Over Yom Tov, I went to the main Chabad Shule as well as Elwood, as is my practice. At Chabad, some people who I respect voiced their opinion that if it’s a “Chabad School” what right do I have to criticise the teachers actively promoting that all children write to the Ohel requesting a Bracha. If that is part of the School’s ethos and practice, I should live with it.
This is a fair point. It misses a very important nuance, however. It is true that
- if we sent our children to a non chassidic (some would say anti chassidic) school like Yesodai Hatorah I would have little traction if I suggested that my children would be better off studying chassidus than musar.
- if we sent our children to Yavneh College, I’d might be considered a tad silly if I suggested that my children should miss Yom HaAtzmaut davening because I wanted them to say Tachanun.
- if we sent our children to Adass, I’d be foolish to suggest they make sure the girls learn Chumash with Meforshim and Mishnayos
In Israel (and in some parts of the USA) there is a reality. Schools specify their philosophies and rules explicitly. They also enforce them (mostly without fear and sometimes without favour). In some schools if there is a TV in the house, the kids won’t be admitted ditto if the mother wears a fancy sheitel or ditto if the kids wear coloured shirts. I contend that Yeshivah/Beth Rivkah in Melbourne is different (or at least they were different). How so?
The Schools are marketed as community schools. What does a community school mean? I am not sure that this has been clearly enunciated. It has been experienced, however. There is no doubt (and yes, this irritates some shpitz Chabad parents) that Beth Rivkah is more tolerant to Zionism and teaches in Sfaradit. In Yeshivah, this was never the case. Both Schools always allowed irreligious children to be admitted despite the “danger” of their kids possibly being influenced. They absorbed the children of the holocaust generation (me and my ilk), then the Russian immigration, and more recently Israelis who wanted to send their children to Jewish Schools without necessarily being able to pay the fees. All good.
I like the Schools. I like them because my children get to see people who are committed. This is a most positive educational lesson. If they see people who are wishy-washy, then I consider this to be a negative educational experience. They do not go to a School where the parents run the School. There are such schools in Melbourne and I think those schools are worse off as a result. I don’t think parents should “run” Schools.
There was a Manhig Ruchani (Rabbi Groner ז’ל) and when he needed to take advice he took it from the last Rebbe ז’ל. He was a tolerant man. He understood what the position of Chabad was vis-a-vis the wider community. Being outward for Rabbi Groner and his band of teachers was more than just putting on T’fillin outside Glick’s. There was a degree of tolerance. Some of my own teachers were very tolerant of my meshugass. They represent positive memories for me.
I remember in my last year of high school, on Fridays, we used to learn a Sicha on the Parsha. I didn’t want to. Why? Because I felt I lacked fundamental skills. I didn’t think my textual skills were developed adequately. I sat on my own in the class room and learned Chumash Rashi etc. My teacher, R’ Nochum Zalman Gurevich ז’ל whom I respected, tolerated me. That left me with a positive feeling about Chabad! He, however, was the real McCoy. He had Mesiras Nefesh and it showed. His tears and Tehillim were real. These are the types of teachers I wanted my kids to experience. There are some great new teachers now, but there are also fossils and some very ordinary ones. The ones that irritate me are the ones who are really Chabad B’Chitzoniyus and not B’Pnimius. The Pnimius style teacher doesn’t count how many sheets they collected from their students to send to the Ohel or think their main purpose in life is shouting yechi at davening each day.
I can list a whole range of issues where the two Schools differ and issues where there are contradictory messages. That’s not the purpose of this blog post. Rather, I simply wanted to justify why I felt I not only want my kids to go to the Schools, but that I also felt comfortable expressing my concern when a practice appeared to be beyond the original intent of a so-called community school. If I am wrong, then let’s hear some clear and unadulterated statements about what a community school does mean in 2011.
I remember that when “they” first wanted to set up a Mesivta, Reb Zalman Serebryanski ז’ל allegedly gave it his blessing but indicated that it should be a different school, because Yeshivah Beth Rivkah were set up to be community schools.
Has that vision and purpose changed?