Sunday, May 28, 2006

Torn in Israel. Secular Kids in Religious Schools - part 2.

Without a doubt, "torn" is the way I feel about this entire issue and many of you used this exact word. I'd like to address some of your comments in this followup posting. I apologize in advance for not including them all -- I'll try to relate to them in the comments section from the previous posting.

Steg: Why are Israeli dati­ schools so maqpid/mahhmir on separation of sexes? Is this just another statistic to add to the "why Israeli Dati Le'umi and Diasporan Modern Orthodoxy are not the same thing" chart?

The same way Modern Orthodoxy in the US runs the gamut from LWMO to LW Yeshivish, you can't really map Dati Leumi onto Modern Orthodoxy. It means different things here...and alot of the pressing issues for US Modern Orthodoxy are dwarfed by much larger issues. Well, issues of more concern to your average Israeli.

Ra'anana Ramblings:
Raise the level of the secular school so the secular parents will prefer it to the religious school.

This is a good solution and the responsibility first and foremost of the municipality. Education should be everyone's number or two priority...not somewhere further down the list.

Your responsibility is to your children first.

Now I'm glad this came from WBM. Playing Devil's Advocate for a second, where does personal security come in to play at the expense of ideology? If your responsibility for children has to come first, wouldn't it be a safer place to live in the Galil than in the Shomron? Have you projected your own personal ideology onto your children, when your first responsibility should be having them in the safest environment possible? Obviously I have my own answers to this but I'm curious as to yours.

If you want to bring more kids to the derech than I would argue to keep them in school.

The question is, what is the point of the school? To educate kids already on the derech (and try and keep them there), to bring more kids to the derech, or to find the happy medium. An important note: Israel's Ministry of Education isn't funding the school to reach out to secular students about Judaism.

Sabzi Aash
Keep extra kipot and tzitziyot in the classroom. Educate the kids to feel that they're something special. Have them make their own.

And if they come to school every day forgetting their own at home -- how do you think religious kids will view this? You can forget once or twice, but to "forget" every single day may impart the message that it's not important to these kids or their parents. As an FYI, the school already has extras in every classroom.

Remedial program would be a disaster - it would attach a "second-best" stigma to the irreligious, and undo any possible kiruv. It recalls the worst aspects of American "Sunday School" programs - condescending teachers spoon-feeding uninterested and increasingly resentful kids.

I think it would be difficult but not for the reasons you mentioned. The teachers are very caring and committed, and I don't think they would be condescending and spoon-feeding. The kids still want to go to this school because of the other advantages it has over the alternative secular school.

I think blocking the secular kids out is a poor idea, for a variety of reasons, most having to do with chillul Hashem and how anti-religious this will make families who obviously are not at this point (or they wouldn't be willing to send their kid there no matter the education).

If parents are trying to send their kids to a religious school just to benefit from the higher academic quality and extcurricularlar activities, is it a Chilul Hashem if refused entry? Maybe if they really wanted to become religious... It's a difficult situation. I'm torn.

R' Gil Student:
How do the Shas schools handle this type of problem?

Shas schools are in a different situation lichatchila -- as their purpose is specifically outreach. I don't think there's an 80/20 ratio as there is in the school I'm describing. Additional important factors that cause parents to send their kids to Shas schools include:
- Free Hot Lunch (there are many families who can't afford hot lunches)
- Longer hours (more time for parents to work)
Shas specifically addresses lower income families with these enticements to get them to send their children to Shas schools. It is important to note that Shas then receives the electoral votes from the parents as a "thank you."
(And thank you R' Gil for dropping by!)

Yori Yanover
In any event, it's a delight to read about religious folks taking so seriously their roles as educators of their brothers and sister. 'shkoyach.

This was a very serious meeting and the issue was one of grave responsibility. I'm glad you appreciate our situation - your feedback (and everyone else's) is very much appreciated as it helps me formulate my position on this sensitive topic.

Ari K:
As far as what I think of the situation in Israel: A few years ago I sat next to a young woman from Ramat Aviv on a flight to Israel. She told me that in her entire life she had never seen Shabbat candles being lit until her visit to America! Something is wrong in Israel. I am by no means a Shasnick, but at least they are doing some real large-scale outreach among chiloni children.

The glass can be half full or half empty (and don't forget the RCA's recent resolution to foster a passion for Israel among US Jewry)

Anti-religious sentiment has been prevalent in some aspects of political Zionism since the State's inception. Cutting off the peyot of Yemenite Jewry in the 1950's is one example, integrating religious Ethiopian Jewry into totally secular Israeli communities is another, providing ZERO religious background to new immigrants from the ex-Soviet Union is yet another. A work colleague of mine from the Soviet Union has been in Israel for 10 years, and had never been taught any Jewish history that predated the 1880s. She has no knowledge whatsoever of why the State of Israel is located in Eretz Yisrael and not Uganda, had never heard the story of Purim, and has no clue of any stories from the Tanach.

On the other hand, despite the above, over 80% of Jewish Israelis observe some level of Kashrut, hold a seder on Pesach and fast on Yom Kippur. They know when all the Jewish holidays are, know how to read and speak Hebrew, and the majority of them are involved in day to day mitzvot for the benefit of Klal Yisrael; even if it's just by paying taxes, which provides security and social benefits for the Jewish people living in Israel today.

Compare that to the majority of Jews living in the US today -- what percentage of Reform Jewry know of the above?

Shas is far from the only group attempting to reach out to secular and masorti Israelis.

I could go on and on about the positive things in Israel, but we'll leave that for another posting.

Chodesh Tov!

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael


westbankmama said...

Jameel - number one, there is no such thing as "complete security" - Hashem is in charge everywhere, and what happens to us is in His hands. What one has to do is the hishtadlut that is possible (shmira, for example) and leave the rest to G-d. Two, with the start of the latest "intifada" (it should be called a war, shouldn't it?)and the suicide bombings, my kids are safer here than in the mall in Netanya or on line for pizza in Jerusalem. (But of course you know, and I'll wager, agree, with everything I just wrote anyway...)

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

WBM: Yes, I agree with you (surprise, surprise).

OK, so there's no such thing as complete security.

There's also no such thing as the perfect school either. Perhaps our "hishtadlut" in the schools is to allow up to 10% of secular kids who really want to learn more?

Yoel.Ben-Avraham said...

The other issue is offering people like Adin Steinzald the opportunity to discover Judaism. Raised in a secular home, his father sent him to a religous school to "get exposure", and look what happened!

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

YoelBA: One of the rabbanim in the school mentioned that same thing about himself (though he's not R' Steinzalts). He said that he was raised secular, and if not for the opportunity to attend a religious public school, he would never have been chozer bitshuva.

Anonymous said...

"Compare that to the majority of Jews living in the US today -- what percentage of Reform Jewry know of the above?"

Probably a high percentage of Reform Jews in the US know Jewish history and about the various holy days. There's even a modest trend towards something beyond minimal observance: and of course the three things even the most minimally observant Jew here will do is attend Yom Kippur services, light Chanukah candles, and have some sort of seder for at least the first night of Passover, even if they aren't affiliated with a synagogue.

Your question only makes sense if you include Jews who totally assimilated and unaffiliated, and Reform doesn't really deserve to have them lumped into its stats.

bec said...

okay, i missed the boat on part one of secular kids in religious schools because i needed time to digest and really think about this situation. speaking as a (former) high school teacher in the ny public school system, here's my input....
basically, in all of NYC, there are neighborhood elementary schools organized into specific districts. within each district are usually a few designated "specialized" schools, meaning, those housing programs for the gifted and talented. within the realm of junior high schools a similar situation exists. there are usually a bunch of regular schools and then a few more specialized schools for gifted kids. within the spectrum of nyc highschools, most have some sort of special program offered, and then there are the extremely competitive schools that exist at the top--stuyvesant, brooklyn tech, bronx high school of science, laguardia (the high school of the performing arts made famous in the movie "fame")....
but "anyone" cannot just get into these special programs. in elementary school, junior high, and high school, the top schools require special admissions exams, interviews,a portfolio (for art programs) and at the very least, a special application that must be filled out. and then the students wait and find out whether they will be attending a special school or their regular zoned school.
now, regarding the religious schools and the secular schools, a similar admissions process could be instituted. perhaps interviews with the kids. maybe a letter from a rabbi. maybe an interview with the parents as well. these interviews and recommendations would serve to give the faculty an idea of who wants to come in. it would screen out potential problems. it would cause admission from non-religious folks to be more competitive, and might spur people to practice more. it would also give the faculty an idea of the needs of this population.
thank goodness i'm in the BT process, and when i get to israel i plan on sending my kids to religious schools. i know that what my children learn in school will be reinforced in the home and vice versa. however, it seems that this is what is needed from the non-religious attendees of these schools--a level of commitment that is not being met on the part of the parents.
having taught hebrew school to conservative kids who ate mcdonalds on saturdays at the mall, i can assure you that there is nothing more frustrating than trying to explain kashrus and its importance when the parents don't care. somehow, jameel, someone needs to stress the need for religious accountability for students attending a religious school.

Anonymous said...

I would suggest sitting down with the non-observant family/families to discuss the dilemma that the school faces by accepting their children. But first I would preface it by saying that you would love to have the opportunity to help their child/children grow & develop in this beautiful Torah atmosphere.
Then I would ask them their opinion as to how this may affect their family when the child comes home & sees his family not observing all those criteria that he or she is now learning about. I would also ask how they would expect the families of the observant children to feel if the non-observant children begin having a "negative' affect on their children should the non-observant child mention how they, for instance, rode on shabbos - things of that nature? Then ask them what their response be if the situation would be reversed and it affected their home life - for instance, not wanting to ride on the sabbath, only eat kosher food, etc. Using these types of examples try to ascertain their response. If the Rabbi/Board asking the question is intuitive enough he will get a feeling if this family's child and family has a fairly good chance of adapting & accepting to his "new" school.
Bottom line, I don't believe in "throwing" away these children, and yet I know it can be very problematic If you succeed with only one or two children, wouldn't that be a special moment?

Anonymous said...

Does gettting mentioned in Cross-Currents count as much as a JIB award?

Anonymous said...

Nice colors. Keep up the good work. thnx!

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