The Child Left Behind

Yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs throughout the tri-state area reopened this week, and once more classrooms are filled with the joyous sounds of learning. Yet for too many parents in our community, this is also a time of profound pain, for unlike their friends and former classmates, their children have no school to go to.

Hamodia reached out to numerous Menahalim, mechanchim, and askanim, seeking to discover the extent of the crisis and what the community can do about it.

The fact that so many of them spoke only on condition of anonymity illustrates the complexity and sensitivity of the issue. While those contacted offered different views on how to address the subject — as well as the approximate number of students without a school or yeshivah — all agreed that the urgency of the matter cannot be overstated, and the anguish and pain of the parents and the trauma for the students is unfathomable.

“There are no good answers and there are no rules,” one Menahel stressed in his conversation with Hamodia. “What is certain is that the hearts of both parents and these students are being shattered in the process.

“Many of the bachurim still without yeshivos have yeshivos willing to take them,” he added. “But their parents don’t see them as an option.”

It is vital that those on the outside, and even those who seek to help, should not try to judge the parties involved. For in some circumstances, it may be a matter of prestige and peer pressure; yet in others, the intuition of the parents is right on target.

“Some parents can’t accept the notion that their child isn’t cut out for what is perceived as a top yeshivah or school, and sending him to where they prefer is actually counterproductive,” says one askan, who works tirelessly to get children into schools. “This isn’t the time to worry about what the neighbor says or what it will look like on a shidduch resume.

“But at the same time,” he adds, “there are other parents who rightfully insist that sending to a weaker school will be very harmful to their child. In some sectors of our community, there are numerous yeshivos for metzuyanim, and then there are yeshivos catering to the weaker students; there is a dearth of yeshivos for the ‘average’ student. Parents of a scholastically ‘average’ student who was rejected by the yeshivos for metzuyanim feel that the yeshivah for weaker students — many of which cater to bachurim who have weaknesses in both conduct and hashkafah — isn’t a viable option.”

The askanim and Menahalim we spoke to repeatedly stressed a point that was discussed in an editorial we published on this subject five weeks ago: In many cases, the yeshivos and girls’ high schools are being pressured by the parents of the top students not to take weaker students.

“We try to take a certain percentage of students who are weaker scholastically, a certain percentage of ‘average’ students, and the rest strong learners,” one Menahel told Hamodia. “But once we got a reputation of also taking in weaker students, we struggle to attract metzuyanim.

“I wish parents of top learners would realize how much children would gain from learning alongside weaker bachurim,” he added. “They would actually do better if they had the opportunity to aid weaker students. They would also benefit because the enormous pressure that exists now in these yeshivos would be reduced.

“Let us consider famous American yeshivos that produced so many Gedolei Yisrael over most of the past century. The majority of them took in weaker students, and the stronger ones thrived as well. Look at the yeshivos belonging to the leading kehillos; they too take weaker students and produce wonderful talmidim,” the Menahel poignantly concluded.

“Invariably, even the top yeshivos take a certain percentage of weaker students, but usually only with ‘proteksia’ — often because a family member is a financial supporter of the yeshivah,” one of the askanim on the frontlines acknowledged. “While it may sound unfair, one can’t blame the yeshivos for taking this approach. They are struggling to cover expenses and pay their staff, and they make a cheshbon that by taking these children they are making it possible for the others to learn there as well.”

As a community, it is vital that instead of pointing fingers, we ask how we can be of help.

“Those with the financial means to do so can help out by advocating for struggling families in two ways,” the askan said. “First of all, by making it financially rewarding for yeshivos to accept children who are not metzuyanim, and secondly, by providing the tutoring help these children need to be able to keep up in a top-level yeshivah.”

In some cases, a crisis at this point could have been avoided had the parents been in close touch with their child’s rebbis back in seventh and eighth grades and gotten the child the help he needed to catch up then. In others, parents were aware that the child was struggling — but could not afford the extra funds to pay for tutors. There are some noted baalei tzedakah in our community who are funding programs to pay for tutors for some of these children. Now it is up to all others who are able to do so to emulate them.

There is much that can and must be done on both a communal and individual level to help ensure that every child is attending a yeshivah or school that is most suitable for him or her. May we all have the wisdom and ability to do our part.