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September 20, 2014 / 25 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘education’

British PM : Check Schools After Islamist Takeover Plot

Monday, June 9th, 2014

Britain is beginning to wake up after an Islamist plot to take over the nation’s school system was discovered.

The alleged plot, ‘Operation Trojan Horse,’ involved forcing state schools to adopt a more Muslim culture by hiring school governors whose sympathies lay with Islam and would support a more conservative Islamic religious agenda.

Prime Minister David Cameron issued a pre-emptive statement Monday prior to publication of the findings of an investigation by Ofsted school officials into the allegations about the plot.

Cameron also scolded two of his most senior ministers over the weekend for publicly criticizing each other over their handling of the issue.

Jewish Youth Battle to Win Israel’s 2014 Annual International Bible Quiz

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

The nation’s eyes are on Israel’s annual International Bible Quiz for Youth, being held today (Yom HaAtzma’ut) at The Jerusalem Theater. Sixteen finalists, boys and girls, are facing off on the stage to win the prize. The contest is broadcast live on nearly all channels, radio and television, in addition to those on Internet, across the country.

Last week 75 contestants from 33 nations met in Jerusalem with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Shai Piron.

Questions are announced by the emcee in Hebrew, but appear on the screen in English as well as in Hebrew.

Prime Minister Netanyahu traditionally presents the final round of questions to contestants who are fighting to be the winners of the competition.

At the halfway point, Jewish Agency director Natan Scharansky was asked to present an award to an outstanding student from Or Yehuda, and in his brief address spoke of the importance of strengthening Jewish identity among the youth in the Diaspora.

The contest has been an annual event since its inception. There is also an Israel Bible Quiz for Adults.

Last year’s youth winners were Elior Babian of Beit Shemesh, Israel and Yeshiva University High School student Yishai Eisenberg of New Jersey.

The prime minister’s son Avner won third place in 2010, and the contest has increased in popularity each year.

California School District Cancels Lesson on Holocaust Denial

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

Students at a school in California who were given an assignment to compare propaganda with actual evidence on the Holocaust have instead been told to abandon the project.

The order came following a firestorm of criticism and at least one death threat aimed at Southern California’s Rialto Unified School District, which assigned the homework.

According to a report published in The Daily Bulletin newspaper, the project was assigned in April to 2,000 13-and-14 year old eighth grade students, as follows:

Shen tragic events occur in history, there is often debate about their actual existence. For example, some people claim the Holocaust is not an actual historical event, but instead is a propaganda tool that was used for political and monetary gain.  Based upon your research on this issue, write an argumentative essay, utilizing cited textual evidence, in which you explain whether or not you believe the Holocaust was an actual event in history, or merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain. Remember to address counterclaims (rebuttals) to your stated claim. You are also required to use parenthetical (internal) citations and to provide a Works Cited page.”

It had first been reviewed by a committee of eighth grade teachers, and sent to middle school sites in February for comment prior to distribution to the students. No objections were raised at the time, according to the spokesperson.

But the district found itself under siege on Monday, with the switchboard lines ringing off the hook.

At least one person called police repeatedly threatening death to a district spokeswoman Syeda Jafri and the interim school superintendent Mohammad Z. Islam. The incident is under investigation.

But also among the critics was Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, who slammed the assignment as inappropriate.

Rabbi Cooper told FoxNews.com on Monday, “Whatever the motivation, it ends up elevating hate and history to the same level… We should train our kids to have critical thinking, but the problem here is the teacher confused teaching critical thinking with common sense, because common sense dictates you don’t comingle propaganda with common truth.”

The rabbi advised the district to instead assign students to research the issue of Holocaust denial and meet with local survivors of the Nazis.

The school district responded in a statement saying the interim superintendent will speak with its educational services department to “assure that any reference to the Holocaust ‘not occurring’ will be stricken from any current or future argumentative research assignments. The Holocaust is and should be taught in classrooms with sensitivity and profound consideration to the victims who endured the atrocities committed,” the statement continues. “We believe in the words of George Santayana, ‘Those who cannot learn from history are bound to repeat it.”

The Los Angeles office of the Anti-Defamation League said it was satisfied with the district’s actions by Monday. “It is ADL’s general position that an exercise asking students to question whether the Holocaust happened has no academic value; it only gives legitimacy to the hateful and anti-Semitic promoters of Holocaust denial,” Associate Regional Director Matthew Friedman was quoted as saying, after having spoken with the interim superintendent on Friday.

“ADL does not have any evidence that the assignment was given as part of a larger, insidious, agenda,” a blog post quoting Friedman continues. “Rather, the district seems to have given the assignment with an intent, although misguided, to meet Common Core standards relating to critical learning skills.”

In a number of European countries today — including Germany — Holocaust denial is a criminal offense for which one can be sentenced to prison. The Nazis exterminated six million Jews out of a total of some 11 million victims murdered between 1933 and 1945, in the Holocaust that took place prior to and during World War II. Some two-thirds of European Jewry was wiped out in the slaughter, which ended with the defeat of Nazi Germany by the U.S., UK and their Allies.

20% of Hamas Budget for Terror Tunnels

Sunday, October 20th, 2013

An astounding 20% of Hamas’s annual budget goes into building terror tunnels, according to an IDF estimation, which is based on numbers published by Hamas in Gaza.

With an annual budget of $700 million, it’s estimated that $100 million goes directly towards building terror tunnels into Israel and the Sinai, said a report in Makor Rishon.

The IDF estimates there are many more terror tunnels leading into Israel, besides the four that were recently found.

It is unknown how much more of their budget then goes into acquiring and building missiles and explosives.

Hamas’s Finance Minister complained that Hamas has lost $460 million since June, as a result of Egypt blowing up 90% of Hamas’s tunnels in the Sinai.

Hamas says they need their terror tunnels to kidnap Israelis, to help free terrorists captured by Israel who were trying to kill Israelis.

Just imagine if they had instead put that money towards new schools, medical centers, or social programs to improve their country.

The Secret of Orthodoxy’s Success

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

There is a little known fact (outside of Lubavitch) about the founder of Chabad Chasidus, Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi (the author of the Shulchan Aruch HaRav – also known as the Baal HaTanya). He supporeted the Czar of Russia in opposition to Napolean. R’ Shneur Zalman reasoned that the freedom that would result via Napolean’s emancipation from the Czar would cause Jews to go Off the Derech (OTD). He wasn’t entirely wrong.

Not that an anti-Semitic dictatorship like the Czarist Russia or the Soviet Union didn’t do the same thing or worse. Most Jews in the anti Semitic/anti religious Soviet Union were unable to remain observant. But it cannot be argued that too much freedom will result in the masses opting out of observant Judaism – or even Judaism altogether.  At least that is what the recent Pew study revealed. A shocking 70% of non Orthodox Jews marry out and only 20% of their children are raised with any semblance of Jewish identity.

Why is that? There are many reasons mostly having to do with a lack of any significant Jewish education. But that is only part of the story. An Interesting observation was made by Bethamie Horowitz in a Forward article that had a positive spin on that survey. Sort of positive – that is.

She noted that marrying out is not so much a function of going OTD as it is the result of an overwhelming sense of acceptance of Jews into American society of Jews and Judaism. That should be obvious to anyone who is paying attention. Here are some examples of that:

Yiddish words are increasingly seeping into the English language.

The Holocaust is perhaps the most revered subject in the public square today. Hollywood – which is probably the most influential component of American culture – will not let us forget it. Every year there is another Holocaust movie or documentary. Which is often nominated for an Academy Award.

The number of Jews winning the Nobel Prize was immense this year it seems. I believe that 22% of all Nobel Prize winners are Jews (Whereas only .2% of the world population are Jews.)

In fact there are so many indicators of our acceptance that it would take up too much space to include them all. I recall reading about a poll recently that said that Judaism is the most respected religion in America.

Not only are Jews no longer hiding their Judaism by changing their names; not wearing a Kipa in public (if they are male); and keeping  their religious practices completely private – if at all, they are now proudly proclaiming their Jewish identity.

It is now ‘cool’ to be Jewish in this country. But it is not cool to be observant. That is a burden that a proud assimilated and not religiously educated Jew can do without. Without a religious education the freedom to assimilate can and probably will lead you astray. Why be observant, an assimilated Jew might ask? Just be a proud Jew. The next generation will ask why even bother even being Jewish at all? ‘I don’t even like bagels’ they might say. ‘I prefer lobster!’  Intermarriage? What’s the big deal? It is completely accepted now.

The ultimate demonstration of that was one of the most famous intermarriages of the modern era. Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of a President married a Jew. Her wedding highlighted many aspects of a Jewish wedding, including a Chupah and a Kesubah. Her husband even wore a Kipa under the Chupah. And the media was all over this fawning over it like it was a royal marriage. As Ms. Horowitz points out:

A cartoon from the October 1, 2012, issue of The New Yorker depicted a couple and a wedding planner with the following caption: “No, we’re not Jewish. But we think it would be fun for our reception’s theme to be ‘A Jewish wedding.’”

So is R’ Shneur Zalman right? Should we be praying for a government that will oppress us? Is oppression the only thing that will keep us Jewish? Apparently that is what the Baal HaTanya believed. The Judaism of his generation was apparently very shallow. A Jew would not remain a Jew if given the chance – and the anti Semitic Czar would never give a Jew that chance.

He preferred persecuting us. And Jews remained Jewish and for the most part observant. Why observant? The communities were tight knit and going OTD meant being ostracized. Which of course meant that an OTD Jew would have no place to go since he was still a Jew and not accepted by Russian gentiles. He was worthy only of persecution.

What a sad commentary on Judaism if the best way to keep Jews observant is by keeping them oppressed. This is what R’ Shneur Zalmen wanted and it is why (I am told) he supported the Czar.

But I have to disagree with him and the entire premise of blaming freedom for the masses going OTD. It isn’t the fault freedom. It’s the fault of lack of a proper religious Jewish education. The vast majority o those of us who were properly educated are today observant… in an era of complete freedom and total acceptance by general society.

As Noah Feldman’s article in Bloomberg  pointed out, one need only look at Lakewood to see just how well religiously educated Jews are doing. Their growth has been exponential over the last couple of generations. That Noah Feldman  – a once Orthodox but now assimilated Jew who married out pointed this out – does not detract from the reality of what he said. (Ironically he was given a religious Jewish education. But he is the exception that proves the rule. Unfortunately there are a lot of exceptions. The reason for that is beyond the scope of this post.)

So there you have it. The real fault of why the vast majority of Jews in this country are not observant lies mostly with the lack of any significant religious education for the masses of Jews who immigrated here in the early 20th century. Jewish education was practically non-existent then. Coupled with the melting pot climate of assimilation and the requirement to work on Shabbos in order to keep your job…  the children of these immigrants ran away from observance in droves. They wanted to be Americans. Not Jews. Those 90 percent of Jews who are today are not observant are their offspring. Through no fault of their own – being completely bereft of any Jewish education – they do not know the definition of Judaism and see no value in it. As can be seen from the Pew study.

The good news is that many of these Jews do not have the biases of their parents or grandparents. Their parents and grandparents hated the burdens of being observant and ran away from observance. Their children don’t know enough about it to hate it. Of course this is not true in all cases. Many of these young people do not want to give up the freedom that non observance affords them. But a surprising number of them do.  That’s where organizations like NCSY comes in.

So, all is not lost. The lesson we should take from all of this is that we should appreciate and even cherish the freedom this great country of ours affords us. And  that oppression is not the way to keep Jews in the fold.  Being Jewish because circumstances force you to be is not a prescription for Jewish continuity. Education is. And that is the secret of Orthodox success in this – the free’est country in the world.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah .

School Starts in Israel

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

Millions of adults in Israel are unusually happy today as 2,129,562 children return to school for the start of the school year.

1,700,535 children will be going to grade school, and another 429,177 will be going to nurseries and kindergartens.

A whopping 148,774 children will be starting first grade.

The breakdown of students in each of the major, recognized school system streams is as follows:

Public School:   678,161

Religous Public School:  217,137

Private School:  248,364

Talmud Torah:  50,470

Non-Jewish Schools:  437,503

There are 4,561 schools with  62,962 classrooms, and approximately 15,000 kindergartens/nursery schools in Israel.

For many Haredim (Ultra-Orthodox), the school year started 3 weeks ago, on Rosh Chodesh Elul. It’s estimated that Haredi students make up approximately 30% of the students in Israel.

More statistics can be found on the Ministry of Education’s website.

As one parent told this reporter this morning, “We’re meeting in the park at 10 to throw a party”.

I’ll be there.

A Step in the Right Direction

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

It’s like being a little bit pregnant. There is no such thing. Either you’re pregnant or you’re not.  Just because you are not showing yet, doesn’t mean you are not going to go full term and have a baby.

According to an article in the Jewish Press – it seems the Charedi wall of opposition to implementing a core curriculum of Limudei Chol (secular studies) into their schools has been breached by its Chasidic faction. Chidushei HaRim, a Yeshiva operated by Ger, has agreed to implement a full curriculum of Limudei Chol into its high school. Thus qualifying it for full government funding on par with government schools. The same thing is true about another school, Nadvorna, located in a city that one can say without fear of contradiction is the epicenter of the Charedi world, Bnei Brak.

Bnei Brak is the home of several Charedi rabbinic leaders, including Rav Aharon Leib Steinman. He is quoted in this article as being in the forefront of opposition to implementing any secular studies at all. He is dedicated to the current and decades long paradigm of pure Torah study to the exclusion of all else.  He believes it should remain intact without the ‘contamination’ of secular subjects.

I understand the mentality. But as I have said repeatedly here (far too many times to count) a policy of universal rejection of secular subjects in all of its schools is harmful to the material welfare of its people. Which in turn can easily make it harmful to its spiritual welfare.  While the claim is constantly made by their rabbinic leadership, their politicians, and their media – that a core secular curriculum would destroy the Torah world – the fact that the virtually all American Charedi schools have one gives lie to that rhetoric.

As I have also said so many times, it should be obvious to anyone with eyes that will see and ears that will hear that the Israeli government is not Czarist Russia. They do not want to destroy Judaism, Not even Charedi Judaism. They are doing the opposite. They are trying to save it. They are helping it survive into the future by creating a mechanism via education to better itself materially and thus spiritually. The Mishnaic dictum of Ein Kemech Ein Torah is alive and well in Charedi circles as the oppressive poverty one often finds there is the cause of tremendous Shalom Bayis and OTD issues. You’re not going to get much spirituality under conditions like these.

Although it is often posited by the right that the harsh poverty conditions under which the Israeli Charedim live is voluntary in service of God in its purest form, Limud HaTorah, (I’m sure that’s true in many cases) there are plenty  of families that are being crushed by it!

But now it seems that at least the Chasidim who attend these two high schools will have a shot at living close to normal middle class Chasidic lives via the preparation they will get in those schools.

Have these schools now capitulated to the devil? Would Rav Steinman feel the battle for authentic Judaism has been lost? I hope not. I hope that this venerable sage will adapt to the new reality and realize that it is not Shmad – but a simple adjustment in their lives for the better. Hopefully he will adapt and then advocate a Limudei Chol curriculum in consonance with Charedi values. Similar to the Charedi high schools in America.

The moderate Charedi world that I often talk about as the future of mainstream American Orthodoxy – is a beneficiary of such a high school curriculum. It has enabled many of them to have the educational tools needed to eventually attend professional schools and training programs. And then get decent jobs as lawyers and accountants; doctors and dentists; or becomes skilled technicians in any given field. And yet they all remain true to their Charedi principles – many of them having learned in Kollel for many years before turning to their professions, trades, and careers.

On the one hand I am a bit surprised that it is the Chasdim who have capitulated first here. They are the most insulated segment of Orthodox Jewry. Higher education is anathema to them in most cases (There are occasional  exceptions.) So that their entry into the workforce is done at a mostly uneducated and unskilled level.

On the other hand, unlike their Lithuanian influenced Yeshivishe counterparts Chasidim are not urged en masse to learn in  Yeshivos and Kollelim for as long as possible. Although they too have Kollelim – the time spent there is limited. Most young Chasidim are encouraged to eventually go to work and support their families. Although Chasdim are some of the poorest Jews in all of Orthodoxy, that’s mostly because their leaders eschew higher education. In Israel it would take a tremendous act of rebellion, and willingness to overcome their grossly deficient education in Limudei Chol to succeed at the training required for better jobs.

But now – in at least for the graduates of these two schools – that will no longer be the case. Even though I’m sure that higher education will still be discouraged or even banned – it may eventually be honored more in the breach than in adherence.  That will produce a two-fold benefit. It will enable better incomes. And it will also break the isolation they live in which in my opinion is one of the biggest problems they have. Isolation breeds the uncivilized behavior that some of them are guilty of when they protest things they don’t like. I suppose there will still be a small core of uncivilized extremists. But the sympathy and quiet support they get from the rest of their populace will surely fade by the greater exposure to the outside world.

So now that the wall of opposition has been broken. So too has the ice been broken. I’m sure there will be plenty of public outrage and opposition to these two schools by Charedi rabbinic leaders, politicians and media. But hopefully these schools will not be deterred.

If they succeed at overcoming that pressure, it won’t be long before other schools follow suit. They will surely see the full funding those thriving schools get from the government – while their schools starve and start closing doors. That will have an impact. Decisions will have to be made between closing down and introducing a core curriculum. When that finally happens and Charedim start bettering their lives, they can turn to Yair Lapid and his two Charedi members of his party, Rabbis Shai Piron and Dov Lipman and say thank you! Because Hakaras HaTov will surely be in order.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah .

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