Sleepless Nights

On one end of the telephone line was a Menahel of a Talmud Torah in Bnei Brak; on the other, Harav Avraham Genochovsky, zt”l, Rosh Mesivta of the Tchebiner Yeshivah, who was famed in the yeshivah world for his Torah knowledge and his extraordinary avodas Hashem.

The following is a partial transcript of the conversation, as recalled by a talmid who stood close enough to the phone to overhear both sides of the conversation:

Menahel: I don’t know the child, not the father and not the child.

Harav Genochovsky: I got to know this person through telephone conversations. I warmly recommend him. I did not test the child [but] heard that the father is a great talmid chacham who finished Shas several times and we therefore have to show him hakaras hatov.

Menahel: But there is no room.

Harav Genochovsky: I am prepared to give monthly bechinos to your students — in exchange for your accepting the child.

Menahel: We have no need for it. We have a regular bochen.

Harav Genochovsky: Perhaps I can give a shiur, once in the winter, or twice in the summer?

Menahel: Thank you, but we don’t need it.

Harav Genochovsky: Listen, when the children have vacation, I am prepared to [put on a show] for them, to do fascinating things for them [to watch]. I am an expert at this as well. The main thing is that you should accept this child in your Talmud Torah …

This moving anecdote, related in the sefer Vayomer Hineni, is only one of many tales depicting the enormous efforts that Rav Genochovsky expended trying to get children, bachurim and teenage girls into chadarim, yeshivos and high schools. Again and again he would pull every possible string, and call total strangers on behalf of people he never met — only to place a Jewish child into a school. Even after being hospitalized with the illness that took his life, he continued to call from his hospital bed with great mesirus nefesh.

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A year ago, we published in these pages an editorial titled “The Child Left Behind,” which addressed a most painful topic about which we have written on numerous occasions throughout the years.

The anguished responses we received to the ads we published in recent editions — “School Is Starting: Is Every Child Enrolled?” — illustrate that, sadly, this crisis continues to afflict our community, leaving a devastating toll.

Many parents who reached out to us pleaded that we not reveal any details of their stories, fearing that the publicity would make it even harder for their children to get accepted. One mother had already given us a full interview when she changed her mind and asked us not to print her family saga at all.

The heart-wrenching pain of parents who are forced to watch the self-esteem of their beloved child plummet as he or she suffers the degradation of being left without a yeshivah or school to attend.

But as our conversations with principals and askanim underscored, as a community we have to be exceedingly careful not to jump to conclusions — especially without hearing the other side of this thorny dilemma. The principals we spoke to told of their own sleepless nights and how heartbroken they feel when they are left with no choice but to turn down applicants.

In some cases, it boils down to a lack of physical space and resources, issues that can be alleviated through financial means. In other cases, the solutions involve more sensitivity and consideration, including possibly rethinking the mission of a particular mosad, as well as parents accepting a dose of reality.

This week we explore various aspects of this multi-faceted crisis and hear the voices of those directly involved, with the hope that it will lead to real results. As we have repeatedly noted in the past, there is much that can and must be done on both a communal and individual level to help ensure that every child attends a yeshivah or school that is most suitable for him or her.

It isn’t a matter of taking sides or reaching conclusions, but of doing all we possibly can to ensure that no child is left without a school.