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October 30, 2014 / 6 Heshvan, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘higher education’

UC-Berkeley Starting Jewish Studies Center

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

The University of California, Berkeley is launching a Center for Jewish Studies.

The university made the announcement of the center, for which it allotted $1 million, on Wednesday. The center will be inaugurated Oct. 30.

“The center will expand the breadth of Jewish studies scholarship here, connect more students to the wealth of Jewish studies resources across the campus, and enrich the university’s engagement with the Jewish community in the [San Francisco] Bay Area and beyond,” Chancellor Nicholas Dirks said.

The center will serve as the focal point for faculty and courses from various disciplines and departments, ranging from comparative literature and law to theater and dance.

Its addition enhances California’s reputation as a magnet for scholars and students in the field of Jewish studies. Stanford and UCLA also have major Jewish studies centers.

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 .

Lakewood’s $10 Million Coup

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

This is one of those stories that worry me. VIN and NJ.com report that Lakewood Yeshiva (BMG) has been approved by the State of New Jersey for an over ten million dollar grant in what Governor Chris Christie is calling a “new era” for the state’s institutions of higher learning.

I’m sure that Lakewood applied for that grant legally and truthfully. I do not believe for a second that there was any fraud involved. And I congratulate them on a successful outcome. Lakewood certainly needs the money. But I remain with some serious concerns.

The grant was given for the construction of a library and research center. Governor Christie’s goal is “keeping New Jersey’s “best” and “brightest” in-state, while attracting new research and business partners who will bring new and better paying jobs.”

What worries me is that in spite of what I am sure was a completely honest presentation of Lakewood’s plans to the state; I am not convinced that the state’s purpose in granting them that money is even a dream in the back of the minds of Lakewood’s leaders. Nor do I believe for a minute that such a library will serve any other purpose than the stated mission of such an institution – Torah study. The kind of research that library will offer will no doubt be only in that vein. Neither am I convinced that it will result in anything near attracting new business partners.

This project will help to retain some of the finest minds in Torah Judaism. Lakewood is the premier “Torah Only” Yeshiva in the United States. It attracts the best and brightest among its constituents. Expansion means attracting more of the same. Some of whom may settle there and eventually have good jobs (and some – not such great jobs).

But even so, Lakewood cannot claim that as its goal. It can only say that this is a by-product of their ‘Torah Only” system. This is a yeshiva that forbids its students to take any secular courses while enrolled there and discourages it even after they leave. This is a yeshiva whose rosh yeshiva (dean) made disparaging remarks about someone who has been a pioneer in providing higher education for students of yeshivos like Lakewood so that they could get decent jobs… basically referring to him as a second class citizen (…full time students of Torah being first class citizens). One might even say that the rosh yeshiva would view someone like that as undermining the goals of Lakewood!

It is also no secret that Lakewood uses the welfare system legally for students who qualify for aid. Most of them probably do – since they do not have jobs but do have large families. Even those whose wives work (most of them, I’m sure) do not make enough money to disqualify them from some sort of government assistance. Again, nothing legally wrong with that.

I have to ask, is there not a moral or ethical issue of misrepresenting yourself to the world in this way – even if you qualify legally? Is there not something wrong with able bodied people choosing not to work and using the welfare system as a means of income?

And by the same token, is there not something wrong with taking over $10 million knowing what the government thinks you are going to do with that money – and using it for something else – even though it technically qualifies? A Beis HaMedrash may be a library. But is a $10 million Beis HaMedrash going to attract business partners who will bring new and better paying jobs?

Even if it truly a research library and not a Beis HaMedrash – it will certainly only contain Seforim – religious books – even if some of them will be in English. What kind of research will this foster – other than research in Torah studies?

I of course have no problem with such a library. I think it will be a valuable resource for student of Torah. But is this what the State of New Jersey had in mind in approving $10 million dollars to Lakewood?

Lakewood’s goal is not Governor Christie’s goal. Lakewood wants to expand its student base. The enormous growth in the numbers of Orthodox Jews, especially among Haredi Jews of the “Torah Only” persuasion, demands such an expansion. For some time now, Lakewood has been talking about doubling its capacity to over 10,000 students!

I guess they have found a way of doing that. But is it ethical? Will the state be happy with the results? And how will this be perceived by the secular public? Will they not see this as being unethical? Is this ultimately the wisest way of raising money for their cause? Will the potential negative fallout be worth it if it happens?

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

Stardom 101: Lipa Goes To College

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

He is a singer, an entertainer, a performer, a composer, a lyricist and perhaps the most revolutionary force to ever hit the Jewish music world. But for the last two years, Lipa Schmeltzer has donned another guise, trading his microphones for textbooks and the concert stage for the classroom, as the colorful artist has headed to school in pursuit of a college degree.

Schmeltzer’s dream of obtaining a higher education began approximately two years ago as he drove past the local community college and began to contemplate the possibility of earning a college degree. Stopping off at the registrar’s office, Schmeltzer inquired as to the enrollment requirements and was told he needed a high school diploma.

“I never got an education other than biblical stuff,” reported Schmeltzer. “I called up someone in New Square and he got me a paper saying I had graduated high school.”

Not surprisingly, the registrar at Rockland Community College, a two-year school which is part of the State University of New York system, informed Schmeltzer that the paper he was holding was of little value. As English is actually Schmeltzer’s second language, he spent eighteen months working towards his high school equivalency diploma, taking classes at the Rockland County Board of Cooperative Educational Services as well as studying with private tutor Chaim Glovinsky in order to pass the series of five tests which would award him a General Equivalency Diploma and allow him to enroll in college.

Now completing his first full semester at RCC, the 34-year-old Schmeltzer is a firm believer in the value of proper schooling.

“I never had the opportunity to get an education,” explained the superstar. “It’s not fair what is going on in many communities today. People are getting married yet they have no way of supporting themselves and one day they wake up and realize they can’t manage. Even if someone disagrees with the idea of going to college there are still programs which can provide a college degree so that they can make something of themselves and support their families.”

Schmeltzer, who is pursuing a dual associate’s degree in performing arts and liberal arts, a two year process, took twelve credits in his first semester and hopes to take a full 18 credit course load for the upcoming spring semester. Among the courses Schmeltzer plans to complete in his first full year in college are acting, dance, musical theater, English, psychology and pluralism and diversity.

Both Schmeltzer’s classmates and the faculty at the college laud his exuberance, his talent and his determination.

“Lipa is kind, enthusiastic and nice to everyone,” said classmate Neidin Loughran. “Everyone in our acting class respects him, his beliefs, his decision to enroll in college at his age and his passion for performing.”

“Lipa has never boasted about his career but he is a superstar to us,” added department chairperson, Patricia Maloney-Titland, who was also Schmeltzer’s professor this past semester. “His manner, his work ethic, his creativity, everyone enjoys what he brings to the table. Lipa clearly inspires people and if anyone can be the messenger to remind us that we all need to find common ground to unite us, he is going to be that guy.”

In fact, Schmeltzer views his time at RCC as an opportunity not only for his personal growth but that of other Jewish students as well. Rabbi Dov Oliver, director of the RCC Hillel, which also doubles as a Chabad House, had nothing but praise for the college’s most well known musical personality.

“From his first days at RCC, Lipa has been here offering to do whatever he could,” reported Rabbi Oliver. “He has helped me put tefillin on kids and he brought his entire family for our annual Shabbat dinner. He made kiddush, sang zemiros, did badchanus and literally made his way to every single table in the room, making everyone feel good. Once, at our weekly parsha shmooze, Lipa spoke about his life, how unlikely it was that he would have ended up in college, explaining that you never have to accept your circumstances as the end game, you can control your own destiny and work towards what you believe. He made a very powerful impression on the students.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/interviews-and-profiles/stardom-101-lipa-goes-to-college/2012/12/27/

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