Susan Lapin, whose husband founded and served as rabbi of the Pacific Jewish Center in Venice, California, homeschooled her children in Los Angeles before “I had ever even heard the word.” To her knowledge, she was the first Orthodox homeschooler in the area. Mrs. Lapin now lives in Seattle and has two married daughters, both homeschooled.
“I didn’t see them having any more problems than any of their friends,” says Mrs. Lapin. “And I think that the bottom-line fact is that there is a big strata going on in the ‘shidduch parsha’ [area of matchmaking], and ranging from people who really and truly want to know, ‘What camp did the mother go to when she was seven years old?’
“A family like that is never going to look at our family, but we wouldn’t take a look at them, either. If anything, it [homeschooling] became an object of interest; it made my girls stand out in the crowd.”
Mrs. Lapin continues: “You have to at some point connect to the community. It would be certainly hard to live out somewhere unknown and have your kids never go to school, camp, seminary or yeshiva and, all of a sudden, show up. Most families I know who homeschool have connections. And once you have those connections, that’s where [an eventual match comes from]. Except for a small minority who don’t really care where you went for fifth grade.”
Despite King Solomon’s famous Torah quote, sending our children to school has become the norm, where homeschooling is considered strange by the majority. Homeschoolers are concerned that their communities will increasingly look at them as outsiders, and that it will become more difficult for their kids to stay in the social loop as their peers spend year after year together in the classroom.
It used to be the case, however, that nearly everyone homeschooled. It was only since the Second Temple period that every town had a Torah-learning facility. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Gamla, a kohen gadol (high priest) wanted to provide Torah education to the many orphans who had no parent to teach them. Eventually, even those with parents attended these facilities of Torah learning, and it has become the norm to attend a formal educational institution.
“People talk to you like they think you’re crazy for the first half of the conversation when they find out you’re homeschooling,” says Sara Morrow. “I had one friend here who was appalled when she heard I was going to do this. She called me and said, ‘Are you out of your mind? How could you possibly think you can replicate what school does? Socially, they’re going to be inept!’ She has since come back and said to me, ‘You have the nicest kids in the neighborhood. I was wrong.’”
Why is the Orthodox community so averse to homeschooling? Larry Beck feels it has a lot to do with the fact that the Jewish community invests a lot of time, money and effort into training people to become Jewish educators. Homeschoolers pose a threat to their livelihood. “The [educational] system puts a very big emphasis on raising and training [educators]. So, it has a very vested interest in not allowing [deviation from the yeshiva-day school model].”
Susan Lapin adds, “I think we’ve built up very expensive institutions and we’re very proud and very grateful that there is a place we can send our kids…. I know people do have trouble sometimes when they move into a community, and if you’re not sending your children to the school, there’s an attitude, ‘Well, you must be undermining it,’ instead of making a decision of what you think is best for your child. There’s a fear in the Jewish community, and it’s growing in the Orthodox community, of anyone stepping outside the bounds.”
So, how can homeschooling become more of a viable alternative in Torah education? First of all, more Torah-observant Jews have to homeschool. As the number of homeschoolers within observant communities has grown, more home-based educational resources have developed. Online, one can find listservs such as Torch-D on Shamash.org, which serves as a support system for Torah-centered homeschoolers worldwide. Sites such as www.e-chinuch.org provide numerous lesson ideas and worksheets for both institutional and home-based educators. One can even take a Torah-based class over the Internet, given by a rabbi.