Friday, January 01, 2016

The ‘Gap Year’ in Israel - Evidence of Modern Orthodox Failure?

Picking the right Yeshiva for the gap year is a must!
If I was Ezra  Epstein’s father, I would be very proud. I'm sure his real father is. As is his rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer.

Ezra is a Modern Orthodox high school student that has written a very thoughtful and challenging article about the so-called ‘gap year’ spent in Israel after high school graduation and the start of college. The gap year is seen as an indispensable part of Jewish education. Why? Ezra’s answer is both simple and revealing and in someways shocking.  He concludes that Modern Orthodox education by itself - is a failure.  From the JewishLink of New Jersey
For many teenagers, studying in Israel is the make-or-break decision that will determine whether or not they will be keeping Shabbos 10 years after high school. The fact that Modern Orthodox parents are so dependent on their children learning in Israel after high school demonstrates how flawed the system is. If the system was so great, or, at the very least, adequate, what would be the problem of heading straight to college immediately after high school (be it a Jewish college or a secular one)? 
Although he realizes that Modern Orthodox Jews would obviously not concede that to that and say instead that it just provides something extra they would not get at home. They will claim that the gap year in Israel will broaden the Jewish experience in ways different from what they have been used to. Allowing  them to explore new Jewish ideas from a much wider spectrum of Jews.

But if it was only a question of broadening the perspective of their children, why the urgency?  Why the fear that their child will abandon everything he learned in Yeshiva? Ezra further concludes: 
The Modern Orthodox system is failing its successors because it solely depends on yeshivos and seminaries to straighten out their children before college arrives and the yarmulke comes off. The yeshiva is a last resort, a pleading hope that cries, “Perhaps this will convince him that this is the right way. 
Ezra makes some very good points. The urgency of sending a child to Israel for the ‘gap year’ does call into question the success of a Modern Orthodox education without it.  That doesn’t mean you abandon Modern Orthodoxy completely and become Charedi. But it does mean that it needs some serious tweaking, if Ezra Epstein is even close to being right. In the meantime, my advice to parents in these Modern Orthodox high schools is to send their kids to Israel for a year after high school.

But sending your child to Israel does have its drawbacks in far too many cases. How often does a child come back form his gap year wearing a black hat – bringing with him all the Hashkafos associated with it? My guess is that it happens a lot. You raise your child one way and he comes back unrecognizable in some cases. 

Now I have no problems when someone decides he prefers living by Charedi Hashkafos provided that he comes by them honestly without the kind of indoctrination one might find in some Israeli Yeshivos that cater to Modern Orthodox families. Yeshivos that pretend to promote those values (or pretend to at least not contradict them). 

But in reality they do nothing of the sort. Once they have your children without the distractions they had back home (and sometimes they consider the parents themselves  distractions) - they disparage the Modern Orthodox lifestyle and many of its values.

When a child comes back from his gap year looking and sounding like a Charedi one should not be all that surprised. This is what many people have called ‘flipping out’.

There are those that defend the new persona saying that these students aren’t really flipping out at all. They are just taking their Judaism more seriously. I suppose in some cases that’s true. If that were always were the case, I wouldn’t call it flipping out either. But what often happens is that whatever plans the parents and the student had in mind before they went, those plans somehow get changed. Instead of going to YU (which is commonly denigrated in many of those Israeli Yeshivos) they will ask if they can instead attend Ner Israel.

Now if someone would ask me if becoming Charedi is a better alternative than abandoning Yiddishkeit, I would of course say yes. It is a far better alternative. But it ought not be the only alternative. It should not be an either or: Either you become Charedi or you become secular. So as important as the gap year in Israel is for Modern Orthodoxy, it is equally important to find a Yeshiva that will not purposely indoctrinate your child out of the Hashkafos inwhich he has been raised.

What kind of schools are there like that? Not being ‘in the parsha’ I can’t really answer. But Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh worked for my son. And Michlala worked for my daughter. I’m sure there are more options like that. Now if after experiencing these places - your child chooses to be Charedi, then a choice was made honestly –without being indoctrinated against the Hashkafa of the home in favor of the one promoted in that Yeshiva. 

Bottom line is Caveat Emptor when choosing a Yeshiva for your son or a seminary for your daughter. But in my view - for parents of children attending a high school like Ezra Epstein’s - choosing a year in Israel is currently a must.