I was very sad to read the shocking New York Times article about their investigation into some of New York’s Hasidic schools. We can see that, in their desperate desire to protect the traditions of the past, some community leaders and school directors are really jeopardizing their future.
I am currently visiting New York from Israel to speak at a conference organized by the Jerusalem Post. Prior to the publication of this painful article, I had already met with a group of Hasidim from Brooklyn. They were very worried about the poor education that their sons are receiving. They are desperate to break out of the system, but afraid of being punished by their community.
We are fortunate in Israel that we have checks and balances, such as government inspection of Haredi schools. All of the Netzach schools in the educational network I founded are open for inspection by the Israeli Ministry of Education, which ensures that we deliver the education that we promise to parents.
The Netzach Education Network is part of a quiet revolution in Israel. I hope that it can also be achieved in those New York communities where children are not receiving the education that they deserve. I call on the leaders of these communities to emulate what I founded Netzach to do: to stand up and have the confidence to make radical changes.
It is important to understand the difference between religious law and social pressure. There is nothing in our religion that says we must not learn English and Math. In fact, the Mishnah tells us the opposite — it is a religious obligation on parents to teach their children a trade. If families feel pressured by the norms of their community to ignore this obligation, that is a social problem that we need to try to solve.
We live in a world that places great value on education, but often neglects to pay its teachers properly. That is why it is often difficult to recruit high-quality and qualified teachers for Jewish schools. I believe that this is an issue throughout the Jewish world, and we all need to reflect on how we can better support and reward our teachers, who hold our children’s future in their hands.
Above all, I want to say to my Hasidic brothers and sisters in New York that they do not have to give up on their religious values in order to give their children a decent secular education. We have developed curricula that are sensitive to our shared values, and we can help them to do the same.
If there is a willingness to teach secular subjects in their schools, they can make the same change that we have made. They can offer their children the best of both worlds — an outstanding Torah education and the skills to build a respectable career and support themselves and their families.
It won’t be easy — I have personally endured horrific abuse from those who feel threatened by change. But we must heed the wake-up call from the New York Times, and help our kin in New York to do the right thing for their children and their community’s future.
5 key talking points:
1. I feel the pain of the boys and men who have been let down by the education system. I was one of those people.
2. I decided to stand up and make a change in the system in Israel, and I have been criticized and attacked for this since day one, and every time we open a new school.
3. It is important to reassure people in the Hasidic communities that they do not have to give up on their religious values in order to incorporate secular education into their curriculum. It must be done with sensitivity to their values and their concerns.
4. In Israel, we have a good relationship with the government and with local education authorities, and all Netzach schools are open to government inspection.
5. We have to be brave and idealistic to stand up for our children’s rights to a good education.