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...


TorasChayim said...

David, excellent article. It is time for people to stop blaming their behavior on Hashkafa and truly care for others, whatever their Hashkafos may be.

Wanna Saab said...

If it's true that most Rambam kids will move to Beth Tefilloh, than it seems obvious that Rambam has an important role to play in the community. A dati Jewish education one is better than a non-dati jewish education.

A very charitable person whom I know well, goes one step further. In his city he not only supports the schools across the Orthodox spectrum, he even supports the non-Orthodox schools.

Oy vey, how could he support a school that in his own view teaches [sic] kefirot? 2 reasons:

1. They teach Hebrew - in most cases even better than the Orthodox schools. The Hebrew language in and of itself is not Torah, but it is the key to Torah and Tefillah. Even if a kid from such a school grows up ignorant of Torah, he has the ability to learn more easily than if he didn't know Hebrew.

Someday in the future, he may do some searching and find NCSY, Aish, Ohr Samyeach, R' Meir Schuster, or yes, even Chabad. And he will have a big head start over someone who can't read, write or speak the language.

2. He is going to a school with other Jewish children, which means a less likelihood he will intermarry. Even if he never observes anything, if he marries a Jewish girl the chain is not broken. Maybe their kid will do some searching (see above). But if he intermarries, there's nothing left. So even a non-dati Jewish education is better for Jewish continuity than no Jewish education.

David, I wouldn't bury the casket yet. There's still time before next year to raise this awareness across the community. Can the same rabbonim who took to the streets on behalf of TA be convinced to do the same for Rambam?

Greg Gershman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Greg G. said...

1. To the author of the second comment: for shame. How dare you presume to know what a gadol would say? What about the fact that when presented with the opportunity to help either a friend or an enemy, one is required to help their enemy first?

2. To all the rabbis of Baltimore who did not speak up in support of Yeshivat Rambam, I hope you realize what is on your heads, and what you will have to answer for in the World to Come (I doubt, however this is of ultimate concern to you, given your actions, you seem to be more concerned with this world, and your popular opinion in it). You have stood idly by while the blood of your brothers has been shed. You are an embarrassment. Please feel free to forward this to any of these rabbis of the community and let them know: they are failures.

3. I appreciate the comparison to Neveh, which is an amazing school, and I am heartened to hear that R. Schach took such an open-minded approach (as, I think, any actual Gadol would if actually asked the question, rather than have words put into his mouth by his so-called followers). However, I object to this analogy. Rambam is not a school for kids who aren't able to cut it in the other schools in Baltimore. It's a school for families that have a particular outlook on how the world is and what it takes to survive in that world. Sometimes, kids that don't do well in schools like BY and TA do well at Rambam; other times they do not. I do not like Rambam being viewed as some watered-down, kiruv-esque nebech option for those that can't hack a yeshivish curriculum.

Baltimore said...

Not taking a position here, but you must understand that the situation with TA was not the same.

At the time, TA was the only truly Orthodox day school in Baltimore and was THE community school.

Additionally, you must also realize the historical role TA has played in Baltimore.

You must also admit that TA at the time was more universally accepted within the Orthodox sphere - and that many don't feel that way about Rambam.

Rambam is an 'additional' school at this point. There are indeed other options if Rambam fails. That was not the case with TA at that time.

Greg G. said...

Baltimore: your comment shows your ignorance. Rambam is a unique school, not at all like TA. TA is not an option for many Rambam parents, and Beth Tfiloh is an equally unavailable option to many of those same families. To say that the school is extra shows you know absolutely nothing about the curriculum or the families that send their kids to Rambam.

Who cares if the situation is identical to TA or not? Do we as a community, or do we not, come to the aid of others in the community who are in need? The answer apparently is no, if we can find any small excuse to justify not to.

This is exactly what it means when the Torah says, "Do not stand idly by."

Baltimore said...

Where'd my last comment go? Was it censored?

Baltimore said...

Why are you pulling my comments? For a kofer, you're awfully one-sided. There's nothing at all that deserves to be censored. It's thoughtful and respectful. I don't get it.

Greg G. said...

I don't think he's censoring your comments; I think blogger is flagging them. Try posting in parts. I am getting the emails and will respond when your posts post.

Baltimore said...

Can you please email me privately and explain why you won't let Greg G. read my comments and respond to them?

Baltimore said...

Greg G.
Thank you for responding. I was just about to give up.
Here is the first part.
I understand your frustration. There's no reason to start taking shots at me. I was just trying to answer your own question of why the community was not asked of the local rabbinate to step forward and make monetary donations to YR. I never said Rambam is not a unique school. You totally missed my point. The point I made was that when TA was going under THERE WERE NO OTHER OPTIONS. I understand that TA or BY or Bnos might not be an option for you, but they are indeed Orthodox schools with all Orthodox kids - this was NOT the case when TA was in dire straits. There was nothing else.

Baltimore said...


And I think it's unfair for you to say TA and BY and Bnos has no room for children from more "left" families.

Who is being close-minded here?

Again, to reiterate my point:

The case of TA and the case of Rambam are not homologous.

Baltimore said...

Additionally, you are embarrassing yourself when you say the things you say about the local rabbinate. Do you, for a fact, know if any local rabbis were asked to be involved? Do you, for a fact, know that no other rabbis spoke on its behalf, even privately? You have said some awful things here, and I think you need to stop looking for a scapegoat in the wrong places. YR clearly dug ITSELF into a terrible hole through years of mismanagement. The last few years of attempts to right the ship, regardless of their intent, was too little, too late.

Baltimore said...

And final:
Give credit NOW where it's due: to the board, to the teachers, to the parents and yes, to the community. I'm pretty certain the Associated is a community organization. And I'm also pretty certain the Associated is doing what it can to help YR.

Rein yourself in for a moment and think about things before spewing your vitriol and contempt for others while calling for just the opposite from everyone else.

Greg G. said...

I didn't mean to make it personal, it's just that saying that Rambam offers nothing unique to the community is exactly what I've heard was said by rabbis in the community who were approached about supporting the school. And yes, my understanding is that most if not all were approached.

I think the situation is actually more analogous to the TA case than you state. In TA's case, you had students in an Orthodox school that would have gone to non-Orthodox school if TA closed; if Rambam closes, you will have the same thing.

Anyway, wasn't this whole TA thing only abou 15-20 years ago? It wasn't the only school back then. There were many other options. And back then, the only option to the left was HA in Silver Spring, or Beth Tfiloh. Same options that are presented to Rambam parents now.

I'm being vitriolic in public because the appointed leaders of the community are failing to lead publicly, and are instead taking at best a shaiv v'al ta'aseh approach when Jewish lives are on the line. I can't abide that.

There's no question Rambam is responsible for it's current situation. But no one hesitates to give to a poor person who has no job, who falls on hard times (which of course he could have prevented by working, but nebach, he didn't), as long as he has a beard, lives in Yerushalayim, doesn't shower, and has a letter from R. Heinneman. My kids shower at least 4 times a week, and can't get that much support.

Final note: I'm not sure 'homologous' was the right word to use, I would have used analogous.

Baltimore said...

Again, I will point out that I never said YR offers nothing unique. It obviously does. I said that other Orthodox schools exist that could absorb the YR students- even if they are not "perfect" fits. This was not the case in the TA situation. Not sure what you are talking about when you say there were "many other options" 15-20 years ago. And the TA thing goes back 20 years, by the way.

You say that "n TA's case, you had students in an Orthodox school that would have gone to non-Orthodox school if TA closed; if Rambam closes, you will have the same thing." Why is this? Are parents so philosophically obstinate that they would rather send their kids to a non-Orth. school than to TA/BY/Bnos? I find that hard to believe. Seems as if these parents are placing themselves before their kids. You say that rabbis are failing to lead "when Jewish lives are on the line." Besides some minor hyperbole," but what you're suggesting certainly seems more "soul-threatening," i.e., to place ones kids in a non-Orthodox school rather than TA/BY/Bnos.

I am a little disappointed that you stereotype and denigrate those who come collecting in this community. For what it's worth, I generally don't give them money, preferring instead to give money in my local community, but there's no need to talk that way about them.

(Analogous could have been used as well, but I think homologous was what I was aiming for.)

DavidS said...

Baltimore: I'm not censoring your comments. I hadn't even yet seen your comments. It's as Greg pointed out - something that Blogger is doing on the back end.

I appreciate your response, but IMHO, you're waaay out there.

"Are parents so philosophically obstinate that they would rather send their kids to a non-Orth. school than to TA/BY/Bnos? I find that hard to believe. Seems as if these parents are placing themselves before their kids." - Really? Is that what you think this is about? Philisophic obstinance?? I have a daughter who came to me, at the end of her 8th grade year at BY and said, "Abba, if you send me to BY for high school, I probably won't be frum anymore." We sent her to Rambam, and she graduated from there. She's now a very frum adult, and she was probably right. I have another daughter who is terrified by the prospect of going to BY because she knows many of the girls in her grade, and they're snobby JAPs, who make fun of other girls because they're not wearing "Juicy" underwear (I kid you not - the first time I heard this, I... I can't even explain what I thought. Apparently it's a designer brand.) A girl who was one of her close friends, before she moved to Baltimore, suddenly stopped talking to her when she went to BY. I have a son whom I had to put into the public school system (where he's doing very well, B"H), because none of the Dati schools in the community (including Rambam) could provide what he needed. And you think all of that's because I'm being philosophically obstinate?!?! We had (at least until this year) a group of boys learning with Rabbi Lazar, who didn't fit in anywhere else in the community; whom TA didn't want. Were they there because of philosophical obstinance?!

And what about all those kids, forced into those places, who turn out not frum at all because their parents were too philosophically obstinate to consider a place that might better accommodate them? The ones who wouldn't dare send their kids to Rambam because it's "pas nicht"?

peninah said...

First of all, I appreciate your thoughts David. Very well written and I commend you for putting your thoughts out there.

As far as not looking at BY and TA as viable options and "putting ourselves first", I actually believe it's quite the opposite. I think it would be a lot easier to place our kids in BY and TA if Rambam were to close its doors completely. It would certainly make our lives simpler. We wouldn't be agonizing on a daily basis about our schools' futures.

However, one thing that hasn't been brought up is the following. Because of the existence of Rambam (and because of the right-moving nature of the Baltimore community in general), BY and TA are no longer the community schools they once were. They themselves will admit that. I personally met with the Board of Directors of Bais Yaakov in the past and I was informed that they appreciated the community nature of the school in the past, but they are not looking to fill that role anymore.

Because of this, things in both schools have taken on a more (and pardon my word choice, I can't think of a better word at this point) fundamentalist in nature. TA is no longer a Boy's Yeshiva Day School. They have become a Yeshiva, where the boys have mandatory night seder every night, and starting next year will be having school on sundays until nearly 3pm. I don't fault ANYONE that wants this yeshiva type atmosphere for their child. However, to claim that all orthodox boys in this community should be having this kind of rigorous Torah education without concentrating on secular studies and without offering them normal outlets that teenage boys should have is just wrong.

Similarly, Bais Yaakov, has made a very conscious move to the right. This move has caused more monitoring of the students' outside activities and dress. As someone who is concerned about giving my daughters the power to be their own strong Jewish women, I personally feel that by sending my daughters there it would diminish their individuality and ability to make good religious decisions.

So I think it is unfair to say that the parents in Rambam are being selfish by not wanting to send our children to BY and TA. We are not brainless. We actually do have very strong rationales and reasons for our motivations. The greater yeshivish community may not agree with them, but they shouldn't be overlooked as lazy and easy for us.

peninah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Baltimore said...

David and peninah:

I'm am generally in agreement with you. But you're both misinterpreting my point - just as Greg G. did.

David, I said it would be philisophically obstinate to choose to send your children to a non-Orthodox school should Rambam close (and in this case, if you would choose to send your incoming 9th grader to a non-Orthodox school vs. sending them to TA/BY/Bnos). You are placing them really at greater risk if most of their friends are non-frum, have parties on Friday night and Saturday, come from non-Kosher homes, etc. Of course it's not obstinate to want what's best for your children. And believe me, I understand the rightward nature of this town, Peninah. Part of the reason that's happened, as you probably know, is because YR was another option for children, allowing TA/BY to make more of a move to a certain approach, versus having to meet the needs of a more diverse crowd. And I understand that a yeshiva schedule is not for every boy. I would go further. It's not for almost any boy, but the exceptional one. All this was not what I was saying. My point was that the old TA situation differed greatly from the current YR situation. You can't just blame the community and the rabbis. And it worries me that some parents, possibly Greg G. based on his comments - to spite mostly themselves - will choose to send their children to non-Orthodox schools because of some bitterness or resentment against BY/TA.

Baltimore said...

And David, I think stereotyping By unfairly. You're telling me the children of many of the poor families in Baltimore who send their children are talking about Juicy and other clothes? BY is certainly not the Park School. There are plenty of low-income familes, which is part of the whole tuition crisis. I'm sure there are snobby girls there. I'm sure there are snobby girls at YR. There are snobby girls in every school. Seems pretty generalized to me, honestly.

Peninah, you made some good points, and I can understand your worry and frustration. I guess the best you can hope for is that the influx of more centrist families into BY will help move it back to a more moderate philosophy. I doubt that will happen, but what else can you do?

DavidS said...

Baltimore: At least *part* of your point was, "I said it would be philisophically obstinate to choose to send your children to a non-Orthodox school should Rambam close (and in this case, if you would choose to send your incoming 9th grader to a non-Orthodox school vs. sending them to TA/BY/Bnos). You are placing them really at greater risk if most of their friends are non-frum, have parties on Friday night and Saturday, come from non-Kosher homes, etc."

I'm telling you that there are children in the community for whom you are absolutely dead-wrong. It would be better for them to *not* go to a frum school, than to go to TA/BY. I can tell you that putting my son who is in public school, into TA, would only ensure his departure from Yahadut, altogether. You are assuming a One size fits all position, (even if only בדי עבד) that is simply not tenable for many kids.

I have a friend who was raised in a place very much like Yeshiva Lane whose experience in the yeshiva day school system was so horrific for him, that he is now in his 30's, and not at all frum. Not kosher. Not Shabbat. Not anything. He didn't go to the parties, etc. He wasn't allowed. And it wasn't any specific horrible event that did it, either. It was the continuous, oppressive, crushing suffocation of that kind of education, which snuffed any love of Judaism out of him.

No, I'm not suggesting that Rambam is the panacea for this. I'm not suggesting that he even would have necessarily succeeded there. And I'm certainly not saying that Rambam is/was a place for kids with religious issues. What I am saying is that there are different kids with different needs, and that you cannot simply make blanket statements like that - well, I suppose you can, but you're just wrong. What Greg, and Peninah, and I, and others are saying is that the Community *needs* places for those that don't fit into those tight little molds. And that for them, the situation now is very much homologous to the situation then. TA/BY are, for some, effectively non-existent options. And with Rambam as an option, where none other exists, the situations become identical.

Baltimore said...


I do understand your point. Totally get it. Listen, you know as well as I do that if there were 10 schools, there'd be people who would need an 11th to fit their needs. I understand that many Baltimore kids don't fit into BY/TA, etc. None of those things were my points. And I understand even that the occasional kid will do better in public school than in TA/BY in regards to their frumkeit - but that is most certainly the minority.

Regardless, a place like YR is a wonderful asset to the city. It's why, even though I have no direct connection, I have donated to the school. But none of these things were my point.

DavidS said...

Okay - then I humbly concede that I don't quite get your point. I give up. I'm sorry. :)

Greg G. said...

Class Sizes of TA High School in the early 1990s, when the community was called upon to bail them out:

1991: about 10
1992: 12
1993: 15
1994: 18
1995: 9

Greg G. said...

The class of 99 has 12 students, and the entire 9-12 grades in 1999 was 63 kids.