I Have Mixed Feelings About the NY Times Article on Hasidic Education

One of the many rights that a parent has is to determine how their child should be educated. That being said, if the young person is not able to function as an adult because their academic experience was lacking, then something must be done to fix it.

Last Sunday, the New York Times released a rather scathing report on the status of education in the Hasidic Jewish community. Written by Eliza Shapiro and Brian M. Rosenthal, the article accused many schools (boys schools to be specific) of taking state funds and not using them to ensure that the students receive at the very least, basic secular learning.

Both The Brian Lehrer Show and Unorthodox (start at 15:46) addressed the findings. Before I go any further, I have to advise on two points:

  1. I am not an alumnus of any of these institutions. I was sent to public school during the day and attended Hebrew school in the afternoon. Obviously, I cannot speak from personal experience.
  2. In the Hasidic world, men are expected to become religious scholars. It is the women who earn traditional degrees and later a paycheck while taking care of the family.

    I understand the purpose of educating the next generation in a faith-based setting (particularly when that faith is a minority). It is important to know the language, traditions, and history of one’s family. I also know that public education in this country is not up to par.

    However, the accusations made can be seen as antisemitic. It does not matter that the reporters could be of the same religion as the subjects of the story. Even if the state and the city were lax in doing their own follow-up, the idea that these communities were using the money improperly only adds to lies about my co-religionists and the hate-based crimes. On top of that, the Times does not exactly have a history of having journalistic integrity when it comes to my religion.

    Regardless of one’s perspective, this topic is bound to be controversial. I just wish that the truth, whatever it is, comes to a conclusion that allows young people to receive the classroom experience they deserve.

    Gatecrashers Podcast Review

    College, as we all know, is supposed to open the door to professional opportunities. But the university experience, as we know it to be today, is not what it was only a few generations ago. The opportunity to attend a post-secondary higher educational institution was limited to Caucasian males of a certain social strata and background. It goes without saying back then that women and minorities could not even consider attending.

    The new eight-part Tablet magazine podcast, Gatecrashers is hosted by Unorthodox co-host Mark Oppenheimer. It tells the story of how Jewish students tried to attend ivy league colleges in the 2oth century. If they were let in, there were limited social opportunities solely based on faith and unofficial quotas. If they were not let in, they were given the runaround about why their application was denied.

    Kimmy Schmidt College GIF by Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - Find & Share on GIPHY

    The one thing that struck me (specifically in regards to the schools that gave BS reasons for rejecting Jewish students), was who they were saying no to. One of these young men was Isaac Asimov, who was originally denied admittance to Columbia University only because of which deity he prayed to and where he lived.

    Looking back, that seems to be incredibly short-sighted. Granted, no one has a crystal ball to see what the future holds. However, knowing now what Asimov accomplished later in life, it seems foolish for the admissions department to have made the initial decision they made.

    Do I recommend it? Yes.

    New episodes of Gatecrashers are released on the Tablet site every Tuesday.

    Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood Book Review

    Antisemitism is on the rise. It is a fact that is sadly indisputable. When innocent congregants were murdered at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on October 27th, 2018, it was a wake up call.

    Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood, by Mark Oppenheimer (co-host of the Unorthodox podcast), was published earlier this month. In the book, Opppenheimer focuses on the community, both past and present. It starts with the history of both the city and the neighborhood and ends with how it has bounced back since that day. What makes Squirrel Hill unique is that it is both diverse and has retained it’s Jewish neshama (soul). While in other parts of the country, there is an obvious demographic, cultural and religious shift over the decades, this district has maintained its identity.

    When the gunman (who the author does not mention by name and shall be referred to in the same manner in this review) entered the synagogue, it was an event that can only be described as knowing the rose colored glasses off of our collective faces. With a journalist’s eye and the heart of an ordinary human being, Oppenheimer speaks to survivors, the victim’s family members, local residents, historians, and others to tell the story of a moment in time that will forever be preserved in a moment of hate, fear, and heartbreak.

    I loved this book. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was on multiple lists of the top books of 2021. If the author’s approach would have been to wallow in grief and anger while telling this story, he would have had every right to. But he treats the subject with sensitivity and the understanding that not everyone involved is ready or able to talk about that day and its aftermath.

    Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

    Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth Book Review

    The best way to learn about a new culture is to speak to a local. They have the insight and experience that an outsider would never have.

    Earlier this month, Israeli actress/ producer Noa Tishby published her first book. The Tel Aviv native seeks to understand and explain Israel as it is, without relying on the flashy headlines or the half truths. Using her firsthand experience, she speaks of Israel, both past and present, as it is, and not how some see it or wish it could be.

    What I love about this book is how down to earth and accessible it is. Tishby‘s voice is that of the average person, not the academic or historian who usually writes about this topic. That, I believe, provides an opportunity for a dialogue that should have happened long ago.

    If you only read two chapters, I highly recommend chapters on BDS and the virulent anti-Israeli sentiment (which is really antisemitism). Even for those who are well versed on the topic, it was an eye opener.

    Do I recommend it? Yes.

    RIP Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

    It takes a special person to join the clergy of any religion. It is more than leading prayers and being the layperson at various stage of life events. That person has to be able to speak of that religion and its tenets in a way that connects to everyone, regardless of any specific faiths.

    Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks was one of those special people. Cancer took his life today.

    I had the pleasure of seeing him speak in person a few years ago. It was nothing short of inspiring. It was just before the High Holidays. Those who have attended High Holidays services can attest that as important as those days are, they are quite frankly, difficult and not exactly fun. But they shouldn’t be fun.

    Rabbi Sacks was able to explain in very simple terms the emotional and psychological importance of those days. I’ve been attending High Holiday services since I was very young. But that was the first time I was truly able to understand the meaning of the High Holidays.

    He recently was a guest on the Unorthodox podcast. Though he was there to publicize his latest book, he also spoke about current events and how morality is as important as it ever was.

    May his memory be a blessing. Z”L.

    The Newish Jewish Encyclopedia: From Abraham to Zabar’s and Everything in Between Book Review

    Religion is a fascinating thing. It’s more than the basic tenets of the faith and the lifestyle dictated by that faith.

    Released last fall, The Newish Jewish Encyclopedia: From Abraham to Zabar’s and Everything in Between is written and compiled by the hosts of the podcast Unorthodox (produced by Tablet Magazine).

    Primarily written by podcast hosts Mark Oppenheimer, Liel Leibovitz, and Stephanie Butnick, this book is more than your standard encyclopedia. It contains images, charts, and illustrations, it is the story of Judaism, past, and present.

    The thing that I loved about this book is that though it is an opportunity to learn, it does not feel like the reader is learning something. It is a fun read and a wonderful opportunity to open hearts and minds, regardless of one’s knowledge or level of practice of Judaism.

    I recommend it.

    Thoughts On the First Anniversary of the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting

    In 2019, we hope that hate and prejudice is a thing of the past. But hope often springs eternal.

    This coming Sunday is the first anniversary of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. 11 people were murdered simply because they were Jews. It’s nearly a year later and it hurts as if it was yesterday.

    I sometimes try to delude myself that because I lived in the United States, this won’t happen to me. I am seen as a complete human being, not just a member of a particular religious or cultural group. But I have to face reality. Antisemitism is on the rise in numbers that has not been seen in generations. I shouldn’t be afraid to wear an outward symbol of my faith out of fear of being abused or attacked. But this is the reality that we all live in.

    The shooting was the subject of this week’s Unorthodox episode. It made me feel less alone and less scared. But it also reminded me that I live in a world in which entering a house of worship requires passing by security and police. I wish that this was not the case, but it is.

    May the memory of those 11 innocent people killed on that day forever be a blessing and may their blood be avenged.

    Z”l.

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