Sunday, June 19, 2022

What Jewish Education Should Look Like

Arie Crown 8th grade Kumzits - Bill Ridick in center (Mishpacha)
Mishpacha Magazine beat me to it. 

Most readers  know my views on Jewish education. The long and short of it is that an ideal educational institution should have a strong curriculum of both Limudei Kodesh (religious studies) and Limudei Chol (secular studies). And with rare exception - one without the other makes for a deficient educational experience. Without belaboring that very important point - there is another very important aspect to Jewish education: Midos (character) development.

There is little doubt in my mind that a lot of religious schools that do not live up to these three very important elements. Even if there is a decent secular studies curriculum, Midos development  is not sufficiently impressed upon the students in a great many schools. 

I personally witnessed what can only be described as a Chilul HaShem committed by fellow classmates in 9th grade. I recall an English teacher that had a nervous facial tick that was relentlessly ridiculed by my classmates – sometimes to his face! These were all students from religious homes – most (but not all) of them Charedi.

That was over sixty years ago. About 20 or so years ago, a friend of mine who was then the English principal of a Charedi high school (and is also a Talmid Chacham) told me what he witnessed in his school. Students there were relentless in their disdain, ridicule, and Chutzpah toward a secular studies teacher while expressing near God-like reverence for their Rebbeim (religious studies teachers). When he asked one of those students how they could behave that way, he received an answer along the following lines: He’s a goy and must have certainly violated on of the Sheva Mitzvos Bnei Noach (7 Noahide laws) for which he is Mechuyiv Misah - the death penalty. So he certainly deserved at least their ridicule.

That principal spoke to the Roshei Yeshiva and they said they would do something about it. He no longer works there. and I have no clue what their high school students are like now. But even if there has been an improvement, it was not because they had those Midos instilled in them in their homes and/or their elementary schools. What it shows is a pattern of disparaging non Jews and teaching them the kind of things about them that result in a response like that of the abovementioned student.

I am obviously both disgusted and angered by this behavior. But not all religious schools are like that. 

Full disclosure first  My son in law is the Hebrew principal of the school I am about to talk about. So I admit to a certain degree of favorable bias toward the school. But facts are stubborn things regardless of any bias. So here goes.

I have spoken about Chicago’s Arie Crown Hebrew Day School (ACHDS ) before. They are close to the epitome of what a religious elementary should look like. They have got it all: strong Limudei Kodesh and Limudei Chol curricula with a strong emphasis on Midos. 

Now a lot of religious schools say they do the same thing. Maybe. But  I don’t think they do it as well as Arie Crown does. One may recall the obituary I did for Rabbi Meir Shapiro, the long time principal of Arie Crown until his retirement at age 70 (About 15 years or so ago). 

Midos was number one for him. One of the things he did along these lines was teaching every student to stand up when an adult walks into their classroom – whether a parent, a Rebbe, an English teacher, or even the janitor. I have to wonder how other day schools feel about giving the same respect to a janitor as they do to a Rebbe.

Arie Crown’s policy of strong emphasis on Midos development did not end with Rabbi Shapiro’s retirement. The story I am about to share is not me trumpeting my bias. It is Mishpacha. If I am biased in favor of Arie Crown, the same cannot be said for Mishpacha. Arie Crown is not a Charedi school per se. Although most Rebbein their are Charedi, not all of them are. 

It is a school for all segments of the Orthodox community - from Charedi to Modern Orthodox. Boys and girls are taught in the same building (but separate classes). I don’t think there are too many Charedi schools like that - if any. Still, there are quite a few Charedim in the parent body. 

I therefore salute Mishpacha for featuring this story in their pages last week. A Kiddush HaShem remains a Kiddush Hashem no matter where it is found.  This story shows that the legacy of Rabbi Shapiro is alive and well - carried forward by his successors. What follows is the story in full and I couldn’t be prouder: 

Among the proud parents and siblings who came to celebrate with the eighth grade graduating class of Chicago’s Arie Crown Hebrew Day School, one guest stood out.

“Wait,” whispered one staff member to his colleagues. “Is that Bill?”

The others squinted. Could it be?

They approached him, and, sure enough, it was Bill, a bus driver from Washington, D.C. He approached the group of eighth graders, and hugs and backslaps were shared all around.

What brought a bus driver from the nation’s capital to a yeshivah graduation in Chicago?

About one month ago, Arie Crown Hebrew Day School took its eighth-grade class to Washington, D.C. for a graduation trip. The hours on the bus left the boys lots of time to get acquainted with their bus driver, one Bill Ridick. The boys’ engaging personalities and middos tovos captured the bus driver’s heart, and the rides were soon filled with fun, laughter, and much conversation. When the trip ended and the bus pulled up to the airport, the boys and the bus driver bid each other a very emotional farewell, not expecting to see each other again.

Except they would. One month later, Bill surprised the boys by showing up at their graduation. He’d witnessed firsthand what kind of education these boys got and wanted to celebrate this special milestone along with them.

Following the graduation there was a kumzitz. The graduates linked arms with their rebbeim and sang, joined by a bus driver from Washington. He may have been an outsider, but when it came to appreciating the heights these boys had reached, he had inside knowledge.