Sunday, June 06, 2010

Stern Girl? Or Lakewood Girl?

In a comment to my previous post Daniel Bukingolts related a conversation he had with Rav Michel Shurkin - a Mechanech in a Charedi Yeshiva in Israel and devotee of the Rav. In the course of that conversation it became quite clear what his attitude was about the Yeshiva University climate. He considers it substandard. In fact he considers attending it it an exercise in survival! As if to say that YU is a Nisayon – a test that one must overcome if one is to remain Torah True!

This is not just Rav Shurkin’s attitude. It is the attitude of a great many Rabbanim and Mechanchim. It is especially true of a specific group of American expatriates – those who now live in Israel and teach in Yeshivos designed for students from modern Orthodox backgrounds. These students want to spend a year or two in high level learning in Israel.

Once there the push is on! These students are strongly dissuaded from attending YU. Many of these students are the cream of the modern Orthodox crop - sincere young men seeking to grow in their Torah knowledge and Avodas HaShem.

Some Yeshivos like the one Rav Shurkin is involved with see these young people as Kiurv projects. Not in the sense that they are not Frum. But in the sense that they are not Charedi. For them YU is at best a B’dieved and at worst a Michshol - a stumbling block to be avoided at all costs!

YU’s Stern College for Women (pictured above) is seen in the same light. Women who attend this school are at best second class citizens. Dating a ‘Stern girl’ is just about off limits in Charedi circles. Not officially of course but unofficially it is a common attitude by young Charedi men looking for Shiduchim to reject any date with a Stern girl. They are branded unacceptable. It is rare when a Lakewood type student accepts a date with such a girl.

This attitude didn’t happen yesterday. I know of one Charedi fellow who was not swallowed up by this attitude but did have it to a certain extent . He reluctantly dated a Stern girl. When it got serious – he asked her to leave Stern if they wanted to continue the relationship. She did and shortly after that they got married. Now over forty years later - her attitude is one of harsh animosity towards her alma mater. She helps perpetuate the negative stereotype.

How sad it is for those young women to be unable to tap into the resources of a Yeshiva like Lakewood. Many who attend Stern are of the highest caliber; are just as religious as any of their Charedi counterparts and have similar values. They are what I call right wing modern Orthodox Jews. Some of them want to marry Talmidei Chachamim who will learn in Kollel for a while – just like their Charedi counterparts! Although they can and do date YU products they are nonetheless limited to that community.

I know one young woman who wanted that and dated a few YU men who fit that bill. But she was rejected by everyone else outside of that world as an unacceptable Stern girl! She could not even get arrested there! No serious Bachur from Lakewood would even consider her.

She was treated like the Charedi version of trailer trash!

OK - I’m exaggerating but you get my point. She is a beautiful young woman inside and out. And yet she is over 30 years old and unmarried. Not for a lack of trying but because of an attitude by the right that automatically rejected her because she was a Stern girl.

Lest anyone say this isn’t true and such stereotyping does not go on consider Rav Shurkin's comment to Daniel Bukingolts. It was made in the context of an overall antagonistic attitude about YU in reference to what kind of girl he should be looking for:

"Do you want to marry a Stern girl? OR A LAKEWOOD GIRL?"

I’m not saying that everyone who attends Stern is perfect. But which school has a 100 track record? Rejecting an entire school is foolish. Perpetuating an unfair myth about a school is unfair and contrary to the values of Torah. Besides - one has to look at the individual. Not the school they attended. Whether it is Stern or Beis Yaakov of Jerusalem.

First there has to be a concerted effort to change hearts and minds in the Charedi world about Modern Orthodoxy. They harbor misconceptions based either on older models whose generational heirs now occupy the world of either modern Orthodox- lite where observance is more social than idealistic… or the world of left wing modern Orthodoxy whose agenda is pushed too much by external sources like feminism.

The world of YU and Stern is geared mostly toward the right wing of Modern Orthodoxy whose values are not that far apart from those of moderate Charedim. The prototype product is as observant of Halacha as any Charedi - and values Limud HaTorah just as much. The Hashkafos may be a bit different. But there is no reason that a young man and young woman from those two communities cannot make a wonder life together – given the chance.

In a today’s world where making Shidduchim has been deemed to be at a crisis level - it behooves leaders from across the spectrum of Orthodoxy to change wide spread attitudes like Rav Shurkin’s.

That is one of my goals here and I am going to use every opportunity to achieve it.