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Sending a Child to Eretz Yisroel – Part Two
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
Publication: Chicago Community Kollel

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To: Rabbi Horowitz

From: Yitzi and Rivky

We both spent time in Eretz Yisroel after high school and found it to be a wonderful experience.

When our children were younger, we always assumed that we would send each of them to Eretz Yisroel for at least a year after high school. Now, with our eldest child (a boy) in 12th grade, we are not so sure that this is the right move.

Last year, we were in Yerushalayim (during the school year) attending a family simcha and we walked through the Ben Yehudah mall on several nights (11 pm-1 am) just to see for ourselves what we had heard about from our friends. We were shocked at the ‘scene’ and are concerned about the notion of sending our son so far from home at the age of 18. There was lots of drinking, smoking, and frum kids going to and from clubs. We are naturally quite worried.

We appreciate the tone of candor in your columns and would love to hear your straight talk on this subject.

Rabbi Horowitz Responds

The purpose of these columns on sending children to Eretz Yisroel is to help you make a rational decision – something that doesn’t often come easy with an emotional issue that tugs on your heartstrings. Last week, I gave the analogy of ‘would-you-send-your-child-to-Southern-California-unsupervised?’ because it illustrates the point that we sometimes abandon reason by contemplating sending our kids to Eretz Yisroel under circumstances that we would never consider in chutz la’aretz.

Another main point that I'd like to make is that, to quote the words of a friend of mine who is an educator in one of the most popular Israeli schools, “Eretz Yisroel is not a hospital,” meaning that it is unrealistic to send a child to Eretz Yisroel with the expectation that the time there will remedy all that is ailing your son or daughter. It is wiser and far more productive to address whatever issues there are before your child leaves home and only then to send them away, rather than vice versa.

I feel that every one of the factors that were noted in last week’s column is relevant to your decision. Allow me to briefly discuss each of them:

Academic success, Learning profile, & Connection to Judaism

How your son or daughter has performed in school over the past 12 years is an important factor to consider when making your decision. You may ask, “Well, isn't the point of sending them to Israel to inspire them to [enjoy] learning?” And while that may be correct, just understand that sending an uninspired and unmotivated child is an additional risk factor.

This should also play an important role in determining which school to send your child to. Schools are basically divided into two types; those who are in the ‘kiruv’ mode, whose goals are to turn kids around and develop within them a love for Torah and mitzvos, and those who expect their students to come in with an appreciation for learning and an adherence to the school's rules. With that in mind, sending an unmotivated or uninspired child to the latter type of school will in all likelihood prove to be an unmitigated disaster. It is of paramount importance that you be realistic in assessing your child seeing to it that he/she match the school setting.

Over the years, I have found that many parents are disappointed and sometimes shocked when schools with rigid academic standards and high expectations of their students ask their unmotivated or uninspired children to leave in the middle of the school year after a number of ‘warnings’ to improve their behavior or ‘get with the program.’ One cannot blame a school for doing what they said they were doing all along.

Age & Maturity

Let's face it. Some kids are just not ready to leave home at the age of 17 or 18. The fact that many of them are, does not change the facts on the ground if your child is immature or irresponsible. As I mentioned earlier, just ask yourself if you would allow this child to travel away from home for a week or 10 days in an unsupervised setting – which is what he or she will have during bein haz’manim (intercession). It may still be appropriate to send an immature 18-year-old to a post-high school setting in Israel. But that is only the case if the program has strict supervision, with the school heads take responsibility for the children even during the time that they are off grounds. Among the many and diverse schools in Eretz Yisroel, there is a continuum in the level of responsibility that schools accept. Some have detailed rules that govern we the kids will stay during their off Shabbasos and expect the kids to regularly report in. Others have an honor system, where one can basically do what he/she wants to – and are assumed to always be doing the right thing on and off campus. Again, finding the right match for your child and his or her age and maturity is of utmost importance.

Attitude to authority figures in previous schools & Thrill-seeking

I have always believed in the capacity of people to change and improve their lives. But the fact of the matter is that most people retain their personality traits for the course of their entire lives. Hopefully, with the passage of time, people self-actualized and improve the ‘weaker points’ of their persona. But their inherent nature rarely changes (See the writings of the Vilna Gaon on this matter).

Therefore, as you assess the attributes of the various programs, think about the tolerance level of the school and the nature of your child and ask yourself if this is a correct fit. If the school is rigid in nature in your child has a contrarian or rebellious streak, in all likelihood, you will be faced with a very rocky road ahead. As I will note in next week's column, I feel that it is important for parents to meet with the head of the school before enrolling their child, or better yet, take the time to visit the various programs in Eretz Yisroel while your child is in 12th grade to get a better feel for things yourself.

Hobbies/Sports & Motivation

One of the biggest challenges that your child will face during the year away from home is what to do during their spare time. Generally speaking, at home, kids have far more personal space and more opportunities for recreational pursuits. If your child is an athlete, and very much enjoys playing sports, please inquire as to the attitude of the school administration regarding athletics. There's a wide range of philosophies – from active encouragement of sports in the understanding that kids must exercise regularly and ‘blow off steam,’ all the way across to some schools where the heads tell their students that ball playing is at best a waste of time or an inappropriate activity for serious yeshiva students. Please, please make sure that the school matches your values, and more importantly your child's needs.

Vices – Cigarette Smoking/Alcohol Consumption

Here is interesting question:

What is the legal drinking age in Israel?

  1. 21 years old
  2. 18 years old
  3. 16 years old
  4. There is no legal drinking age

Honestly, how many of you knew that the answer is choice D? That's right; there is no legal drinking age in Israel. A child of 10 years old can walk into any grocery or liquor store and purchase beer, wine, or hard liquor.

Things have changed dramatically over the past generation as far as teen drinking and smoking is concerned. When I went Israel 30 years ago, none of my friends drank. None of them. And I was far from a perfect student. Today, many or most of our kids are very knowledgeable about the different brands of liquor and not shy about drinking significant or even large quantities at Shabbos meals, or any other venue where alcohol is available. About eight years ago, I was in Israel for a week, and watched in horror as a group of six or seven American bachurim attending a yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel downed a full bottle of scotch at a Shabbos bris in less than ten minutes – with each of them making Kiddush on a full, 5-7 ounce drinking glass of schnapps. If your child has an alcohol problem, please keep that in mind and find a school that has adequate supervision.

While smoking rates in the general population have dramatically decreased over the past 20 years due to effective anti-smoking campaigns, and in many circles is seen as a low class activity, the rates of smoking in our community, especially in the more yeshiva circles, has spun completely out of control. Some yeshivos, the kids tell me, have more than three quarters of the boys regularly smoking. I attribute much of this to the inexcusable lack of recreational opportunities afforded our kids. As many of the kids have told me when I ask them why they are smoking, “What else are we supposed to do during a bein hasedorim (break time)?”

And while it is very difficult to buck peer pressure and expect a child not to smoke at all, the attitudes vary greatly among the different schools. Some have the rebbeim actively discouraging their students from smoking, some are passive and say nothing, while in other schools, many of the faculty members themselves smoke. Therefore, if you consider smoking abhorrent, please make sure to verify the school's attitude toward smoking before you send your child there.

As I noted in last week's column, the purpose of these lines are not to discourage you from sending a child to Eretz Yisroel. My wife and I have proudly sent three grown children there over the past five years and are very pleased that we did so. However, much wisdom and thought needs to go into selecting the right program and seeing that it matches your values and expectations for your child's year there.

Next week: Some final pointers in sending a child to Eretz Yisroel.

© 2008 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

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