Defending Hasidic Yeshivas while Offending Hasidic Parents
Dear Rabbi David Niederman,
Thank you! Thanks for the thoughtful opinion piece you recently penned in the Daily News, responding to the incessant flow of criticism our community has been facing and dealing with of late. It was about time. For too long we have been putting up with the malicious hate coming from many sides, including, sadly, from within. It does take someone like you, someone who dedicated his life doing for the Klal, to be the defending voice to these attacks.
But while you rightfully saw it as your responsibility to respond to the attacks aimed at the community you give your life for, I am wondering why it is that you made it a habit, your vocation, at the realm of a noble organization, to relentlessly throw life-vests in order to prevent people from drowning, yet wouldn’t do anything to stop the flooding waters?
My dear husband of 14 years, a gifted brain when it comes to Torah learning, is illiterate when it comes to anything relating to the English language. I remember one night shortly after we had our twin boys 2 years after we married, which were our 2nd and 3rd kids ke”h, sitting on our respective beds, each of us with one child in hand, desperately trying to calm the crying babies to sleep.
Following months of financial and emotional stress, it was past 2:00a.m. with baby in hand that night when my husband phoned his esteemed Rosh Yeshivah from his days in a legendary yeshiva who, as his mentor, he kept close ties with, going straight to the point as soon as he answered the phone, bewildered, wondering what the emergency might be at 2:00a.m. “You taught me how to learn a shtikel קצות, רבי עקיבא איגר, and how to plow through many a סיגיות. But you taught me nothing about how to prepare for life ahead! None of that is of any help in supporting my growing family! What’s the point of a שב שמעתתא when I don’t have the means to feed my family?”
After a brief silence, the rosh yeshiva, in a broken voice and in obvious shock, promised to follow up in the coming days.
Follow he did. Over a longer conversation, the rosh yeshivah confessed that for years he’d been troubled, haunted even, by how his students leave the yeshiva, heading into a life of their own, being so ill prepared, armed with גמרא תוספות but not much else. But what should I do, the rosh yeshiva reasoned, when the parent body send their kids for גמרא תוספות? Either yell at your father, or you should have had your father ask for an English curriculum, however limited.
My husband has since had conversations with his father about it and he, too, admitted being troubled by the ramifications of a 14 hour a day of גמרא תוספות curriculum, but what to do when that is the non-wavering, etched in stone norm, where doing or demanding anything different would have far greater consequences.
That was more than a decade ago. We had promised to do better for our kids. To demand more. How ignorant of us. With these twin boys now grown and themselves in yeshiva, we now see firsthand how hard it is to demand for reasonable change to the better. Common sense seems to give way to peer pressure, even when conforming to that peer pressure means giving up the future of our kids.
For years now, we tried identifying the single person, a respected person within, someone of stature and reason, to be that demanding voice for change. All those years visiting UJO, filing out the various forms to have us qualify for yet another government program, it didn’t cross my mind that the one handing out the life vests can also be the one to stop the flooding waters. But by responding to these attacks, you made us realize that in addition to handing us cases potato for Pesach and the voice on the microphone at any given protest, you actually care deeply for this community, and may very well be the single voice of reason to bring about positive change.
This begs the question, how could you, Rabbi Niederman? How do you witness hundreds and thousands of people lining the door of your organization, yet refuse to stop the bleeding? Is it only your responsibility to respond after we’re being attacked, yet you’ll do nothing to address the real issue?
My husband had enrolled in English classes, going through the motions of nightly practice, which tarnished his self-esteem as a grown man doing elementary level homework. We also found out the hard way that it’s tougher learning or improving on language once grown and filled with responsibilities. He now has a decent job, which, along with every government program under the sun, loans from the גמ״ח and the unwashed carrots from UJO before Pesach, hardly affords us anything beyond pushing through.
I’d like to think that given his blessed brain, being a gifted Baal Mechadesh and analytical thinker, that there’d been better opportunities waiting for him on the outset, if only he’d been equipped with the basic tools. Starting out with a disadvantage, joining the workforce with a handicap, forced him to settle for whatever was available at the time, as the ropes were tightening each day by the growing responsibilities.
What’s most frightening of all is that, with our sons is in yeshiva, nothing has changed. This new generation sees the same crime committed against them, being robbed from learning the very language which is the only safe path through the workforce and which they’ll need in order to pay the bills and support their families.
This isn’t my story. It’s the story of most everyone in the community. No, I cannot enroll my son to another yeshivah, as you seemed to suggest in your PR stunt. We once got into a family feud with my in-laws just for exploring the possibility of switching the kids to the other Satmar. Yes, we can technically put them in different schools and yeshivahs, much the same way we can put them to public school, g-d forbid. In reality, it’s unrealistic — and maybe a tongue-in-cheek suggestion like much else in your article seemed to be.
And while we understand that the article had to be written in order to defend the community, it was a painful sting at our hearts, an open, bleeding wound, seeing that no one, not even you, is coming to our aid. With the intensifying flooding waters, we, the community, looked on with horror, seeing you so preoccupied with handing out yet another life vest.
With pain and hope for the future,
- R. W. Rutledge St.