Monday, June 05, 2017

Shuvu - A Model for Maintsream Charedim

Dayan Yonason Abraham, London Beth Din
I found Jonathan Rosenblum’s Mishpacha column on London’s Charedi Dayan Yonanson Abraham, the new head of Shuvu rather enlightening. Not so much about Rabbi Abraham. But about Shuvu.

Shuvu which means ‘return’ is a network of schools created after Rav Avrohom Pam’s passionate appeal at a 1989 Agudah convention. It was about the need to educate the masses of Jews that were immigrating to Israel from the Former Soviet Union (FSU). Shuvu’s purpose was to try and ‘return’ as many of these Jews as possible to the Judaism of their forefathers. 

But since its founding, 40% of the students are either native Israelis or immigrant students that are not from the FSU. While Kiruv was the purpose of its founders, it is not the only purpose says Jonathan. Three-quarters of the students described themselves as secular. Over 90% do not observe Shabbos.

What intrigued me is that even though this project was created by Charedim to serve Jews in Israel, it does not have the one major shortcoming that mainstream Charedi schools in Israel have. Which for me means that it should serve as a model for all of Charedi Jewry there. What Shuvu has that the Charedi schools don’t is a secular studies program.

This kind of proves a point I constantly make there that there is nothing wrong with studying secular subjects even according to the Charedi leadership. Since that is indeed the case – that option should be extended to mainstream Charedi schools.

One may ask, is Shuvu just offering secular studies as an enticement for parents that would never send their children to the typical Charedi school? Well, yes, that is exactly the reason. But that does not explain the quality of the secular studies that are offered there. Which is apparently very high.Why would a secular parent send their chld to Shuvu?

Jonathan cites some eye-opening statistics in a Shuvu commissioned study by one of Israel’s leading polsters, Rafi Smith. 

Of those dissatisfied with the state system 60% complained about the level of core studies and 59% complain about the high levels of violence and disciplinary problems . About 50% complain about the level of teaching. Shuvu schools teach 20-25% more math material per year and they begin teaching both English and computer skills at a younger age. Professor Tamar Horowitz of Ben Gurion University has written that Shuvu has the highest level of teacher accountability of any other school system.

What about Jewish studies? Is that part of Shuvu’s draw as well?  Based on the results of the study it was determined that just short of 50% of the secular parents in Israel would prefer an intensified Jewish studies program.Jonathan notes that the Beis Yaakov teachers there also bring a level of enthusiasm  that is largely absent at the state run schools.  
All of this tells mes that if they had the will, Charedim could easily do the same thing for their mainstream students. Why give only secular students the tools to function in the real world while ignoring those very same needs for their own children?

Their typical answer to that is Talmud Torah K'neged Kulam -  no type of study outweighs Torah study. Any time taken away from it is Bitul Torah - a waste of precious time that could be used for Torah study. And yet this is not the message Shuvu teaches. 

Is there a double standard?  Or is it that they have no choice since that is the only way they can get secular parents to send their children? I think the latter is true. But in the process the Shuvu students come out with a far greater educational advantage. That enables them to better function in the real world. 

What about their claim of secular studies being Bitul Torah? Well, if its not Bitul Torah in Shuvu – it shoudn’t be Bitul Torah for the mainstream either.While there are some truly elite students that are geared for a lifetime of full time Torah study, it is hardly a secret that most students are not equipped for that. At some point many of them realize that they will have to start supporting their large families. And will be ill equipped to do so. While some may be able to catch up, others will not. and they will end up in impoverished circumstances.

Nor is it a secret that some of Charedi students in the mainstream system go OTD precisely because they do not fit into that particular mold and end up feeling left out. It is not too much of a stretch to see what this does to the psyche of that kind of Charedi student. Wouldn’t a Shuvu type system that offers options other than full time Torah study help stem that tide? Wouldn’t it also give the majority of Charedi students that are not geared to full time Torah study the means to find a better way to serve God and family?

I've said all this before. But the model I have always used was the American Charedi school model. I now know that even Charedi Israel has such a model in Shuvu. I know I’m talking to the wall. But I can dream, can’t I?