By Libby Herz
It was the 9th of Tishrei and 14-year-old Dovid sat alone in his bedroom. His closest friends had all been accepted into various mesivtas months ago, but Dovid remained alone. A storm of emotions raged. He felt anger, pain, and even grief. Was he not good enough? Why didn’t any mesivta want him? What was wrong with him?
At a Shabbos farbrengen on Gimmel Tammuz 5781 at the Rebbe‘s Ohel – just a few short months ago – a group of rabbonim, mechanchim, Shluchim, askanim, and businessmen discussed the issue of children who were rejected from Chabad mesivtas.
As a result, a mission statement, spearheaded by Rabbi Yacov Barber, was written up regarding mesivta boys. That statement evolved and currently includes the mission to find placement for boys and girls in need of elementary schools, Zal, seminary, and special education schools. “It’s really anyone who is struggling with getting their child into a Chabad school,” Rabbi Barber tells COLlive.com.
Rabbi Barber’s thirty years of experience as a shliach in Melbourne, Australia which included the role of Rabbi, dayan at a Beis Din, and yeshiva rebbi, has informed his compassion for young children in search of the right school. The initiative was titled the Vaad Hachinuch.
Rabbi Barber’s next step was to approach Rabbi Nochem Kaplan, Director of the Chinuch Office, a division of Merkos L’inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.
“Many Lubavitch children went unplaced and nobody owned the problem,” admits Rabbi Kaplan in an interview with COLlive.com. “In these situations, the parents had no avenue and children were left hanging.”
The importance of children being accepted to yeshivas and Lubavitch schools cannot be over-emphasized. “If a child feels rejection, he feels it for the rest of his life. Everything is tainted by that fact,” Rabbi Kaplan says.
Rabbi Kaplan praises the attitudinal change in community members. “The Chabad community has a responsibility to all Lubavitch children,” he says. “We can’t simply shrug our shoulders and say ‘it’s not my problem.’”
So, the Chinuch Office welcomed Rabbi Barber in a role that will especially address children who had not found placement in Lubavitch mosdos. Rabbi Barber is now working out of the 788 office building adjacent to 770 Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights.
Hundreds of families have already reached out for help and scores have been placed, including some in overnight camps during the summer. The budget of the Vaad Hachinuch is privately funded by caring individuals and prominent families in Chabad.
While funded independently, Rabbi Barber says that existing under the umbrella of Merkos provides the necessary clout to move organizations. “I spoke to a particular school,” he says, “and when I said that I am calling from the Merkos Chinuch Placement Office, they took it as a positive sign that the Chabad organization advocates for this student. They took the application very seriously and the boy got into the school.”
As part of the placement process, Rabbi Barber interviews parents and students from Crown Heights and other communities and uses the conversations to gauge the most suitable placement for the child.
Asked about the matter of physical space, Rabbi Kaplan responded: “You can squeeze a mossad and help find space.” Many children were helped because yeshivas managed to rearrange boarding accommodations.
“Practically,” Rabbi Kaplan adds, “you have to find a yeshiva which can accommodate a child under certain conditions. How is he managing in the yeshiva? How is the yeshiva managing? Is an extra tutor needed, and can we find someone to do it? Our responsibility continues after the child has been accepted.”
Since the Vaad Hachinuch is concerned with children’s long-term schooling, Rabbi Barber keeps up with the child and the yeshiva throughout the year.
Rabbi Kaplan praises the mesivtas and their menahalim for their willingness to find additional placement. “The heads of all the mesivtas have been extremely willing to do whatever they could to accept the students,” he says.
This past Monday at 3:15 PM, fourteen-year-old Dovid sat with his parents and Rabbi Barber. He aimed his confusion and anger at his parents. “Why can’t you get me into yeshiva?” he half-yelled, half-cried. “Why am I here?” The hurt in his eyes went unmasked.
“If he doesn’t get in,” confessed Dovid’s mother, “he’ll just go to work.”
When Dovid and his parents left his office, Rabbi Barber a few phone calls, and by 7 PM that evening, Dovid was accepted into his preferred mesivta. At 10 PM, his mother helped him pack his bags and drove him off to yeshiva.
“I wish I could have seen his face when his mother told him he can go to the mesivta he wanted to go to,” Rabbi Barber says. “It’s life-changing.”
To seek assistance with your children or offer funding or advice, Rabbi Barber can be reached at 917-818-8707 or [email protected]