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April 17, 2014 / 17 Nisan, 5774
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Yeshiva Pressure – At What Price?


Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

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Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis:

I am not a native New Yorker. I was born and raised in a small out-of-town community. We were the only shomer Shabbos family in the neighborhood, and I never had friends. My parents struggled to give us a Torah education – it wasn’t easy. When it came time to attend high school, we were sent away, and that was tough. I always envied my classmates who were able to return home from school every night to be with their families.. How lucky they are, I would think, since I was able to go home only on Yom Tov and other special occasions. I would tell myself that one day, with G-d’s help, when I married, I would make certain that my husband and I would live in a community that provided a good choice of yeshivot so that our children would not be deprived of living at home and the pleasure of having friends with whom to socialize.

Things did not work out as I had hoped. I guess they seldom do. As the Yiddish proverb goes, “Der Mentsh tracht un Gott lacht.”… “Man makes plans and G-d laughs,” meaning that G-d has other things in store for us. As it happened, my wonderful husband, whom I love dearly, is also an out-of-towner, and his family’s business demanded that we live in a community that does not have a strong observant Jewish population. We do have one Day School, but its level of education leaves much to be desired.

A few years ago, you spoke in our community, and awakened the hearts of many people. I know that you will be gratified to learn that, as a result of your speech, many changes were made to upgrade the level of Torah study and observance, but with all those changes, things were still a far cry from what I wanted for our children – so I pressured my husband and prevailed upon him to relocate even though it meant a financial loss and emotional hurt.  It is not a simple matter to give up the security of a family business and live far from people you love. My in-laws are, baruch HaShem, wonderful people who are as close to me as my own parents, so you can appreciate Rebbetzin, that this was a very difficult move for the both of us. After extensive research and visiting different neighborhoods and spending Shabbos there, we settled on a thriving Torah community in New York. We had a choice of the finest yeshivas and were confident that our children would benefit and grow, but I am very sad to tell you that we encountered many frustrations and it is for that reason that I am writing to you now to seek your advice.

The main problem is with our fourteen year old son. The yeshiva in which we enrolled him enjoys a very fine reputation and we felt fortunate that he was accepted. We were also told that the boys were of a very high caliber, excelling in their learning and character traits, but overnight, we were beset by a new set of problems that we had never anticipated.

Our 14 year old son is a good student, but he’s not excellent. He is a sweet, well adjusted child who is very giving and caring. He was placed in an accelerated class where the studies are very competitive and intense, and frankly, he has difficulty keeping up with the demands of this program, so we engaged tutors for him, which, needless to say, is very costly and which we can barely afford. But no matter, the education of our children is our priority and we are prepared to sacrifice for it. Please do not think that I am complaining about the financial burden, although we do feel strapped. What does concern me is that our sweet darling boy, who was always so calm and even tempered, has become very nervous and anxious. He returns home late at night overwhelmed with homework, and then, of course, there are the
tutors, and he literally doesn’t have a second to himself.

There are some geniuses - exceptionally bright boys, in the class who find the pace easy, but for our son, it is a struggle. As I said, he’s a good student, but he’s not one of those “geniuses”. Yet he is forced to try to keep up with them.

Please don’t think Rebbetzin, that I am a pushy mother. My husband and I have both told our son that there is no reason why he has to stay in that accelerated class when he could go to a less demanding class, but when we bring up the subject, his eyes fill with tears because he doesn’t want to be demoted. As much as we would like to remove the pressure, he doesn’t want to hear about it. He has told me that he just doesn’t want to be considered a failure. He likes the group of boys in his class and he doesn’t want to lose their friendship.

I do not know why the school has to create such competitiveness among the children. I feel that it’s very destructive and represents a threat to their emotional and physical well being. I have become friendly with some of the mothers and they feel the same way. One mother told me that her son went into depression because he couldn’t keep up with the work and had to join the Beis group. I would not, G-d forbid, want something like that to happen to our son, so as you can see, Rebbetzin, we are between a rock and a hard place.

I appreciate that there is a lot of pressure placed on yeshivas nowadays to excel, to be the “best” school where the learning is better - but at what price?

This problem with my fourteen year old is placing my husband and me under a tremendous
amount a stress. Should we change yeshivas? But then again, what guarantees do we have that things will be better in another school? And is quitting the lesson that we want to impart to our son? We have spoken to his rebbe and he feels that he can do it with a little more effort, but in our estimation, that little more effort could be just too much.

I would appreciate your response, and should you publish this letter, please omit my name.

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