By Sruli Schochet
Before I begin, I want to apologize if this comes across as fragmented or rambling. Normally, when I embark on writing an article, I try to map it out so that it is consistent and flows. But this writing is coming from a different place: one of heartache. I am hurriedly typing this on my cell phone, as words and emotions wash over me.
Picture this scenario if you will: You walk into a doctor’s office and tell him you are feeling under the weather. You have a small fever and your throat hurts.
The doctor looks at your chart and says: “Sorry, we only service healthy people here. If you are healthy and come for a visit, we will give you vitamins to enhance your health. But we don’t service people that are not of perfect health.”
You look at your doctor incredulously and ask: “Then why did you become a doctor? Anyone can service healthy people. It’s the ones lacking perfect health that require your services!”
I write this because within just a couple of weeks of each other, my 19-year-old son was rejected from attending shiur daled of both Oholei Torah and Morristown. The rejection emails cited, that upon concluding their investigations, they determined that he would not be a good fit with their yeshivos.
Needless to say, as a father, this shocked me to my core. I always prided myself on having an open and communicative relationship with my son. What had they heard that I didn’t know? Let me be clear: I am not a parent that sticks their head in the sand. I take full responsibility for the current spiritual status where my son currently finds himself. But what could have been so bad to be rejected by the two mainstay staple yeshivos of the Chabad educational system?
I spoke with the hanholo of both institutions. As a father, I pleaded, I hope you will share with me what your investigations uncovered so that I can help my son.
Both of them has similar responses. There was nothing specifically negative that they heard. Yes, he has a good head and gets good grades. He is not a troublemaker or disrespectful. But they heard that he is not really a ‘chassidish bochur’. With their limited and aging staff, they felt they had nothing to offer him, as each one passed the buck that he should apply to the other yeshiva.
With what they claim is limited space and an abundance of applicants, they are just choosing the ‘healthiest’ students they can get. Which begs the question: why do we have institutions of chinuch that are just providing vitamins to the ‘healthy’ students, while rejecting the ones with the runny noses and sore throats that need a little TLC? Anyone can do that! For such ‘challenges’, one needn’t go into chinuch in the first place.
When did we become an establishment of elitists? When did our mainstream yeshivas become institutions for mitzuyonim only? How many successful shluchim, mechanchim, askonim, were deemed ‘not chassidish’ in their youth? Where would they be today had the same rigorous standards been applied and their yeshiva applications rejected?
I shudder to think that this just another by-product of a post-Gimmel Tammuz world. Had this occurred some 24+ years ago, I would be writing my pan to the Rebbe, instead of a letter to COLlive. I believe in my heart of hearts, that the various hanholos would not have had the audacity to reject bochurim from yeshiva and then face the Rebbe at the next farbrengan. I know this for a fact, since had these ambiguous standards been applied when I was in yeshiva, half the zals would have been empty.
Alas, there is no one to answer to, and the yeshivos can accept and reject with impunity.
The words of the Chofetz Chaim in the first chapter of Tzipiso L’yoshua comes to mind. There he addresses how the adage of the Talmud about ‘Moshiach coming to a generation that is all meritorious’ can be possible. He says (and this is in the 1920’s!) that the fact that a family works hard and struggles to keep Torah and Mitzvos and more importantly, to provide a good Jewish education for their children, is considered a repentance to G-d with all one’s heart and soul.
In today’s day and age, in 2018, if there is a 19-year-old boy who WANTS to be in the yeshiva system, that should be seized and embraced with both hands, regardless of how ‘non–super-chassidish’ you may think he is!
Truth be told, as the therapeutic effects of putting pen to paper calm me, I can’t really blame the menahalim themselves. They are but individuals that really are given limited resources and an impossible task, in a very broken system. Shattered in fact. The status quo is unsustainable. Oy, Rebbe! We miss you! Where is the leadership in this vast void?
If there is anything the Rebbe taught us, there are three types of people in life, those that make things happen, those that watch things happen and those that wonder what just happened. We need to strive to be the first kind of person.
I will not give up and I will keep trying to help my son for his upcoming academic year. But I know that many others share this challenging burden along with me. I want to really try and do something. There is a myriad of talent in Chabad and I am sure if we put our heads together we can accomplish great things.
If you have ideas of how we can improve our current plight or would like to help, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Together we can ready this world as a place the Rebbe would be proud to openly return to, with the coming of Moshiach, speedily, Amen!