Tuesday, August 04, 2015

"Blame the Messenger!" Seriously?

Ezra Friedlander, CEO of the Friedlander Group
If I had to choose a single issue that is the greatest danger to Orthodox Judaism, it would be in how it educates its youth.  

I can already hear my critics saying what about sex abuse? Or existential threats to Israel? Or the extremism one finds on the fringes of Orthodoxy? Or the lack of tolerance among us… these issues and so many more pose serious  problems for us all. I do not wish to minimize any of them. I have dealt with many of them in the past and will continue to do so.

But for me the greatest danger is education. Or more accurately the lack of it with respect to Limudei Chol (secular education).

It seems to me that the more right wing we get, the less important secular education becomes. It doesn’t matter if you are Chasidic or Lithuanian Yeshiva types. The lack of a decent – or in some cases any - Limudei Chol program is going to destroy us - if it doesn’t make a big u-turn.

We all know what is happening in Israel. For boys, it does not exist at all in high school. No English, no math, no science, no history… nothing except Gemarah 24/7/365. There is no preparation in any subject that will help them support their wives and children.

The US Yeshiva system, on the other hand, has always had a secular studies curriculum in their high schools. And there still is one, albeit decreasingly so. These schools are constantly diminishing what they teach... and schools are increasingly arising that have of no secular studies at all.

The Chasidic world has never had much of a Limudei Chol program  – even while encouraging their men to work in order to support their families. Except for some notable exceptions, their menial education has not prepared them for any jobs but menial ones for menial pay. Hardly enough to support their very large famiies.

Stepping back and looking at the whole picture, one has to be dismayed. I have discussed Israel many times in the past and their situation is beyond the scope of this post. The Yeshiva system still has enough Limudei Chol which enables its graduates to seek higher education and better jobs. It is mostly the Chasidic schools that I address here.

When someone comes along and tries to remedy the situation in that segment, it ought to be cause for celebration. That is what I did when I heard about Yaafed (Young Advocates For Fair Education) which I wrote about a short while ago. I applauded Naftui Moster, the no longer observant expatriate Belzer Chasid who founded and leads that organization. He has gotten the city of New York to investigate 39 Chasidic schools to see if they comply with the city’s educational requirements. That is a good thing, not a bad one. 

But in an oped in a secular political news outlet, Ezra Freidlander – a successful businessman from that community - says the following: 
In our community, mesorah (loosely translated as tradition, values, and fundamental beliefs) is the core of our educational system, a concept that has defined the Jewish people from time immemorial and has been the source of our continued survival. So when a person like Mr. Moster and his organization comes along, calling on the New York State Department of Education to investigate our Yeshivas, my only response is: “How dare you? What right do you have to interfere with such sensitive and sacred matters?”
Do Moster’s claims have any validity at all? That is irrelevant. His actions speak louder than his words. By what he has done, he has completely disqualified himself from the conversation… I highly doubt that this organization truly cares about our youth. Or about the quality of our Yeshiva system. 
He goes on to say that he thinks that ‘our Yeshivas do adequately meet the State’s educational criteria’. Which if true, would hardly make such any such investigation objectionable. But I tend to doubt Mr. Freidlnader’s claims - based on the testimony of so many people that have been educated there, including some like popular singer, Lipa Schmeltzer who is observant. Lipa was quoted saying that he was robbed of an education.

Friedlander accuses Moster of a nefarious motive which has nothing to do with improving their schools. The motive being to undermine and besmirch the community he abandoned... and to shut down their schools.

At the end of the oped Freidlander says yes, we do indeed blame this messenger.

That is a shocking statement for me. How can  someone blame a messenger for telling a truth you acknowledge has merit? How can you say that is irrelevant because he is no longer observant? It's like someone during the Holocaust who was in a concentration camp saying that that Communist Russia has no right to liberate you because you don’t agree with communism. 

If God sends you a boat to save you from drowning during a flood, are you going to first ask the driver if he is observant?  

Whatever Mr. Moster’s motives may be (and I am NOT at all convinced that they are nefarious) his effort to change the educational paradigm in these kinds of schools is one that anyone with a modicum of common sense should support. If it takes a government probe to do so, - so be it. The children there are captives of a system that is failing them - all while making  the claim that their children are being educated 'Al Taharas HaKodesh'. 

There's not enough money to improve things in that community? Whose fault is that? Maybe if there had been better education to prepare them for better jobs the problem wouldn't be as acute! The clear fact is that they are being short changed big time. And some of the parents there are beginning to see that. It doesn't matter what his motive is. The Chasidic world is drowning. God is sending them a boat. They ought to get in the boat and not look at who’s driving it.

Yaafed has responded to Mr. Freidlander's oped. It can be read here.