“We” are the growing group of Americans who grew up in the American right-wing frum community, who firmly believe in the goodness of the State of Israel, and who have chosen to make our homes here. We need more options for schools for our kids. And we need them soon.
We don’t belong to the traditional Charedi world here in Israel, even though our Hashkafa in terms of Halacha may often align. We grew up with good, solid unapologetic secular educations and we want the same for our children. We don’t want them to face dead ends because of their lack of knowledge: we want them to have options. I can’t send my 6 year old son to a Cheder or Talmud Torah that devotes two periods a week to math, at best. He needs more. Even though that world is familiar to us and where we- honestly- feel most at home.
The “Chardal” label that exists here in Israel seems to fit us best in theory: we celebrate Yom Haatzmaut and we want our sons to serve in the army. We want our daughters to dress within the realm of reasonable and refined tzniut. But the local options of Chardal seem to fall short in the schools that brand themselves as such. Where I live in Beit Shemesh, there are basically two schools to serve the ever-burgeoning group of us trying to fit ourselves into this category. One is not really completely to our liking, although we may shrug and go along for lack of a better option, as many of us feel compelled to do. The other one is Chardal in the opposite direction and- again- despite the strong Torah study has a severe lack of secular education. The principal himself told us that the focus is Torah, and all else is fit in mildly around.
What I fail to understand is why the so-called moderate schools that do spring up start off with a normal sense of values, and are soon co-opted by groups of parents who think they are doing a public service by making said schools as elitist and exclusive as possible. In my community, there is a school for boys that offers a more Talmud Torah-like atmosphere of the type we are more familiar with from the US. However, they now have become a fiefdom where mothers abide by dress codes and sisters are restricted in terms of the schools they can attend, and- again- this is not something I can realistically sign up for since in our family we need the freedom to do what is best for each child individually and for us as a whole.
So what I have now signed my son up for is a Mamad Torani school, and I do feel uneasy about it. I know this educational dilemma has existed for a very long time in Israel, and I have scores of friends in the US who will not make Aliyah for this sole reason. And I know that there is a long history behind the Charedi refusal to nod a head toward secular education. But we are not the Old Yishuv anymore, and the State of Israel is here to stay, and we want to stay with it. So it’s time for things to change. There has to be a grassroots movement to start making those of us with black velvet yarmulkas and a belief in Hashem’s word and His world feel that we have a place, and that we have good options for our daughters and sons- elementary schools and High Schools. We are seeking the normalcy and normative Torah education that we grew up with in Chutz L’aretz, and at this point in time- in 2015- it is unfathomable that it doesn’t yet exist in the mainstream in Israel.
I am not in a position myself to do much educationally. I am a nurse and my husband is an IT director. We need people with educational experience to stand tall and stand their ground in forming a school or school system that will fit us in under a Chardal banner of the kind we seek: strong in Torah, strong in secular studies, proud in an Israeli identity, and staunchly frum and hashkafic.
The truth is that money talks, and numbers talk. There are so many new neighborhoods being built, and there is the opportunity to start from the ground up with this sort of approach without the baggage of yesteryear. Neighborhoods like Mishkafayim in Beit Shemesh , Ramat Givat Ze’ev near Jerusalem, and perhaps even the new neighborhoods being built in Modiin: thousands of people from the US and elsewhere pouring their money and their efforts into creating new homes and lives for themselves here in Israel. The time is ripe. We need these schools so desperately so that families don’t have to feel- and rightly so- that they are sacrificing their children’s religious identities and/or future economic well-being in the name of making Aliyah. I know that has been the case for too long. As a community, we need leaders with a vision, who are not afraid to publicly acknowledge that the status quo as it is now does not work for us, and that we seek a different framework. We need, in fact, to demand it. “We” are a critical mass here in Israel now. “We” of the American, frum, educated Torah community are a new generation who have chosen to make our lives here in Israel, and we want to it to be the brightest future for ourselves, for our children, for our country, and most of all for God Himself. I believe that it is possible, and I believe that those of us who want to see this happen have a personal mandate to seek it out and enable it in whatever way we can.