Oped by Rabbi Gershon Avtzon: Currently, there are many yeshivos that cater to boys that are able to learn a full day or boys which are struggling with the entire yeshiva system. But these do not provide a proper answer for the many boys that are in that middle category.
By Rabbi Gershon Avtzon, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Lubavitch Cincinnati
We are approaching the 11th of Nissan, the Rebbe’s 121st birthday, and we are all thinking of what present can we – as adas hachassidim – give the Rebbe. Before I share what I feel would be a very important present, I would like to share a personal story that changed my perspective on how to give a present.
A couple of years ago, I looked out of my front window and saw a peculiar sight: My non-Jewish neighbor’s car was stuck in the grassy hill that is between our two houses. My neighbor was pretty frantic, so I walked out and told her that I would call AAA – as I had some extra calls on my account – and they would help her. Within the hour, her car was pulled to her driveway and she was very grateful.
The next day, she knocked on our door holding a box. She told us that out of appreciation for our help yesterday, she is giving us a very special present. After she left, I opened the box and saw about a dozen home-grown organic eggs. Our neighbors raised chickens themselves, and were all organic etc, and these eggs were very special to them. As many of these eggs have blood-spots, they were really of no use and benefit to our family.
While it is obvious that we valued their gesture of appreciation, It was then that I realized something very fundamental: Many times, when we want to give a meaningful present to someone, we evaluate “meaningful” based on what is meaningful to us, without thinking of what might really be meaningful to the person that we are giving the present to. Thus, as we are thinking about giving a present to the Rebbe, it is very important to think about what is important and precious to the Rebbe, and not just what we would like to give.
With this perspective in mind, I would like to share what I feel is a serious missing link in our chinuch system. How is this connected to the above-mentioned discussion? As a parent and mechanech, I know that the greatest gift that someone can give me is to invest in the spiritual and physical health and growth of my children and/or students. Nothing else, no matter how personal and meaningful, even comes close. Chassidim in general, and specifically the temimim, are all the Rebbe’s children and investing in and enabling all the Rebbe’s children to grow in their Avodas Hashem, and strengthen their Hiskashrus to the Rebbe, is the greatest gift one can give.
What specifically am I referring to? Creating a Yeshiva for truly Chassidishe boys, with no issues in Yiras Shamayim, that need a lighter schedule and lower learning level. This yeshiva would have structure, accountability and a atmosphere of growth and chassidishkeit (and a group of talmidei hashluchim).
Currently, there are many Yeshivos that cater to boys that are willing, and able, to learn a full day or boys which are struggling with the entire Yeshiva system. Both of those types of Yeshivos are very important, and much needed, yet they do not provide a proper answer for the approx. 25% of boys that are in that middle category.
What are these boys currently doing? What has our global community historically done for this category of boys? Parents push to get their sons into a “mainstream” yeshiva with the hope that the boy “is in a good environment” as the old yiddish expression goes “zei zullen zich valgerren”.
While that approach has worked for some, and some boys who invested their entire efforts into learning ended up developing their abilities, the vast majority of these boys end up going through the system and simultaneously feel an inner silent and very private depression and/or feeling that the system does not work for them. They experience, many times, the feeling of being tolerated as opposed to embraced – as they are not in a yeshiva that caters to their success. For any talmid to grow, they need to feel believed in and see and feel success in their learning and personal growth. Without being embraced and seeing tangible success, many fall out of Yeshiva and many experience lapses in yiras shamayim, and we lose these amazing children and Bochurim.
[Alternatively, parents may, by choice or desperation, place their children into yeshivos which have lower standards of yiras shamayim which obviously negatively affect the talmid.]
This is not a new issue and I am not claiming that I am “discovering America”. There are many people that have attempted to open institutions catering to this specific category of bochurim but have (almost) always ended in failure. Being a mechanech, and after spending much time thinking and analyzing the issue – also discussing it with other mechanchim – it appears to me that there are three main reasons that these yeshivos fail:
- Ruchnius: As the people that open such Yeshivos are obviously very caring people, they are pushed – with many emotional heartbreaking stories – to also accept boys which do not fit into this specific category (frum, chassidish, just weak in learning). It ruins that atmosphere that they were looking to create. They will end up accepting boys with other challenges (spiritual, mental, emotional, and behavioral) which negatively affects the atmosphere that is a prerequisite for the success of this type of program.
- Gashmius: Such a yeshiva needs really professional mechanchim – that embrace these talmidim and their very important shlichus – and a much greater staff/talmid ratio and the cost is exorbitant. This usually forces the Yeshiva to accept boys – which do not fit into this specific category, but – that their parents can pay and donate money. These donors may also pressure the hanhala to make decisions in discipline and curriculum which dilute the pure chassidishe hashkafa. Once again, the necessary balance and environment is ruined.
- Registration: Historically many parents would be worried about their own reputation if their child is not in a full “mainstream” yeshiva. Thus, even if it was available and knowing that it is truly in the best interest of their child, they would not register their child there. It is also the case that some talmidim are worried as to “what will my friends say” and prevent their parents from registering them in such an institution. This is besides the fact that the expense of sending a child to such a yeshivah, is not possible for many parents
[In addition: Parents would want to wait a few years for the yeshiva to establish itself and prove itself, but by then the Yeshiva ceases to exist.]
It has come a time that this void needs to finally be addressed and filled. I see this as one of the greatest gifts that we can give the Rebbe. I had originally thought that the best way to deal with this is by creating a dual-track in an already existing yeshiva. That would allow the boys to benefit from the atmosphere, as well as having much less operational costs as there is already an infrastructure in place. After discussing this with many people, I was convinced that – although it may be much more expensive and difficult – it really needs to be a separate institution.
Thus, there needs to be a group of mechanchim, with a proven record of success – whom people trust – that take it upon themselves to hire dedicated staff and create a proper curriculum for these talmidim to be successful. They also need to create very strong guidelines for the acceptance process that will not bend to pressure of any kind. There needs to be committed and dedicated balabatim that appreciate this need and are ready to support this type of Yeshiva, so that it can remain super dedicated and focused on their unique shlichus and to the success of their talmidim.
I do not attempt to suggest that I have the answers, and I am B”H very busy with my own institution, but I would be very happy to be part of the solution. I am sure that a group of like-minded Mechanchim and Balabatim can make this a reality.
If you have comments, questions or ideas, please write in the comment section below or email me directly at [email protected]