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The Price of Exclusion
by Rabbi Yonasan Rosenblum
This article orignally appeared in Mishpacha Magazine

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7/23/10

Dear Readers:

Please find below a masterful column written by my dear chaver Reb Yonasan Rosenblum on the issue of the harmful effects of exclusion -- not to those who are marginalized, but rather to those who do the excluding.

It is crystal clear to me that “sheltered” communities have higher drop-out rates than heterogeneous ones. Don’t believe me? Just ask anyone who works with teens at risk, and drop me a line if they disagree with that statement. I also find that kids who are appropriately sheltered by their parents and raised in “mixed” communities are more tolerant and better prepared to maintain their Yiddishkeit when they inevitably encounter the world at large.

Here are links to three columns I wrote on this subject; Charedi Classic, Pulling in the Gangplank, and Rolling out the Welcome Mat.

Best wishes for a gutten Shabbos

Yakov

The Price of Exclusion

An acquaintance accosted me recently. "Whatever happened to ahavas Yisrael?" he wanted to know. While I sometimes doff my defender-of-the-faithful hat at the gym, I assumed he was talking about Emmanuel and dutifully trotted out all my proofs that no ethnic discrimination was involved. Though Emmanuel was -- as I had guessed -- the impetus for his question, the issue he raised was far larger than Emmanuel.

"When I grew up in Detroit," Max told me, "there were barely enough kids from Shomer- Shabbos families to support one day school. We all went to school together. I remember Rabbi Avrohom Abba Freedman, a devoted disciple of Reb Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, going from bed to bed in hospitals asking people if they were Jewish. If they were, he would beg them to send their children to Bais Yehudah. Many important talmidei chachamim from that era came from non-shomer Shabbos homes."

As the frum community has grown, schools have become more and more selective. The emphasis today is on refining the criteria for exclusion, not bringing in as many Jewish children as possible. Rav Aharon Leib Steinman has quipped that Avrohom Avinu would not be accepted in our schools today because of his father, but Yishmael and Esav would be. Much has changed from the '40s and '50s. The average non-frum student of those days was more innocent than many students from Orthodox homes today. Schools can no longer simply employ an open-door policy. Internet and handheld devices are game-changers. One child with Internet access can corrupt an entire class.

(Nor is it always in the best interests of children of recent ba'alei teshuva or from weaker backgrounds to be integrated immediately with children from veteran religious families. In such circumstances, the recent ba'alei teshuva will often feel like second-class citizens, just because they are lacking so many basics their peers have absorbed at home.)

But our emphasis on tiny differences goes far beyond protecting our children against the ravages of internet. In both the United States and Israel, many schools look askance at any child whose father is not learning in kollel. Even children of English-speaking kolleleit are persona non grata is some Israeli schools. In a famous clip, a school principal boasts to Rav Steinman that the school employs someone with a special talent for ferreting out those who lack the proper signon (style)." Rav Steinman replies that what the principal calls signon is only ga'avah (conceit).

Community-wide schools for children from a variety of backgrounds have largely gone the way of the dodo bird – at least apart from smaller communities. Some of the reasons are valid; others less so: Like everything connected to chinuch, matters are complicated and the dividing lines thin. But we should at least have our eyes open about what has been lost. Idealism is the first casualty. In former times, children from stronger backgrounds were eager to be a positive influence on the children from weaker backgrounds. They consciously viewed themselves as mashpi'im (sources of influence), and that, in turn, strengthened their own religious identity.

I have been told by the daughters of highly respected rabbis in communities where a more "right-wing" Bais Yaakov opened up that they would not want to go to the new school precisely because they would miss the opportunity to be a positive influence. (The potential benefits for religious identity of defining oneself in juxtaposition to the surroundings is still found today in many children of rabbis in smaller American communities and among Israeli children who grow up in more mixed communities.)

The most common justification for ever more stringent entrance requirements to our educational institutions is the need to protect our children. Certainly no responsible Jewish parent would knowingly expose their child to a host of negative influences. We do not wantonly subject ourselves to tests in order to strengthen ourselves. But it is possible to cripple our children by sheltering them to such a degree that when they are exposed to challenges as adults they will have developed no tools for dealing with those challenges. Healthy bodies develop immunities through controlled exposure to viruses, and there is a spiritual parallel.

Not everyone we meet in life will be pre-selected to think exactly like us, and a school where everyone is so selected risks producing vulnerable products. Part of a Torah chinuch is providing our children with the tools that they will need to confront challenges. Parents of girls from Israeli kollel families living in the utmost simplicity and intent on preparing their daughters for such a life rightly fear that exposure to other girls living at a much higher standard might cause arouse discontent among some of their daughters.

But income differentials have been a fact of life since time immemorial. Better for the school to mitigate the challenges by developing parietal rules – e.g., putting strict limits on what can be served at a birthday party and/or limiting birthday parties to school. But ultimately there is no escape from the necessity of developing in our children a deep appreciation of Chazal's definition of "who is happy."

Another defense of schools limited to students from one chassidic group or who meet a long checklist of criteria is the desire to transmit a particular mesorah. The challenge, however, is finding ways to instill pride in one's own traditions, without becoming contemptuous of everyone else's. Such contempt is a natural by-product, however, when the mesorah can only be transmitted by excluding everyone with a slightly different one.

Homogeneity can also cause the atrophying of a Klal Yisrael consciousness. The less we are exposed to Jews who are different from us, the less aware we become of their existence. And the less aware we are of Jews outside of our narrow circle, the greater the chance that we will not take them into account when making decisions about our conduct.

Recommended reading:

Charedi Classic

Pulling in the Gangplank

Rolling out the Welcome Mat



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1. What went wrong?     7/23/10 - 2:13 PM
Used to be an Out-of-Towner

Having grown up in an out-of-town community in the '60s, we were raised to be proud to be Yidden (we were the lucky ones who were Shomer Shabbos, kept Kosher, dressed differently, etc.) and the all time #1 Mitzvah was to make a Kiddush Hashem wherever we were (that was much higher up on the list than Cholov Yisroel, the "best" Esrog, the longest Sh'mona Esrei --nothing wrong with those things, they just came further down the list, that's all). Constantly looking out to make that all important Kiddush Hashem -- made us strong and our Yiddishkeit strong.

Now having moved East and raised children "in-town", sending them to "the best" Yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs, and watching them and their friends raise their children (in Lakewood and similar in-town communities), they're so afraid to let their children mingle with any kids not exactly at the same level they're on. What happened? Why are they so afraid???

Why is their Yiddishkeit so weak that they feel that with any outside exposure, they'll throw it all away? Where is their pride in being Yidden and being different, because of their ability to keep Mitzvos and learn Torah? Why is there this tremendous fear that the outside world will be so tempting to their children (it sure looks pretty miserable "out-there" to me)?

Where did my generation go wrong in raising our children? We grew up strong and proud -- why are they so afraid that their children will be weak and throw it all away?

Rabbi Horowitz - I'd like to hear your comments and Rabbi Rosenblum's as well. I wonder if other readers who grew up out-of-town (or in-town) in the '50s and '60s feel this same about their children and grand-children.


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2. Seen Both Sides Of The Coin     7/23/10 - 2:34 PM
WolfishMusings - Brooklyn, NY

I find R. Rosenblum's article interesting because I have seen both sides of the coin.

When I was in first grade, my parents were not Shomer Shabbos. Nonetheless, my mother wanted me to have a Jewish education and so I was enrolled in HILI, an Orthodox yeshiva, in New York. To my knowledge (although I could be wrong), I was the only non-Shomer Shabbos kid in the class. The Rebbe (Rabbi Nachman Mandel z"l) never singled me out for my lack of observance. He showed me exactly the same love and respect that he showed every other kid in the class. No snide remarks were ever made towards me or my family for our status. In short, the school welcomed us in with open arms -- Shomer Shabbos or not.

Fast forward about five years. My parents have since divorced. My mother became a Shomeres Torah U'Mitzvos and I and my sister followed in her footsteps. My father was not (and to this day is not) frum.

My mother tried to enroll me in a yeshiva in Brooklyn, but had a very difficult time. No one, it seemed, wanted me -- and not because I was a bad or troublesome kid (I wasn't). One yeshiva was willing to take me on condition that I have absolutely no contact with my father. My mother turned them down flat. In the end, a yeshiva was found for me, but not without considerable difficulty and searching. And, in the end, at the school I ended up in, people who weren't frum or "less frum" than the rabbeim were routinely mocked and made fun of. And, yes, the fact that I originally was not observant and still had large parts of my family that were not observant was known to them.

So, I've seen both sides of the coin -- the inclusiveness and the exclusionary. Let's just say that I find the fact that we were accepted with open arms while not frum but then subject to exclusion when we were frum is quite telling about our attitudes as a society today.


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3. I Like R' Horowitz's Comment     7/23/10 - 2:58 PM
Elliot Pasik - Long Beach, NY - efpasik@aol.com

The article tries a little bit too hard to be all things to all people, but I do like R' Horowitz's introductory comment, almost as much as I like R' Horowitz as a person.

My own experience, as an old Ohr Somayach BT from the 70s, is to say that not only have I never had a problem integrating, I received a warm welcome. I even believe that BTs who say they have had integration problems are exaggerating.

That being said, I do see significant hashkafa differences between FFBs, BTs, and non-frum Jews, too many to describe, and better left unsaid in any event. The hashkafa outlooks spill over into our yeshivas.

I agree with the above poster. The type of mentchlikeit always associated with Jews that we saw in the 50s and 60s is, today, not an automatic. There are many reasons, including Internet and all the gadgets, but another is that some of our mechanchim are simply preaching hate. Hate for general studies, other cultures, and so on. I see it with my own eyes. Not nice.


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4.     7/23/10 - 6:51 PM
Anonymous

My girls attend what is considered a 'mainstream' Bais yaakov in brooklyn, and my boys attend what by most standards would be considered "THE" 'mainstream' yeshiva in the tristate area. Several months back, the girls' menahel warned the girls that their summer plans should mot include work at kiruv camps as the avira does not befit bais yaakov girls. My boys were told by the Rosh Yeshiva that his is a 'serious' yeshiva for serious learners; boys interested in kiruv need not apply. Any question about why we are hemorraging, 'at risk', and still in galus?


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5. Yasher koiach     7/24/10 - 2:57 PM
Dovid

Great, timely piece. It is so sad how we are fractionalizing ourselves into oblivion. If the Rambam and the Ramban can both be part of the same mesora, then so can different segments of the frum world, even if we disagree with each other on very contentious issues. Our children have to learn that. I think what's happened is that the focus on sheltering which grew out of the widespread secularization has now come to mean sheltering from everybody who isn't exactly like me. And that is a terrible tragedy for Klal Yisroel.


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6. Discrimination     7/24/10 - 3:32 PM
Resident of Bet Shemesh - Israel

I would like to comment not on the body of the article but rather on the introductory paragraph...about Emmanuel and what happened not being discrimination. I am not sure what "proofs" Rav Rosenblum has that the situation there was not discrimination but I want to tell you what this has done in the Charedi community here in Bet Shemesh where I live. The terrible happening in Emmanuel gave a green light for the most horrible sinat Chinam imaginable to be expressed. The shameful things that I have heard from the mouths of Ashkenazim about their Sefardi brothers, over the last few months is truly terrible and shocking. I even met a woman who was leaving Bet Shemesh because the other members of her apartment block decided that they would no longer tolerate sphardim in their building and threatened her and her family with physical violence if they did not leave. I had no trouble weeping on Tisha Beav because the reason that the temple has not been rebuilt is that it is still being destroyed. Am Yisrael is in such a dreadfully low situation that we need strong leaders to help us out of the depths we are in. It is a pity that Rabbis like Rav Rosenblum are not addressing this terrible problem rather than saying that it does not exist. It exists. I invite the Rav to write back to this email address and I will give more evidence.


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7. we have the luxury of specializing now     7/25/10 - 8:30 AM
anonymousfornow

In early 20th century America, there was one major challenge, and that was Shabbos. That was what unified the Jews who were serious about their Yiddishkeit; many differences fell by the wayside.

With time came some breathing room. Also there was a large influx of survivors who had different goals: many wanted to recreate what was lost. I will not say that that was the beginning of the end. Chas v'shalom! But we had the luxury of being able to concentrate on nuances and other areas of halacha that had been ignored. Many of us - and I grew up in the seventies in the kind of open out of town school many of us remember fondly - mourn the loss of openness but we can't deny the incredible bracha of having the menuchas hanefesh to upgrade our Yiddishkeit in many ways.

A few things I might take issue with: In America, in many communities, BTs probably should be mainstreamed into the best schools sooner rather than later because there are no other suitable schools.

Also, outside of a few enclaves, I am not aware of any schools where children from non-kollel families are looked down on. In fact, by the time many people have kids in school, their time in kollel is up. Not necessarily a bad thing but that's a whole other story.


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8. additional points     7/25/10 - 12:53 PM
bikores.blogspot.com

I think some important points are being left out of this discussion.

1) Back in the days when community schools were the norm - I recently finished reading the book "Between Two Worlds" about the Benders and the book describes Torah Vodaas way back when as having kids from chassidishe homes, shomer Shabbos homes and from not frum homes! - overall standards of Yiddishkeit for those who were frum were rather low except in unusual families like the Hermans (All for the Boss), the Benders and those like them. The frum/shomer Shabbos Jew was such a rarity among the millions of Jews who were not shomer Shabbos that tznius (sleeves, hemlines, hair covering, pants for women) was not high up there as a priority. So too for other mitzvos, frum people were largely not that knowledgable. So if we are going to have a nostalgic look about the 'good ol' days' when we were inclusive, let's remember what those days were really like.

2) As for your saying that there is a higher drop-out rate in sheltered communities - in a mixed community, if a child who is growing up in a home that is more to the 'right' decides to be more 'modern' you wouldn't call that dropping out and wouldn't include him/her in your statistics. But let's look at what that can actually mean. It can mean that a child from a yeshivish home (let's say the father is a rebbi in a school) no longer dresses like a yeshiva bachur, that he rejects the values of his home of careful observance of halacha and Torah being the ikar, he may mingle with girls/boys and not observe halacha carefully in that regard, but still keeps kosher and doesn't desecrate the Shabbos.

So yes, he doesn't fall into your "drop-out" statistics but this is devastating nonetheless. I know that to those who are modern there is nothing devastating about this at all since that is how they live l'chatchile, but to those who are trying to raise their children with yiras shomayim and a l'chatchile approach to halacha rather than a b'dieved one, this is terrible.

In a sheltered environment where the community all lives on a high standard of tznius and avodas Hashem, true - if someone opts to compromise, their choices are to move out of the community or to live a secret life. The choices are stark and that is why you see them dropping out.

You might say - okay, that proves your point, because it's preferable to cut corners but basically remain kashrus-Shabbos frum than to drop it all. There is validity to that but it's a very dangerous approach to take because you end up validating being marginally frum and okaying rejecting the Torah values one's home espouses for watered-down Judaism. Those who compromise on their Judaism in that way are not likely to be capable of transmitting a love for Yiddishkeit to their children because they don't have it themselves.

For you see, although they might look the same, the compromised Yiddishkeit of the 50's was, in the main, vastly different than the compromised Yiddishkeit of a kid from a 'black hat' home of today. Why? Because they are heading in different directions. The frum American Jew in the 50's often didn't have a top-notch Jewish education. They were committed to Yiddishkeit to the best of their knowledge. The kid of today who walks away from what his parents and yeshiva taught him is rebelling.


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9.     7/25/10 - 6:58 PM
Benzion Twerski

I rarely do this. I am responding to the very discussion of the topic, without having examined carefully the opinions of the article and the posters. Yes, I’m the victim of some speed reading. Whoever reads this will be the victim of speed writing.

I did not move to the insular community in Boro Park until I was well past age 30. Born and raised out of town, I take pride in driving like a mentch, not double parking, greeting passersby with a Gut Shabbos even if I don’t know them, and refusing to adapt to the Brooklynese dialect. I know about Superman, McHale’s Navy, and other treif media that our children would find completely strange.

My elementary school class consisted of 8-10 boys, and all remained shomer Shabbos, without exception. I have retrospected many times to identify the key element that was the cause for this success. I even entertained the idea that the detractors to remaining frum were non-existent, having evolved or being invented later. Even now, I can only suggest ideas, without empirical data. Oh, yes, I am also a public school student. I did not have a yeshiva until 2nd grade. I learned aleph bais on my mother’s lap.

The scientist in me says to examine which features of my home could be the source of the success. I also know that those homes that were different but had the same outcome tell me that the first feature I identified was truly unimportant here.

My father shlit”a was a functioning Rav of a shul (until I was 6), excelled in the secular and scientific world, and achieved notoriety. Those issues must be irrelevant, because none of my childhood friends had any of those aspects to their homes. We kept Cholov Yisroel as did several others, but not all the families did. We had payos and wore our tztitzis outside, but others did not. Levush had no bearing. No one in any of the families, nor in the yeshiva paid attention to whether we read comic books or had a television. Many of the “outside influences” were not subjected to a ban, and there was no concept of judging a family by any of these factors.

Now for some ideas that may be relevant. Our community was truly diverse. A few families were Chabad, we were chassidish, one family was of German origin, one was Sephardic, others were Litvish. While each had its respective identity, the achdus in the community was impressive. No one paid attention to the differences. We rejoiced in each other’s simchos as our own. The principle that powered the community was inclusiveness and togetherness. We had much in common, and everyone benefited generously from everyone else. The only other attitude that I recall as pivotal was that the prevailing identity of each family was that we were Yidden. All the other demographics were of lesser priority.

Over the years, I moved around. In yeshiva after bar mitzvah (we all had to go away for yeshiva), we parted ways geographically. Those friendships remained until today. None of us pay any mind to what levush the other wears, where they daven or send their kids to yeshiva. We’re the All Stars that play together even though representing other teams. (How many chassidishe kids have any idea what this last sentence means!)

My friends from yeshiva days (13+) were similarly diverse. I am not the only one who is still in contact with others. Achdus, not difference, was a motto among the Roshei Yeshiva. I guess I am underscoring the point of the article about inclusiveness, not insularity (protecting from other Yidden). We were busy insulating ourselves from the outside, not from others on the inside.

I cannot forget shiurim. Most of the fathers gathered together weekly at someone’s home for a shiur. I often saw the piles of seforim left on the table overnight. There was also a Shabbos afternoon shiur where those in walking distance would rotate hosting a shiur for the others in the class. We learned for around an hour often with the father of the hosting friend, then enjoyed a bit of nosh and played a little. This was not dictated by the school. It was spontaneous, voluntary, and remained intact throughout the years of 3rd through 8th grade. We were Yidden first, and that’s all that mattered. A staple message, as much if not more by example, was that Torah was the epitome of our existence. No mussar, no banning of everything else, no discrimination, no ‘holier than thou”, no values that rival the gashmiyus of the secular world.

Perhaps I missed making a point. But I reminisce often on my youth, looking for what elements I could recreate in my home. Today’s world and its influences, the electronics and digital ones, the conveniences, and the cultural changes in which communities have excelled in divisiveness make this challenge much harder. I don’t think I have mastered the art of bringing the past into the present. But I try.


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10. Flash Back     7/25/10 - 9:14 PM
RAM

Let's imagine a Tanach where all our spiritual heroes and their families kept 100% to themselves so as not be sullied by contact with the masses. How exactly would our people have received the instruction or seen the role models to improve and draw close to HaShem? There is a responsibility to love and help other Jews outside the inner circle. That doesn't happen with an impenetrable wall around the inner circle. That doesn't happen with smug condescension or senseless fear.


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11. Interesting     7/25/10 - 9:14 PM
Anonymous

What solutions are you offering?

Why the need to attack the yeshivaleit?


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12. Re: Dr. Twerski     7/26/10 - 9:14 AM
anonymousfornow

I'm one of the kids who grew up with a TV. I don't remember the original 60's shows but saw them in syndication. I don't think having a TV was great but as the saying goes, we still saw Father Knows Best, not Father Knows Nothing.

In smaller communities there's no question that there was/is a feeling that we're all in this together and the differences and nuances fall by the wayside. Once there's volume, there's the luxury of being able to bolster and stick with a more parochial group. Not a bad thing either. You don't have to answer but what kind of schools did you end up sending your kids to? How do you manage to achieve your goals?


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13. Re: RAM     7/26/10 - 10:28 AM
anonymousfornow

Interesting point. But note that while Avraham went out, Yitzchak was the olah temima who couldn't leave, and was it of Yaakov it was said, ish tam yoshev ohalim? They may have acted one way, but offered a different - maybe more insular? - chinuch for their children.

And there's no question we live in different times, where we have to edit what we bring into our homes more carefully. When I grew up, I was a kid with TV in the house. Now I'd be careful - not forbid or even necessarily discourage - but be careful and monitor my kids' friendships with others with liberal exposure.


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14.     7/26/10 - 1:50 PM
Anonymous

There is a responsibility to love and help other Jews outside the inner circle. That doesn't happen with an impenetrable wall around the inner circle.

How do you explain the community of New Square which is insular yet is mekarev Yidden? Ditto for Belz in Israel? One can raise sheltered children and yet promote reaching out to others.


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15. Where to draw the line     7/26/10 - 2:11 PM
Anonymous - druggy2@juno.com

We all talk big about not excluding... Where do you draw the line. Should YSV in Monsey, Mir in Brooklyn etc. accetpt kids from non-religious homes?


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16. Focus on education , not on control     7/27/10 - 8:45 AM
Ak

Hi,

Education today is more about ' control'and ' doing to ' kids. You have to dress this way , you can't go there , read this , play with that or them , eat this but that etc trying to control the environment and kid so there will be no impact of bad influence.

In the past education especially in outlying mixed communities was to help kids make meaning of the world around them and be a contributor and a positive influence . This is the lesson of the windows of the Beis Hamikdash - the light spreading from the inside out.

I agree that we are doing a lot of damage to kids.


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17.     7/27/10 - 9:19 AM
benjy

#14 makes an excellent point.

How do you explain the community of New Square which is insular yet is mekarev Yidden? Ditto for Belz in Israel? One can raise sheltered children and yet promote reaching out to others.

Can we get the author's response please?


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18. Insular communities doing kiruv     7/27/10 - 5:54 PM
anonymousfornow

I think it's on their own terms, and probably not considered for everyone. I'd like an answer too but you might be surprised with what we get.

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