Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Eibishter Vet Helfen

“How any parent can not educate their sons in this climate so they can have any chance of making parnasah is just beyond me.’

This is a quote in an e-mail from a Charedi Rav, not me. I am not certain I can reveal his identify as it was sent out as a private e-mail to me and a few other individuals. But I more than echo the sentiment.

Unfortunately many Orthodox Jews are suffering from the brutal effects of the current economy. I know a few people who have lost their jobs. These are good dedicated hard working people who worked in industries that have felt the effects of the economic downturn and responded by cutting down their workforce.

There are very few people who haven’t in some way been affected by it. Some more and some less. But almost all have been affected.

Many Yeshivos practically ignore Parnassa as an issue. Secular education for their students is looked at as a necessary evil. Very few Yeshivos take secular studies seriously. The more right wing they are the less serious they are about it.

I can understand the Charedi mindset about secular studies as not having any independent value – even if I disagree with them. But what I cannot understand is the lack of dealing with Parnassa issues.

When I ask non Chasidic Charedi young men about to get married what they will be doing they almost invariably will answer that he’s going to Lakewood (...or Brisk ...or Mir - take your pick.) If I ask them if they have thoughts about Parnassa they usually just shrug and say something to the effect that they will try and hold out as long as they can and then... the Eibishter vet Helfen - God will provide. Most of these young men do not have a plan. They just think about learning and then – when the time comes they will somehow deal with it.

But what without proper preparation many of them will be in for a rude shock. This has always been the case.

That said, I do know that many young people like this that have found good jobs. But far too many have not. They simply have not learned any skills and have no training. But they already have a fairly large family. In many cases they are quite intelligent. But raw intelligence will get you very little without proper skills. Getting specialized training once one has a large family with many responsibilities relatively late in their work-lives is not easy. And their salary needs when they enter the workforce is much higher than the salary needs of young single entry level age applicants. These are the ones they must compete with in the job market.

The current economic climate has exacerbated the problem.

Are any of the current Roshei Yeshiva dealing with this issue? Or is it business as usual! If they are not - what are they waiting for, the entire system to collapse before their eyes?!

There is another thing that has always bothered me that is related to this issue. That is the attitude of some Chasidic Rrebbes about the English language. Specifically they are actually opposed to speaking English well. They consider it a bad character trait to learn the language too well bhecause that means that one has become too assimilated.

So they teach their children Yiddish as a first language and then English as a second language. This has to be a terrible handicap when applying for a job outside of their own communities. Aside from not being trained in the necessary professional or technical skills they cannot communicate well in the native tongue - without sounding like they just came off the boat. How can anyone exact to get a decent job without speaking the native language fluently?

Yes - I know it’s possible. I also know that many Chasidim have done well despite that handicap. One need not look further than the diamond business. It is also true that there are many situations that people with poor English speaking skills can get jobs in their own community. Some even manage to do well - setting up their own businesses.

But I see far too many collecting Tzedaka. The vast majority of American based Meshualchim (those whom come into the Shuls on an almost daily basis or go door to door with ID cards describing their dire financial straits and asking for charity) are Chasidim. There are other reasons that contribute to that - but at least part of it is because of poor education, poor English speaking skills, and poor attitudes about certain kinds of jobs.

Jobs are hard enough to find. This economy has made it even harder. It’s time both Chasidic and non Chasidic leaders take stock of their attitudes. Chasidim have to reconsider their attitudes about the English language. The Yeshiva world has to reconsider their attitudes about Parnassa. And both have to reconsider their attitudes about secular. The time is now – more than ever.