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The Modern Orthodox Educational Experience

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Dear Dr. Yael:

I am writing both in response to the letter from An Avid Reader (For Torah U’madda, June 6) and regarding an unfortunate trend that I have noticed.

When I read Avid Reader’s words, “They simply told me to try a modern yeshiva and, suffice to say, I wasn’t very happy,” it reminded me of a past letter that appeared in The Jewish Press. That letter was also written by a frustrated mother whose son had been rejected from a few yeshivot for various reasons, including cell phone usage and being seen speaking with female relatives. Her son ultimately switched to a yeshiva she described as “quite modern.” However, she said that her son was uncomfortable there. I found this confusing, as it sounded like the yeshiva was a perfect fit. I wondered whether, perhaps, it was the mother who was uncomfortable, afraid of being labeled as “modern.”

Avid Reader’s letter seems even stranger to me than the one I just described. It most certainly does not suffice for this mother to say that she was unhappy with the suggestion of a modern yeshiva.

I attended a self-described Modern Orthodox yeshiva high school, and have friends who attended other Modern Orthodox schools. My school addressed nearly all of the letter writer’s concerns, and other modern schools operate similarly. Let’s start with a parent’s first step through the front door.

When a school’s student body is not limited those who dress in black and white, you need not be as concerned with whether you look like you’ll fit in. In my experience, modern schools tend to be more open-minded toward other flavors of Judaism than the other way around, virtually eliminating the pressure to tell them what they want to hear. For example, my school employs rebbeim from varied backgrounds, offers a class in chassidus, and generally encourages students to explore their unique relationship with Hashem. Similarly, they are very accepting of ba’alei teshuvah and might even arrange special help for their children. I am always shocked to hear about ba’alei teshuvah being given a hard time by their fellow Jews, as in my community I am used to seeing them treated with the respect they deserve.

Additionally, my school already implements many of the mother’s ideas:

A) The school day begins and ends with Judaic studies, including Tanach and extra time for Gemara. Rebbeim and Hebrew teachers are often available throughout the day to provide added assistance. All can be contacted via e-mail.

B) It is recognized by an accreditation agency accepted by the United States Department of Education. Teachers are qualified; some even have doctorates. The school successfully manages the difficult balancing act between Judaic studies and general studies.

C) Physical education class takes place at least once a week, and students have use of the gym during their free time. Students are required to take classes in art and music appreciation as well.

D) The school day runs from about 7:40 a.m.-5:30 p.m., with an optional night seder program. While this is somewhat longer than the letter writer’s ideal 8:30 a.m.-4:45 p.m. schedule, one must understand that a quality dual curriculum requires commitment.

E) The administration is open to hearing students’ thoughts, though I acknowledge that this is something that all schools must work on.

My overall message: Schools that define themselves as “modern” must not be dismissed a priori.

I look forward to the day when parents do not deny their children a quality education that matches the student’s needs solely due to social pressure.

Sincerely,

Modern Orthodox and Proud
 

Dear Modern Orthodox and Proud:

With the knowledge that problems exist with every school situation, I spoke with teachers at high-caliber, excellent Modern Orthodox schools. As in all types of schools, I found positives and negatives. Here are some thoughts expressed by the teachers with whom I spoke:

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