Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Sad Day for YR; for Baltimore

The grave news was finally announced formally on Friday, but the rumors had already been circulating for a week. A local yeshiva day school - Yeshivat Rambam - is closing its high school at the end of this school year. The news was a bit of a shock, but not that much of a surprise, really. The school has been struggling mightily for several years now. Rocked by financial mismanagement, outright theft, administrative instability, and some generally poor decisions, it was almost inevitable. Nonetheless, we are saddened and incredibly disheartened by it. It's sad to see what has happened to our once-proud school; the only one in town flying the banner of Religious Zionism; of Torah u'Madah. Our kids are sad too, which is telling.

For me, though, the saddest part of this saga is the community aspect of it. Just a few weeks ago, in an article titled, Rambam Announces Potential New Site for School, there was an interesting, sad, and (thankfully) brief conversation that took place in the Comments section of the post. I'd like to quote two of the entries for you:

"Thank you to the committee for all of your hard work and difficult decisions. I recall about 18 years ago TA being in dire straits, the response at that time was for the Rabbis in town to all but require every family to donate $250 to TA whether or not you had children in the school. Clearly, the survival of this important institution is at stake, and the community needs to rally, the leaders needs to respond."

and then a follow-up post which read...

"$250? Who has that kind of money? We are paying full tuition to 3 different schools and didn't even have money to buy the teachers chanukah presents as all our money is going to tuition. Many in our community are having a very difficult time paying tuition, including ourselves, and we should find money for another school? Personally we do not give any tzedakah to any organizations in town as all our maaser goes to our kids schools in the form of full tuition. Also not everyone holds of Rambam's hashkafos. It may be right for some people but most of the gedoilei yisoel do not hold of the zionistic hashkafa and people do not want to donate to a cause they do not hold of."

Now, I'm not going to harp too much on the $250. Personally, I can understand why some would feel it's a sizable donation. I'm not going to tell someone else what they can or cannot afford. No, it's the last two sentences that bother me most. "The gedoilei yisoel (sic) do not hold of the zionistic hashkafa and people do not want to donate to a cause they do not hold of." That bothers me to no end for two reasons:
  1. T.A. had no problem making that same request of people in the community who didn't hold of their "hashkafos." And many of those people gave to T.A. in their time of need.
  2. Real "Gedoilim" are not quite so closed-minded; and those who are, are not real "Gedoilim."
Real "Gedoilim," and other real people, who are community-minded, understand that one size does not usually fit all, in just about anything.

Back in the mid-1980's, I attended yeshiva in Israel at Neveh Zion. Then, as now, Neveh dealt with boys who were... shall we say... not the fodder for the typical yeshiva. These boys were the progenitors of today's "At-Risk Teens," and Neveh excelled at handling them... us. For my 30th birthday, my wife sent me to Israel for a spiritual battery-recharge, and I spent much of my time at Neveh. During that time, the mashgiach - "The Mash," AKA Rav Yisroel Blumenfeld - and I had a conversation that I will never forget. He told me that things were rougher than they had been back in my time. That the boys were coming in with more serious issues than they had back then, and that he was concerned about the yeshiva. He said that he had gone to Rav Shach to discuss the issues with him. That he had suggested to Rav Shach that, perhaps it was time for Neveh to tighten up its entrance requirements a bit. Perhaps it was time for Neveh to also "move to the right." Now Rav Shach was hardly a liberal rabbi. He was the founder of the Haredi political party, Degel haTorah - and one of the strongest leaders of right-wing ultra-Orthodox Judaism to date. And this is what Rav Blumenfeld told me he replied:
"But then, where will all the Neveh boys go?"
He knew full-well, that Neveh boys didn't wear white shirts and black pants, and learn full time. But he also knew that these were important Jewish souls that needed to be built-up, lest they be lost entirely. And that's a measure of a real "Gadol haDor." A leader who understands that Jewish souls are what's at stake, and that those souls are more important than a particular theo-political perspective.

Once again, Baltimore's community has failed to support a critical institution. Once again, the Rabbis were silent when they should have spoken up in support of the students of Rambam, who will now have to find other schools, which may not fit their needs. Because let's face it: T.A. and B.Y. are not prepared for many of these kids, and many of the kids are not prepared for T.A. and B.Y. The real beneficiary here is going to be Beth T'filoh which, while an excellent school, is not (and doesn't really want to be) a Dati school. So thanks to people who, like the author of the second post quoted above, wouldn't help Y.R. because of their own warped sense of Frumkeit; thanks to rabbonim whose mere words could have made all the difference, there will be less Torah in the Baltimore community; fewer kids going to Israel for yeshiva and seminary. I hope you're satisfied. I wonder what God will say...