Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Response to Rabbi Wallerstein's Agudah convention speech

 
The talk of the town is how direct Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein was when talking at the Agudah convention about the effect our educational system is having on our children. For a long time now, I’ve been having an issue with trying to recognize where the Torah/Truth is in the way we live as frum Yidden. 

If an outsider first learned the Torah and then did a study on how observant Jews live their lives, he/she would have many questions. There are numerous things that we do that not only don’t fit with Torah values but they are anti Torah values. We have systems set in place that make most of us live beyond our means. We are fiercely protecting an educational system that goes against everything we actually believe in. We put a huge amount of unneeded pressure on ourselves that literally dictates how we live our lives. 

What is sad is that we all know it, we all think about it and it bothers us all. What is sadder is that it is a BIG deal when a Rabbi gets up and actually expresses what we are all thinking. What a strange thing, a phenomenon, that there exists a society that puts so much value on being truthful and emesdik, but at the same time has this vested interest in not only not expressing or talking about an entire educational system that is flawed at its roots, but even protecting it and making our own children suffer through it. It becomes this huge deal when Rabbi Wallerstein actually says something about it. We have to question our sanity and values around this. 

What are we protecting? What are we so scared of? Who are we nervous about not impressing?

 Let me ask you a question. You don’t need to raise your hand, but raise your hand if you really deep down knew what Rabbi Wallerstein was talking about. Raise your hand if these issues have been bothering you all along. Raise your hand if you are worried about your own children’s love for Torah and Yiddishkeit. Raise your hand if you think that our educational system is not giving you any fuzzy comfortable feeling that they will help your children stay on the derech. Raise your hand if you feel like you make your children do things that are absolutely ridiculous in the name of being part of our educational system. Raise your hand if this is not the system you would come up with if you were asked to develop a system from scratch. Raise your hand if you feel bad sending your children off to school. Raise your hand if you hate seeing how much homework your kids come home with and how many tests they have. [...]

19 comments :

  1. I was actually very unimpressed with the speech. I have many reasons why I think his approach is wrong, but talking down to people never works. Screaming and yelling may get him headlines, but nothing practical will end up from this bluster. I don't think anything should happen so it's no problem, but in the spirit of leshitaso I think this was a mistake.

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    1. He says himself that he's not going to change the education system and then he goes on for the rest of the speech talking about Shalom Bayis and how we should treat our own children. Were we listening to the same speech?

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  2. Asher pihem diber shavNovember 21, 2013 at 1:22 AM

    I strongly object to the notion that our chinuch is terrible. The truth is, our chinuch is wonderful!!!! Other than the molestation, and occasional wacky rebbe, we have a beautiful education system.

    We have problems, but most of them have little to do with the actual chinuch. I will discuss the problems I see.

    1. Tuitions. People can't afford tuition.
    1a. Gestapo minded, judgemental people deciding as to who has pure blood and worthy of jewish chinuch, and who "there isn't room for". Money is part of that problem, but other judgements are also rendered, like the types of stockings the mother of the child wears. The type of peyos the father of the boy has. All the "important" requirements to study the Torah. If the mother doesn't shave her head, we can probably get a קול קורא, that אינו כדאי שתמסר תורה לבנה.
    2. No collective bargaining for Rabbeim and mechanchot. Rabbeim have to live too, and because we have no system in place, every school runs like a mini dictatorship. This leads to loyalty being overvalued ,and competence being undervalued. Job security is non existent. No pensions for Rabbeim. Health insurance, every man is on his own. We would do better for our schools and Rabbeim, by creating a union for them.
    3. English departments. The Yeshivos should not be running programs where the only lesson learned is to make fun of the teacher 4 times their age. Either clean it up, or close it down, and let it be done after school time.

    The chinuch in our Yeshivos is actually the one thing that is amazingly good. Most children exit 8th grade knowing how to read גמרא. By the time they are in 10th grade, they can learn with a חברותא and study by themselves. The girls schools are also very good at teaching Torah to our girls. Anyone who thinks otherwise is mistaken. While there is room for improvement, our chinuch is wonderful.

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    1. you totally missed the point, did you actually listen to the speech? He was not criticizing the extent to which children know how to read gemara and can learn by themselves, he was not saying anything negative about the knowledge of torah and halacha our kids have. He was saying that yiddishkeit is not beautiful in the eyes of our kids, that torah is just a subject to be tested on and have homework on. That nothing makes the beauty of torah lose its luster more then testing it. Please listen to the whole speech, then comment, thanks.

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    2. I guess he should have played those tapes of the phone conversations to wake people like you up. He said he's talking about normal kids, not at risk kids.

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    3. Asher pihem diber shavNovember 21, 2013 at 2:26 PM

      Shlomo,
      The job of a rebbe is to teach a subject. Now of course, an exceptional rebbe can inspire, but it is not his job. Such feelings of inspiration should be coming from the parents. This shift of blame is the nonsense you hear from parents of kids at risk. We should not buy into it.

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    4. Agree wholeheartedly on # 1. We all live in a fantasy world thinking that a situation where no one may be denied admission based on ability to pay, those "with money" (whatever that means) are being demanded to pay unaffordable rates per child, leading them to ask for reductions themselves, which leads to sugar daddies stepping in whenever the system teeters on the brink of collapse. *Clap*Clap*Clap*. As Yakov Smirnov would say, "What a system!"

      I don't get why nobody at the convention was talking about THIS.

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    5. Shlomo, yes. Why are we letting parents off the hook here for that? Why pile ALL this on "the schools"?

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  3. I concur with a lot of Asher pihem's points.My main gripe with Rabbi Walerstiens rant was that it was chock full of cliches and generalities with no practical suggestions(ie. complaining about our lack of instilling the beauty of yiddishkiet sounds good at first but when you think about it carries no practical meaning)

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  4. I concur with a lot of Asher pihem's points.My main gripe with Rabbi Walerstiens rant was that it was chock full of cliches and generalities with no practical suggestions(ie. complaining about our lack of instilling the beauty of yiddishkiet sounds good at first but when you think about it carries no practical meaning)

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  5. The speech was a good one. I don't understand the reaction of trying to change the whole system. That wasn't his solution. His solution was to tell your wife and your children that you love them. I guess I do understand, its easier to tell somebody else what they need to fix than to tell your children that you love them.

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  6. I agree with a lot of Asher's comments.What irked me about rabbi walletrstien's rant was his cliche ridden lack of practical content substance.How does shrying about "the beauty of yiddishkiet or lack there of translate into anything lemysah.

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    1. Very much agree. This "speech" was a rant. He was trying to make a point but being very incoherent about it. How does a problem regarding agnosticism and quasi-atheism get solved through the "beauty" of Judaism? What does "beautiful" Judaism even mean, to R' Wallerstein who seems to feel that "beauty" is the central definition of it??

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  7. i disagree with the premise that schools have to change simultaneously. if everyone is really so turned off with what is going on, the parents at a school can demand change there, others will then follow. or you know what? not everyone will follow, some will follow and you'll create something very healthy: a second track. a different pathway. and maybe there will be another group of parents who try something else entirely and you'll have three tracks, etc. the end result will be a healthier society for everyone involved.

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    1. Since the frum olem is part of a "mob mentality" and scared stiff of change........all this is rhetoric. No changes will be made, no parents will be activists for change and no innovations will occur. A sorry situation!

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  8. R abbi Wallerstein is 100% correct that our yeshivos are great, but at the same time flawed more than we want to admit. We have yeshivos filled with boys learning three sedarim a day, but need an outlet as they have no simcha in their learning. they are forced to do it. look around the shuls at the people who just go through the motions of yideshkeit, but have no simcha in life.
    Yes, parents have responsibilities to, but many of them never were taught the beauty of yideshkeit or torah either.

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  9. In all my life, I have never seen anything positive get done as a result of somebody making a great speech.

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  10. As a Mechanech for many years, and one who spent a lot of time and effort at making sure the kids loved Yiddishkeit, I can tell you that in most cases the problems are not with the Mechanchim, but rather, with the BaaleiBAttim.

    Basically, we have a Yeshiva system where nearly every institution is on the verge of financial collapse. The Menahel can't sleep at night worrying about where he will find the money for payroll, and the rebbeim aren't sure when they will be paid last month's salary (if they are lucky).

    The school are incompettitio with each other, because the only chance I have for stability is if we keep the enrollment high. Successful recruitment is based upon the reputation of our school, and hence when little Shloimy is thrown out of class once again, or Rivka is seen in the piza shop one night, they are automaticaly shown the door, lest anyone think that my school is for anything other than the elite.

    So, the kids get shafted, since the interest of many people in the administration, right or wrong, is usually to protect the best interests of the institution, and not to defend the best interests of the chinuch of every child.

    Here is a solution: if the BaaleiBaatim would come to the Menahel and say: Rabbi B, you are a great Mechanech, I want you to build a school that is for Grade B students, here is your budget covered for the next twenty-fie years, we would be be able to staff this schol wiht the greeatest, most lving, most kind Mechanchim, the kids would come home smiling every day and many of them would be Grade A students by the time they graduated. But, because the BaaleiBattim ar not doing that, and Rabbi B and his staff have to fend for themselves, poor Sloiimie and Rivkie are shown the door, while the BaalaeiBattim are at the shmorg of the next convention and their wives are on the Boardwalk in Miami. (well, just exaggerating a bit, but you get the point)

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    1. Thought of that once...December 1, 2013 at 12:33 PM

      I agree with most of what you write. But I must take exception to your solution.

      I also thought of that once. Until I opened my own Yeshiva. Bottom line is a yeshiva for B/Bais students cannot succeed because, in your own words, "Successful recruitment is based upon the reputation of our school". No one wants or is willing to send their kids to "second rate" even if it is a "first Rate" school for their kids who are B students. The real problem that Rabbi Wallerstein did focus on is that the lack luster of Yiddishkeit is not from yeshivos but rather the stress in our community of gashmius and outdoing everyone else even in ruchnius. (I think he did touch on it in passing) There are so many chumros that are simply meant to bolster us over the next person. So much of what goes on in our communities is just in keeping with the yeshivish lifestyle even if our children are not up to it. And even in many yeshivish homes there a focus on new gadgetry and electronics of course our Yiddishkeit can't compete.

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