Although we are only children, not as experienced as the adult contingency, it is imperative that you see it through our eyes. Because how reality is relayed to us is the only way we see it, no matter how much goes on behind the scenes. As I once heard: ‘Remember, people judge you by your actions, not your intentions. You may have a heart of gold – but then again, so does a hard-boiled egg.’ So this is for the actions, not the intentions.
There is a city far away, across the sea, nestled within a sunburnt country and unique wildlife. For the purposes of this discussion we’ll call it Nevel.
Nevel – for its outstanding commitment to nurturing chassidus, the deeply rooted strongholds of yichus, gezeh and all else that is so important to proper upstanding Lubavitchers. In that city, my year level was the first to boast out-of-town graduates. And I can see why that wasn’t too hard of a title to acquire…I don’t think anyone was running for it. In fact, if they had, they quickly turned and begun running – in the opposite direction.
To explain, I’d first like to ask a question: What is shlichus? Well, today that raises a debate of sorts. There are those who were sent by the Frierdiker Rebbe to far flung places to live a life of pure mesiras nefesh. Those who had the Rebbe choose a shlichus opposition off their floor-hitting list of preferences. Those who were told they should rather stay put than go on shlichus. And those who, ‘WHAT? JUST BECAUSE I DON’T HAVE TO SQUEEZE MY OWN MILK AND SHECHT MY OWN COWS, THAT BECAUSE I HAVE A FRUM SCHOOL FOR MY CHILDREN – YOU TELL ME I’M NOT ON SHLICHUS??’
So for the benefit of shalom al Yisroel, but mainly because I personally do believe, that we as Lubavitcher chassidim are all on an individual shlichus to fulfill the aims and mission of the Rebbe – we are all on shlichus. We are all family.
In Nevel there lives a community of such shluchim. Nevel is known for her outstanding warmth to those who flock to her welcoming borders from far and wide. Nevel is even a wonder, for her close-knit, family-like community atmosphere and her ability to preserve a general peace. Yes, there are currents beneath the surface, however to the naked eye, Nevel is almost perfect.
But you should know Nevel – there are family members you are neglecting. There are children from across the world who are being sent away from home at the age of 12, 11, even younger than 9. Think about sending away your child that young. They live their whole childhood without even knowing that there is a life of like-minded friends, of bakeries, of another Lubavitch family. So we’ve survived without these things and we are perfectly normal, you might say – albeit a little socially awkward and behind in the acceptable chinuch standards. We have known for a long time that when the time came, we would have to leave our families for months at a time to learn in a place called Nevel. Oh, how we looked forward to the time we could live in the wonderfully acclaimed Nevel! But this is our reality:
The boy who can’t even make the beginning of the school year because he has not yet a place to live. Even though the entire tzach list has been tried and more than once.
Or the child who has been moving houses constantly, the week of their final exams being no exception; living out of boxes and suitcases for five years.
Or the girl who is asked on the day of her graduation by a community member, ‘excuse me, where are you from exactly? Oh? You’ve been here for how many years? How interesting…’
Or the girl who is asked before graduation by a staff member – how can she possibly have any number of people coming for her, ‘what-your whole community is coming out?’ As though going through high-school without family wasn’t enough.
It’s the boys and girls who can count on one hand the number of non-family members that have invited them for a shabbos meal. That is…over a span of several years.
And it’s the parent who is worried about their child’s progress, yet receives no response when they call teachers for feedback. Did I fail to mention – for the duration of their child’s education.
Is this ok? Maybe it is, maybe I’ve got it all wrong. Perhaps I’m being unreasonable. There are parts of life that can’t be helped – the endless rides to and from the airport, the homesickness, the inevitable need to impose on a strange family time and time again. Not having a room to call your own. The necessity to become independent. The obligation to constantly be on your best behavior. The requirement to always be indebted to others. Where shyness is not an option. To keep out of everyone’s way. Having no option other than to grow up. Fast. Regardless, there are things that can be changed.
Schools: Make sure your staff knows when there is an out-of-town student – it makes a difference when teachers are sensitive. Make sure the child isn’t responsible for sending all important documents home themselves when you can easily send it directly. Make sure you accept the parent’s card payment so the child doesn’t worry about how they are getting to shabbatons. Make sure that when an interstate parent comes in for a progress report, you find the time to accommodate them. Make interstate students your business.
Teachers: Maybe you can find two minutes on your way out of class to inquire how your student is doing. Maybe you’ve noticed their results are plummeting – maybe they’re not lazy, maybe they’re not coping. Would it hurt you to invite them over for a shabbos meal, just once?
Parents: Would it be possible for you to invite your child’s friend over for a shabbos meal? For a Sunday afternoon? Maybe sensitivity is not something you find important to impress upon your children.
Every family has its own difficulties. No one is commanding you as an individual to take on a boarder, or to ask them how their day went when you see them in the store. But where is your sense of community? Think of your own children. Would you be satisfied knowing this was your child I was writing about?
You jump up and down to make sure your seminary, yeshivah and overseas guests are made to feel welcome. What happened to your generosity and hospitality when it comes to ‘insignificant out-of-towners’? Not so glamorous and note-worthy, is it? Maybe no one will even notice. And you won’t get a public ‘thank you’. Does that make it less important?
Nevel – you have a handful of truly unbelievable people. People who make kids like us feel as though we are at home and that we are noticed. They make our time in Nevel bearable; they do it because they care and definitely NOT because they have been asked. They are generous and they are thoughtful. Our thanks to them know no bounds. If only they weren’t a minority, then our view of Nevel could include the renowned generosity and warmth that we hear of so often.
Writing this does nothing for me. I am for all intents and purposes finished the ‘system’. And had my journey through education abruptly ended after high school, I may have thought that our situation was like many others. And worse -that it was normal. But luckily, I was fortunate enough to go through another program and there I met for the first time, so many other children like myself. As I looked around, I saw and heard some stories like my own in Nevel. But mostly, of stories quite unlike.
Nevel, your lack of sensitivity is not unlike other Nevels of the world, but that doesn’t make it ok. You are an amazing community, yet unfortunately it took me a mighty long time to realize. I may just be a child, but we children can be hurt. And we have been. Collectively.
Chabad, they say, is like Coca-Cola – not a place in the world devoid of it; you will always find familiarity and always feel at home away from home. That shouldn’t just go for the backpackers. The Kinus is not the only time we should be noticed by Nevels of the world. We are told all the time: you are not alone. You are in the army of the Rebbe. You are a part of Lubavitch. We are a family.
Well, we know it.
Isn’t it about time you made us feel it?