Insight: Gates of Tears – A Child’s Lament

By Ben Zion Wolff

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As a child enters her teenage years, she looks forward with anticipation to an exciting period of growth. New challenges, new adventures, and new friends open new vistas for accomplishments. That is, unless it all comes to a screeching halt with the application and transfer to a new school. If for some reason the portals of entry are impeded, the months between eighth and ninth grades can be a devastating and even traumatic experience, turning gates of opportunity into gates of tears.

Truth be told, many communities lack sufficient slots in their respective high schools to accommodate all the eighth-grade applicants. This is a serious dilemma which must be solved collectively. Notwithstanding this, a solution to the current situation, which often leaves dozens of girls in limbo for months on end, is something which must be promptly addressed if we hope to alleviate the pain, embarrassment, and enduring scars these girls tend to suffer.

“As the months rolled on, my daughter became more and more reclusive,” a mother told Hamodia. “As the girls in her class began to share the acceptance letters they received from their prospective high schools, she tried mightily to avoid conversations involving her future plans. When pressed, she might say that she, or her parents, are still deciding between the schools she applied to, or offer up some other excuse. But this strategy could only continue for so long. Eventually, her friends realized she was dodging their questions as she ran out of excuses as to why she wasn’t sharing her with them what school she plans to attend, and that’s when the desperation, despair and depression set in.

“My daughter, who until that point was a healthy schoolgirl socially, became somewhat of a recluse. She did not want to go to school, she did not want to spend time with her friends, and now she does not want to go away to camp. As I hear her sobs as she cries herself to sleep each night, my heart breaks for her, since she is a truly wonderful Yiddishe meidel. She is a tzenuah , caring, and an all-around frum girl with absolutely no issues with her shemiras hamitzvos. Her only limitation is something beyond her control; she was not blessed with the best intelligence, and she struggled academically throughout her school years. As parents, we hired tutors to help her maintain her standing in class, and she put in tremendous effort to achieve the highest grades that she possibly could. We encouraged her and lauded her consistent effort.

“Then came the high school entrance exams, which I understand concentrate on the accumulation of knowledge and skills over the course of the student’s elementary school years. There was little I could do to help her in this area, and I was resigned to her scoring less than she customarily did when she studied with her tutors.”

As a mother who cared deeply for her daughter’s wellbeing, she spent the next few months knocking on any door she could in order to get her precious child accepted in one of the local Bais Yaakov high schools. In consultation with her Rav, she made calls, waited in offices, and most of all shed copious tears over her siddur and Tehillim.

“I was most fearful that my daughter would lose her simchas hachaim and her longtime love for Yiddishkeit,” said the mother. “She definitely began to question her standing in her school and the community. ‘How can it be that I, a regular, frum Bais Yaakov girl, have been rejected for reasons beyond my control?’ The questions going through her mind, day after day, week after week, and now month after month, have taken their toll on her self-confidence.”

Each day, the mother would stake out the office and wait patiently to speak to one of the principals and administrators or laypeople in one of the schools where her daughter applied. In addition, her husband spoke to askanim who were involved in these and other schools, many of whom reassured him that, come September, their daughter would be enrolled in one of the schools. “We work extremely hard to place all the girls and, in the end, they will all be taken care of,” the parents were told.

“I truly believe that ultimately this will happen,” agreed the mother. “But I do not think that the dedicated mechanchim and askanim are aware of the indignity these bnos melachim are being subjected to. It is hard to imagine the pain and suffering the girls feel on a daily basis for months on end. I’ve been told that, come late August or early September, there will be meetings in which all the schools will be compelled to accept a number of students, and eventually virtually every girl will have a slot, albeit a bit squashed, in a local Bais Yaakov. I appreciate this, and as an adult I can sort of accept this. But I remain with one question: If they will be accepted in August or September, why not convene this meeting in May, and allow these precious girls to proceed with their lives with peace and joy?”

Recently, I received a call from a friend, asking me to use my influence to help his daughter be accepted in a prominent Bais Yaakov. I am not one who yields any power in that school, but I am friendly with one of the deans, and forwarded him the request.

“You must understand that we have our own students in our elementary school who have kedimah for our slots, and as soon as we know how many of them will remain for high school, we will begin allotting slots to those applying from the outside,” the dean replied. Fair enough, I thought. From time to time, the father of the girl sent me a reminder to keep on top of the situation and I, in turn, reminded the dean that a child was waiting for his answer. “I give you my word that we will attend to it as soon as possible,” he replied each time.

Toward the middle of May, my friend, who was on a trip to Eretz Yisrael, dropped me a line, and I was apprehensive to take his call. But I remembered the anguish in his voice each time we spoke, and I felt the least I could do was pick up the phone.

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“My daughter was accepted!” he gushed. “You cannot imagine how grateful I am to you for all your help! Finally, my daughter can go to sleep at night with her usual smile instead of the worry lines which were developing on her youthful face.”

This incident, which came to a relatively swift resolution, piqued my interest. What goes into the application and acceptance policies of a girls’ high school? How does the head of a Bais Yaakov decide who is accepted once the classes are more or less full?

“When my father, zt”l, established the Bais Yaakov in the East Bronx, he left strict instructions with Dr. Herman Ullmann, z”l, the dean of the school,” Rebbetzin Friedman said of her illustrious father, Harav Moshe Bick, zt”l. “Any girl from a shomer Shabbos family was to be accepted, regardless of the family’s ability to pay tuition. Although tuition is needed to keep the school afloat, my father felt it cannot be the criteria for accepting a student.” Which raises the question: Can a student’s poor academic abilities be a reason to reject a talmidah?

“In order for our school to function well, we need to have a core of students who will be able to uphold the standard of the curriculum,” an experienced Menahel told me. “Nevertheless, we accept many students from our elementary grades who decide to stay despite their less than stellar grades, as long as they fit in to the frum standards of our Bais Yaakov. In addition, we also accept some outside girls who might be weaker academically. To accommodate these girls, we have a ‘third track’ in which they have a lighter load, and they perform beautifully. Throughout their years in high school, we try to give the girls from this track prized ‘jobs’ just like the girls from the core students. It takes a bit of juggling on our part, but isn’t our task to raise the next dor of Yiddishe mammes?”

Taken together, it seems possible for a Bais Yaakov high school to function properly with a mixture of academically strong and weaker students. It also seems possible for the schools to accept their incoming students in a timely manner. Despite the shortage of slots, if the schools will ultimately accept the girls when they open after the summer, it would be prudent to begin the process as soon as possible as to alleviate unnecessary agony for the dozens of bnos Yisrael seeking to develop into the mothers of the future doros of Klal Yisrael.

Only one question remains: Is there the will to follow through and open the Gates of Tears? n

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