

    Don't worry, I didn't have the means to even dream sending my kids to a yeshiva. All 4 went to public school and all 4 are good Jews. There are things schools bring a child, which the parents are unable to provide, but there are things a Jewish home provides, for which it is nice, but not necessary to receive the help of the school and Jewish identity is one of them.

  4. If you're concerned about her Jewish identity, what on erath are you doing in America? Come home to Israel. Make Aliyah. LIVE your Judaism among your fellow Jews.

  5. Michelle Harrison Gross says:

    We've thought about it, but it's not such an easy thing to do.

  6. Michelle Harrison Gross says:

    I hear you and I am glad that things worked out well for you. I hope that the same with happen for my daughter as well.

  7. Michelle Harrison Gross says:

    The high cost of yeshiva is another huge problem, and I am sorry for your friend's difficulty. It's unfortunate that children should not be able to receive a Jewish education because of cost.

  8. Miriam Nockenofsky says:

    This is terrible!! Is there anything I can do to help? If you want to please call me .I might be able to do something. My number is 917-847-4017. My heart is crying for you. In this century no one shoukd endure this type of suffering. We have enough troubles and your daughter should not have to go thru this!!!

  9. Chaiya Eitan says:

    Her email address is at the end of the article. Don't wait for her to see your comment. Contact her.

  10. Chaiya Eitan says:

    Michelle Harrison Gross Why don't you at least look into it.

  11. Leah Sapir says:

    1. I went to public school for all of my school years, because in the small town where I grew up there was no Jewish school. I got my Jewish education from Talmud Torah (a little), and at home (mostly).

    while it was certainly a bother to be constantly questioned by my classmates regarding why I observed this or that mitzva (and sometimes I had to afterwards ask my parents "why, actually?") it was actually "good practice". when I left home and needed to answer similar questions from others (including secular Jews) I already had all the answers. my public school experience had "immunized" me to the challenges of the outside world.

    give your daughter a good Jewish education at home – consider that you are "home-schooling" her – and she will be fine.

    2. maybe you are right, and maybe the rabbi is. he knows his school, and perhaps your daughter's ADD might be too much of a problem. if he would accept her, and afterwards it turned out that in fact your daughter's ADD was preventing her from succeeding in the school, what would you say? "look at that, the school is taking my tuition money and my daughter is not getting a suitable education!"

  12. Ruth Pepperman says:

    Michelle – I don't know you but I'd like to tell you that when you make the first step towards a mitzvah, Hashem will help you along the rest of the way. I've seen this happen with others who were worried for so many reasons about coming home. Start the process. Do your hishtadlut. Think first and foremost about your daughter. Hoping to see you home in Eretz Yisrael very soon.

  13. I would only add…this is the first step to the rest of your life. All your fears will melt, your children will find their lives and your blessings will grow! At first, I worried about everything, but in time all fell into place…Michelle Harrison Gross, looking forward to meeting you here at home, in Eretz Yisrael. This move is for ALL the family! Good luck and all the best!

  14. Unfortunately , this happens all over it he world – even in Israel. Be that as it may, you would greatly enhance your spirtitual and academic lives if you were to make Aliya. we made alya and 2/3 of the kids had a great experience. We have one like your daughter, and that kids is no ( despite all the struggles ) is in the army in a very high level untit, bilingual and religiously and Jewishly identified through and through. So glad we did it for the whole family,, HAtzlocha!!!

  15. Karen Bell Eisenberg says:

    Jessie, unfortunately, at least in the US there ARE public schools. High school here is not a right, and each school can (and will) refuse to take a student. Some areas have an area school that has to take anyone, but many don't, and even then the school can – - you guessed it — refuse to take a child whose needs they cannot meet, as defined and decided by the school administration. This is not just a theoretical problem, every year, there are kids who want to learn but they do not have a place.

  16. Michelle Harrison Gross says:

    Like I said, it is not out of the question but it would be a very big step, and I am not sure we are ready for that right now.

  17. Michelle Harrison Gross says:

    1. I am hoping that things will play out that way and I will continue to give my daughter the Jewish education of living in a Jewish home.
    2. Possibly, but my gut, and my professional experience tell me that this would not be the case. I think it would have been a good environment for her, and if it did not work out, I would certainly not make a statement like that!

  18. Michelle Harrison Gross says:

    Thank you. I am truly blessed with an amazing support system of friends and family who are all on my side. I would never have gotten through this year without them.

  19. Michelle, you know this is my first ever Facebook comment. I just had to tell you how proud I am of you for putting this out there. You are not alone. Many of us have had a child who did not "fit the mold" and thus were directed to the public school. Obviously you are stronger than you think, and though it will be difficult, your wonderful daughter will still be wonderful. I know her to have a terrific personaltity, a great sense of humor, and a kind heart. That won't change. It is awful that she wont have a Jewish education, but you will make things right for her. I will also pray that Hashem will look over her during her public high school years; and just maybe your article will make a difference for the next child whom the yeshivot deem unworthy of their effort and understanding.

  20. <3 Cindi… well said <3

  21. Erica Kohn Sassoon says:

    Michelle, KOL HAKAVOD to you and your daughter!!! She is an amazing young lady, a tribute to her parents and family and the values she has learned at HOME. From someone who has been on all sides of a very similar story, it is unfortunate that the yeshiva day school system fails all of these kids who fall outside the box, but function on a mainstream level, and require a little bit of attention beyond the average kid. Cindi Lehrer Dresdner and I have spoken many times about the need for a modern orthodox school that is a mainstream curriculum but offers the services and attention for kids who could benefit from it without needing special Ed. I thank Hashem every day that we found such a school in Israel. I am thankful for now, but I worry about if and when we have to leave, my daughter will once again likely be on public school track. I am so proud of you for speaking out and taking a stance. Shame on all of these schools and just know that everything happens for a reason and in the end, believe that גם זו לטובה!! We wish you so much הצלחה and we pray that Hashem continues to watch over all of you

  22. Hi Michelle. Your letter is beautiful, painful and provocative. I too can relate. While I have nothing against the public school system, even in "our" community (after years of yeshiva, both our kids graduated from the high school and t g are doing quite nicely), the decision to put your child into it is huge, and can not be taken lightly. There are resources here to help her (and you) transition. But the bigger point I think is this elitist mentality where a Jewish child can't attend a Jewish school because "… they won't be successful…". Just what does this mean? That the child won't go to an ivy college? That her SAT score might bring down the average? That needing a little extra attention is beyond the scope of an institution that's supposed to teach chesed, along with the three R's? I also don't know your daughter, but seeing the way you advocate for her, I personally think she'll not only survive, but thrive as a result of your love and caring and fighting for her rights. I suspect she'll be more than fine. I also think you'll find the middos and level of respect for her among the faculty and student body at the public school will not only surprise you but make you realize how blindly arrogant the alternative may have been.

  23. Michelle Harrison Gross says:

    Thanks for your beautiful response, Margot Freedman. I guess my sore point is that this was not my decision to make, it was basically forced upon me because there were no other options left. Everything you said is true, and correct, but it needs to be heard. I am hoping that the people that can effect changes will hear it, but perhaps I am being overly optimistic.

  24. Michelle Harrison Gross says:

    Thanks so much, Cindi. I know that I am lucky to have you in my corner. With the help of friends like you, I will get through this. Erica Kohn Sassoon, thanks so much for your good wishes and kind words. This article might not change things for me, but if it makes the administrators stand up and take notice, then I will have been successful. And you know I will continue to fight for my daughter and advocate for her as much as I can. She is a good girl, and she deserves much better than she's gotten so far from the schools.

  25. RochelleMeyersGreenbaum says:

    Hey Mich. I am saddened that you have had to deal with this. It is really a problem that the current yeshiva system can’t deal with kids who are outside of the mold. She may be going down a different path than expected as far as her education but she’s got a great family to support her. Sending you lots of love and good thoughts my friend.

  26. Chavi Deena Bachman Kessler says:

    Wow, Michelle. I wish I had known you were dealing with this. I had to pull my youngest out of yeshiva years ago, due to a disability that the yeshiva couldn't deal with. Your daughter will be fine. She gets her Jewish identify from you. And truly, if this complete lack of sensitivity is what the rabbis at your yeshiva are about, is that really the role model you want for her anyway? She gets her beautiful soul from you. She will be fine.

  27. Alex Gross says:

    Wish I could have gotten her in mom, I really tried too. Thank God I graduated this year and got out while I could.

  28. I had the exact same experience with my daughter. She went through two different Jewish schools by the time she was in 2nd grade, and the third one wouldn't even look at her. B"H, she has been thriving in a public school with amazing teachers and support staff.

    I wouldn't want to be any of the people who rejected my daughter, when it's their turn to answer to Hashem for their actions. My daughter is terrified at the possibility that she may some day go to a Jewish school. She's convinced that they will set her up to fail, just so that they can kick her out again.

    It breaks your heart to hear your child say "I"m so glad I'm not around a lot of Jewish people. Non Jews are SO much nicer to me!"

  29. We're considering Aliyah for this exact reason. No Jewish school in the US will take our daughter, and her learning deficits are not that bad! She's a bit excitable, but overall sweet and loving. I cried for days when I was forced to enroll her in public school.

  30. She is an amazing person.

  31. Unfortunately my son experienced the same problem in a summer camp last year.

  32. Hi Michelle,

    I can totataly understand you as I was told this about my Daughter too. I think Schools are not interesting in helping the kids by staying there, they just choose to look the other way by turning them away. So sad since I come from Israel and it's all about getting a Jewish Education especially for me. This is why we pay so much money, not because of the Education for sure, but rather them learning Torah and being in a jewish Environment.

  33. Stan Brin says:

    Have you consulted an attorney? This rejection might have violated the law.

  34. Lisa Berkman says:

    ayy. bruriah rejected her?

  35. Helen Wolf Jambor says:

    Beautifully stated. I know that in the end, she will thrive and overcome. But how will she feel about her children getting a Jewish education after the way she was treated by the Yeshiva system? The Rabbi's need to know that all Jewish children deserve a Jewish education. I have had my issues with Yeshiva's and my children too. And having grown up in a city with no opportunity for a Yeshiva education myself as a child, only afternoon and Sunday classes I wanted Yeshiva education for both my children. I was appalled at the way they handled children with special needs. The Yeshiva system needs to be overhauled. That is the bottom line.

  36. Rivka Iacullo says:

    I cannot even begin to tell you how much I wish there were more and better options for Jewish children with special needs. It has been painful to see how these things are handled.

  37. Michelle Harrison Gross says:

    Thanks, Helen, and yes, all true. Hopefully someone, somewhere, will sit up and take notice.

  38. Michelle Harrison Gross says:

    I did, not about this, but about another issue I had with the school (perhaps I will put that in another article). I'm pretty sure private schools can opt to accept or not accept students, though. I don't think there's technically anything illegal about that.

  39. Michelle Harrison Gross says:

    I know, and I am sorry that you have had to go through this kind of experience. Let's hope that someone, somewhere, will hear this and it will lead to change.

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I hoped the school would be supportive, and though the teachers were wonderful, the administrators made it clear they did not feel their school was the right place for her.

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