Applying for beis medrash

I was planning to take the family to DC today for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. But it was sooo hot that a long day outside didn’t seem like fun, plus we went to our shul (synagogue) picnic yesterday afternoon, so we got back fairly late.  A late fun day followed by a early busy day isn’t generally my recipe for a relaxing fun time.

Instead I did some paperwork that really needed to be done, documenting all of our studies for the year and renewing my membership in the umbrella group for the coming year.  Then I completed the application for ds16 for Ner Israel Rabbinical College.  I had basically filled it out last week but was waiting to get letters of recommendation for him.  But then one rabbi told us  it would raise eyebrows if they received recommendations from people who aren’t currently teaching him – they would think there must be something wrong with ds not to have up to date references.  And the most recent ‘school’ references were in ninth grade.

A standard application leaves someone who has an atypical academic background at a disadvantage, and as I’ve said before, I don’t like operating from a defensive posture.  My son is a fantastic young man and I don’t want an initial impression of him as second class goods by the administration just because the paper trail doesn’t look impressive.  I realized I’d have to be change gears slightly with how I handled this application.  I threw away (recycled, actually) the form requesting referrals from principals and teachers that I had already filled out, rather than have it look weak.  Instead I wrote a letter in which I shared briefly about my son and why the typical letters of recommendation wouldn’t be helpful.  Here’s what I wrote:

“To whom it may concern,

E. is very motivated in his desire to learn intensively full-time, and it was this motivation that provided the incentive for him to complete his high school requirements a year early. In every venue in which he has found himself (yeshiva, camp, shul, personal interactions), he has been respectful of both his elders and his peers. The feedback on his behavior and middos has been consistently high and positive. He is serious and focused in his desire to grow personally and to further develop his learning skills. He has a strong work ethic, a kind heart, and a thoughtful demeanor.

E. has been exclusively home educated for ten years, with the exception of his ninth grade year, when he attended a local yeshiva for limudei kodesh. As such, the traditional assessments of principals and rebbeim are not available.

However, I believe that any and all of the following people who know E. will be happy to speak to you about him.”  (Then I listed seven names and phone numbers of community members who should be well-known to and respected by the administration.)

I’ll leave it to others who are asked about him to speak glowingly of him – as his mother, I feel it appropriate to be matter of fact and understated in my remarks.  The seven names that I provided should give a sense that he is involved in a number of ways communally, as they represent a nice cross section of the community, and are all people who are all well-respected in the community (eg, shul rabbi, high school principal, educators).

Doing all of this is very much like being a pioneer – I understand how the early home educators felt when they were applying to colleges. :)  The application is finally in the mail and hopefully we’ll get a call for him to come for an interview soon!


8 thoughts on “Applying for beis medrash

  1. Hi Avivah,
    Doesn’t E. learn every morning in a shul? Perhaps the Rabbi of that shul or your family shul would be willing to write a letter of recommendation. I don’t know all that much much about NI admissions process but as a huge institution, I suspect that it may be quite bureaucratic when it comes to admissions requirements. I don’t mean to sound discouraging, but as you’ve mentioned, the application process isn’t kind to children with an atypical education path. So while I think it’s great that you wrote a LOR yourself, they may still count it against E. if he doesn’t have an “outside” learning reference. Just a thought, but perhaps he can write up an original Torah thought to follow up with the application packet so they can see his level of learning (along the lines of a personal statement included with college applications). I think the reason for the LORs is for the admissions committee to get an independent assessment of the applicant, so not having one may actually count against E. because in a way it may imply not having a positive one. Also, coming out and offering to come in for an interview will get you some positive points because it shows that you’re proud of what you have. Good Luck!

    1. Hi, Talya!

      Ner is very organized and they won’t consider an interview until the paperwork is done. It would make the entire process really easy if they would interview him first!

      I understand your point, but I look at it a little differently. Firstly, what I wrote wasn’t a letter of recommendation – it’s intended more as a succinct response to questions generally asked of principals and teachers and an explanation as to why letters of recommendation aren’t being included. As I mentioned, I listed seven well-known community members and rabbis who would be happy to be contacted for him, and I believe that these names listed as references (which the administration will recognize) speak quite a lot for ds.

      I think a solid list of references of people who know him fairly well looks better than a letter or two that would be viewed as suspect when read one at a time. Looking at all the names at once puts into perspective the relationships he’s developed and gives a sense of his background. If I had time on my side, I’d ask all of these seven people to write recommendations and send them all with the application, but the challenge is that people are so busy (eg our shul rabbi just made a wedding a few days ago). And right now I want this application in so they can begin processing it, since the zman begins in a couple of months.

      If they say they need the letters of recommendation anyway, I’ll deal with it then by going around to each and every person myself so that there are no further delays. But the list of names is fairly comprehensive and almost every name on the list is a well respected rabbi/rebbi in the community.

  2. HI Aviva –
    Having my son in NI and my husband having gone there for many years some points I feel are important to consider. I beleive that people in schools are made up of all different kinds of people with different views on different things for example I know that the principle of the HS told a family ( who is a wonderful family with no behavior issues) that home schooling would be right for them. My husband always points out that a lot of the Rebbeim when picking a shidduch for their daughters (and they could have the best of the best) picked boys from families which are more modern then they are and no great Talmedei Chachomim from them. I think for the most part they really do look at the boy themselves and how strong is his desire to learn.

    Bottom line if Hashem wants E to go to NI he will if not then there is someplace better for him. It won’t be because he was homeschooled.

    Good Luck in your process

    1. Devoiry, I’m not expecting any problems because ds is homeschooled. I know that he’ll be looked at as an individual – once he has an interview. So the issue at hand is getting past the paperwork to get him to that point. I don’t see any of this as a problem, just as something that needs to be taken care of. Which is why I’m glad it’s out of the house and into the mail! :)

      I’ve told ds exactly what you’ve said, that he’ll end up where he’s meant to be.

      (As far as the principal of the high school there, I’ve spoken to him at length – on a different topic- and enjoyed speaking to him very much. He told me in that conversation that he considers homeschooling the ideal, and told me how wonderful it is that we’ve made that choice.)

  3. “He told me in that conversation that he considers homeschooling the ideal, and told me how wonderful it is that we’ve made that choice.”

    That’s wonderful to hear!

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