Well, I can thank the ‘asifa’ for making my life so much better…

I haven’t written anything about the widely touted Citifield ‘asifa’ (gathering) that took place in NY recently, in which the Torah world tackled the thorny issue of how to deal effectively with the challenges of the internet, since it isn’t the kind of topic that I address on my blog.  Little did I suspect that the asifa would have immediate consequences for my family in Israel so soon….

After three weeks of trying to reach her, I finally spoke with the principal of the high school that looked like the best match for dd15 for the coming year.  Realize that to get anyone to even speak to me about transferring a student in the middle of her high school years is very difficult, since many schools have a policy that they don’t allow any transfers during high school.  Combine that with the agreement some of them have with the local high school not to accept girls from our city, in order to keep the local girls attending school locally.  Not easy.  But finally today I spoke with this principal.

My overwhelming impression of this principal is very positive – she is very caring and warm, and my feeling is that she’s a quality person who my daughter would gain tremendously from being around.  If weren’t for the topic under discussion, I’d say I enjoyed speaking to her.  To start our conversation, she said, “Tell me, do you have the internet?”  To which, naturally, I said, “yes”.  (I know, some of you are banging your heads at my idiocy since I’ve repeatedly been told to lie about this question.)  I explained to her that my husband works from home using the internet, that I write online, and that our children Skype their grandparents in the US before Shabbos.

I also told her that I had been told I’d have to lie about this for my child to be accepted, and that if my daughter can only be accepted under false pretenses, that it’s not the right fit for us.  She appreciated my honesty and then told me that in the past (ie until a couple of weeks ago), they would probably have allowed in a family like us who uses the internet in the way that we do.  But now, since Rav Wosner said at the recent asifa that schools aren’t allowed to accept students from homes that have the internet under any condition, they can’t go against his ruling.  As she put it, this has shifted the internet from ‘a‘ question about admittance, to ‘the‘ question, the central issue around which acceptance to a school revolves.

We ended on a warm note (no sarcasm, she really was lovely and it didn’t hurt that she told me what a pleasant person I was :)), with her saying they’ll send me the rules of the school and we’ll see if we can abide by all of that once we understand what it entails, and after that, they’ll ask a rabbi to decide if they can allow our daughter in after telling him the specific details of our family and internet use.  The school rules are binding on the family, not just the student, and I’m hesitant to use the pull I think it will take to get dd in if we’re already at a disadvantage before proceeding any further.

I was really upset when I got off the phone.  Not with the principal.  I understand her position totally.  I was upset that because of this very recent proclamation,  my daughter, who is in everyone’s opinion a top great girl in every way – religiously, spiritually, academically – won’t be considered by any charedi school for the coming year (assuming they take the same position on this).

I find this entire situation somewhat ironic.  I’ve always been very conservative when it comes to electronic entertainment and media – but I’ve never made it a religious issue.  I simply don’t think these are good for the developing brains of children, and can be detrimental to adults unless used very carefully.  This has been my position for years, long before the internet was an issue – eg no television, handheld Textris type games, Gameboys, extremely limited academic computer games (eg the littles get to play on Starfall for a short time every few weeks) – I don’t even have a basic cell phone!

So my kids have grown up in a technological world but constantly hearing that the technology is a tool that has to be used carefully to be helpful and beneficial.  Now, I think the internet is an amazing resources.  Not only my husband and I, but now also my teens, regularly use the internet to access Torah lectures online – this is just about the only thing that ds18 and dd15 use the internet for.  I’ve learned lots about health, nutrition, spirituality, parenting and so many other things that have made me a better person – all via the internet.  But I’m not naive and I understand the negatives.

Can the internet be misused? Obviously.  Can it become addictive?  Absolutely. Will getting a really good filter or banning it from your home entirely keep your children from accessing the really bad stuff that people are afraid of?  No way.

Being that the Torah sages of our generation are elderly and it’s unlikely they have personal experience with the internet , I wonder if their advisors have fully explained the scope of what the internet is and how many positive ways people are using it.  (I hope this doesn’t come across as disrespectful; it’s not meant in that way at all.)  How the internet is everywhere and how it’s used for everything from shopping to banking to communication to work.  How banning it in the house doesn’t mean a child can’t easily get access somewhere else.  Do they understand that a teenager can easily purchase a small digital device that could be hidden from their parents and hook into the free wifi at public places, or even within their own homes (if they have neighbors who have unsecured wifi, as we do)?  I attended a workshop for parents about the dangers of technology several years ago, in which the rabbi speaking shared that kids know so much more than their parents about technology, that parents have no idea how easy it is to get access to various online venues.  He told us specifics of how easy it was for kids to get around even very good filters, as well as lots of other information of concern.

How can we possibly build the wall high enough to keep out the internet?  I so strongly feel that part of our responsibility as parents is to give our children the tools they’ll  need to navigate the outside world both as youngsters and as they enter the adult world.  I feel we must, must, must teach our children to understand and respect the internet as the powerful tool it is, to model using it in an appropriate and positive way.  And we have to be very careful not to turn it into the forbidden fruit – because when something is put off limits, it gains a certain appeal that makes it much more dangerous.

Right now this is particularly distressing because I don’t know what the other options are – after research on different schools in the north, this was the only school that we felt was a serious consideration – but right after putting down the phone, I ‘happened’ to get an email from a blog reader in the north with contact information about a couple of schools that I didn’t yet know about.  So the search continues….


Edited four hours later to add – I just received a private email from a reader concerned about my posting on this topic:

>>I appreciate that you’re in a difficult predicament, but denigrating Gedolim on a public blog is a terrible chillul Hashem.  There’s a mitzvah aseh in the Torah to listen to our Torah leaders, and this mitzvah is very important and the punishment for violating it is severe.  <<

I’m truly sorry that I came across in this posting as denigrating our Torah leaders, for whom I only have the most tremendous respect.  I go back and forth in my own mind about how to post about topics such as these, or if I should post on topics like these, because I don’t want to be seen as being critical.  On my blog, I attempt to share my thoughts about what seem to me to be important issues and I try to do it respectfully – though clearly despite my efforts, comments such as these show me that I’m not succeeding in that regard.  Until now, I’ve felt that there was a value in bringing up these points for discussion, particularly as these are important issues for those considering aliyah or in the earlier stages of aliyah to be aware of.  If what I’m writing is being construed by others as being critical or condemnatory then I have to rethink this.

>>But frankly I think writing about your views on these subjects is the wrong thing to do.  It’s a chillul Hashem both for your Jewish readers and non-Jewish readers.  Why should you say lashon hara about the frum communities here?  Yes, there are problems, and these problems bother me as well, but writing about them is treading into dangerous territory.  Loshan hara on a whole group of Jews is very hard to do teshuva for.  In my humble opinion, I think that you should keep discussion of these issues between you and your husband, or whoever you need to talk l’toeles, but you should not discuss them on the blog. <<

You may be right, and I appreciate you sharing your opinion with me.  I’ve tried to avoid controversy, negativity, gossip, etc on my blog, but at a certain point, if you share your thoughts on something of significance, someone who takes a different position is going to disagree with you and tell you that you aren’t being respectful of them.   This is a very hard balance and perhaps one that I’ve erred in…

34 thoughts on “Well, I can thank the ‘asifa’ for making my life so much better…

  1. I read the writeup of the asifa in the hamodia and it seemed pretty clear that everyone was saying that internet for parnasa with a filter was ok. Just last week a friend of mine went to a top Israeli Litvish posek to ask this shayla (whether to get a computer in order that she can get a particular online job), and he immediately said yes, with no humming and hawing.
    Don’t know what to tell you…

      1. See, that makes no sense to me. If you need internet for work, go PAY to have a work space outside your home, where there AREN’T other people around, where its even more “problematic” to have internet. Its probably better to work on the internet from home than to work on the internet in a private office…

  2. I loved this post. People have lost so much common sense these days.it’s refreshing to see more observant people who are not afraid of the big bad net, and who realize the good(and bad) potential of this tool. We don’t really need the internet for a living (though my husband does work from home every so often) but I really don’t know how I’d deal without it.the amount of thing I can get done, the wealth of information I find, and the ability to stay in touch with my family in israel and out is just something I wouldn’t want to stop just because our society decided it’s easier to hide the dangers than tackle them.

  3. oy vey! Hatzlacha in finding the right school for your daughter. For my dd14’s Bais Yaakov interview (a few weeks before the conference) we were asked if we had a computer. Does dd use it? Yes, with mommy in the room for school work. Rosh yeshiva did not ask about cell phones because all the girls have them; they are turned in to office in the morning and picked up later. Although my dd doesn’t yet have a cell phone, I’m getting her one (with no internet capability…Cricket has one) because the school is 10 miles away in a bad neighborhood. The phone is a deal breaker for me and we weren’t going to lie. For kids to see their parents lying “for their sake” is a horrible life-lesson. Blessings for chizuk in your search.

  4. Hi Avivah – I’m so sorry you’ve run into this. I know you’ve received criticism about what your wrote WRT gedolim (my opinion is that everyone has to think critically for him/herself lest things devolve into a cult-like atmosphere) and I have another small criticism ;). Your lovely daughters are indeed the absolute tops. But the phrase “Top Girl” is…somewhat off-putting. I realize it’s frequently used in yeshivish circles to describe someone’s prospects for shidduchim – top girls can command top boys, etc…but what of those who aren’t top girls/boys? Do we refer to them as “second best” or as “nice, but…”. And instead of deserving top boys, do these girls merit to settle? I think we can all agree that everyone, regardless of beauty, intelligence, yichus, etc., is deserving of an excellent match that suits their personality and goals for their life and that phrases like “top girl” make everyone else seem like passed-over second-hand merchandise.

    Much hatzlacha to you as you navigate this school issue for your dd. She deserves the best.

    1. I totally agree with you regarding the use of the phrase ‘top’ – I also dislike these terms because everyone is special in their own way and it’s not for one person to qualify another person. My reason for using it here was not that I think my daughter is better than anyone else but that even though dd has the qualities that they’re looking for in all these areas, it’s not enough to be accepted to the school because of our internet use.

  5. I would venture to say that the principle, kind as she may be, is delusional, I bet at least half the schools parents’ have filter-less internet at home.

    And about the comment you received, , I’m willing to bet she has internet as well, after all for these holier-than-thou people everything is acceptable as so long (a option you chose not to use to your credit) as on the outside everything is picture perfect. I admire ,you for having dignified her ramble with and answer.

    1. Prag, the principal understands that there are people who aren’t honest about their internet use but she can’t do anything about them – at a certain point you have to trust the parents word.

      And as far as the person who commented, I have no doubt that she’s a very sincere and goodhearted person who wanted to share her concern about what I wrote with me, and I don’t have even the tiniest bit of negativity about her or what she wrote. I appreciated that rather than leave an anonymous comment linked to an anonymous email (like the most recent hostile comment I received), she took the time to send me a private message and had the integrity to put her name to it.

  6. I’ve always been late to the technological party. I’m generally old fashioned about technology and education and believe that pencil and paper is best for developing brains. Therefore, we are selective about what we allow for our children and ourselves. I only have a basic phone and I don’t know how to text. Perhaps one day we will need to reevaluate just like I realized one day that a computer in the home was a need and now I make my living from that very computer (well, I’ve updated twice!).

    We aren’t hareidi in any sense, but I hurt for those who are hareidi or who lean in that direction (and for klal yisrael too) because the entire asifa was foolish from start to finish and if made great chachamim look like the Fools of Chelm. The entire thing was a mockery so much so that the big “kiddush Hashem” I see touted was the lack of fist fights.

    From the massive amounts of money spent directly and indirectly which predictably did not (nor could not) educate people–we all need education, but it is best run locally and it is best geared towards more homogeneous groups in a more peer/colleague oriented setting as needs differ tremendously.

    I admire your integrity and ultimately I think from left to right or right to left, ultimately parents need to be trusted (and educated/inspired/supported), not controlled. The tighter the grip, the more people will eventually be disillusioned leading to less, not more Rabbinic control and respect.

  7. Hi Aviva,
    I hope you continue to post your thoughts and comments about any and all subjects. I, for one, and probably I am not alone, learn much from you in what you post. The person who suggested you keep your thoughts to yourself and your husband may not realize that your wisdom is also G-d given, and your “journey” is one we all share. Hence, the internet becomes a G-d given tool!
    Hugs, Karen

  8. You are doing a great service to share this dilemma with those considering aliya. It is very relevant to potential Olim. the person that wrote in saying that you are disparaging the gedolim by sharing your dillema, and the one who wrote that sharing this is a chillul Hashem are very wrong. Would they prefer that nobody knows about this and then they have a major problem when they arrive?

  9. I personally think that your best route is to get some “protectsia” that’s how things work in Israel. Maybe go see a gadol and ask him the sheila for your specific situation. If you have his blessing, it would be difficult for the principal to oppose a gadol. It’s just hard and unrealistic to give such a rule that most people aren’t following. It’s very hard to live in our times with no Internet (and it’s very hard to live with Internet!)
    May Hashem lead you to the right decision!! Hatzlacha

  10. I think there is a lot of misunderstanding regarding the halachic process. It is no denigration of a gedol or of gedolim to state truthfully that unless my own rav paskens according to him/them, their halachic statements are irrelevant to me. My rav has semichah from one of the 20th century’s greatest gedols, and has poskim whose identities I know with whom he consults when he is unable to pasken himself. This is indeed how to handle the statements from the asifa. If YOUR rav says you have to do something, you need to do it — or get a different rav. And if YOUR rav says something is ok, it is ok. Period. Regardless of what other rabbis might say. Even if all the gedolim are pasken differently.

    The school has the right to insist on whatever policy it wants. But you have the right to send your children to a different school. I’ve seen far too many parents send their children to schools whose hashkafot are incompatible with theirs; it often produces unnecessary conflict as the child has to choose between the parent and the school — and it should not be a surprise that the school usually wins. Good luck on finding an appropriate school!

  11. May I ask if you’ve asked your daughter what she would like you to do? She isn’t a little child anymore and it could be that she wishes to be a part of Israeli Charedi society (more than the current situation) , and if that society places more importance on playing the part rather than being completely honest, perhaps that is the way to go with that child. I also think honesty is the best policy, but we know there are consequences to that in most of life and we as adults can make that choice for good or for bad. She wants to be part of a different society than yours. There is cognitive dissonance in almost everyone’s life. Just food for thought. Hatzlocho!

    1. Yael, are you seriously asking me if I’ve spoken to my daughter about this??? Of course I have! I’m really surprised that anyone would feel it necessary to tell me that she isn’t a little child and shouldn’t be treated as such. I speak to our children about much more minor issues and at younger ages to take into account their thoughts on things; my teens are treated as mature young adults and their opinions taken very seriously.

      We began speaking with our older children about the nuances of Israeli charedi society before we even moved here and continually discuss all aspects of the school situation (and other situations) with her as well as our other children. Would you share what I wrote that caused you to assume that ‘she wants to be part of a different society’ than ours or that I’m writing from a position of cognitive dissonance? She very much knows that I’m committed to helping her find the right situation for her for the coming year, based on what *she* wants – and I want the same thing that she does, the best situation for her. That’s what being a parent is about, seeing each child for who he is and responding accordingly.

  12. Shocked at the response to this honest, level, fact(not opinion)-based blog. Avivah, NEVER be shamed by sharing your life and experiences. This is a valuable comfort to those also struggling with the issue and the most transparent way to share your HUMAN relationship with G-d. I am frankly astonished at the feedback that a public statement made should be ‘secretized’ and turned into something nasty instead of just conceding that, ‘it is what it is.’ You were not speaking against anything….also, is trying to shame you publicly on the internet any less wrong. Unbelievable.

  13. 1- Rav Vozner already retracted.
    2- It’s hard to believe that the type of shool you are looking at goes to R. Vozner for guidance. i’ve never heard of him connected to any schools. Usually it’s R. Shteinman or R. Kook or R. Gans and the list goes on. So why do they quote R. Vozner?
    3- You shouldn’t have lied. You should have sold the computer for one day. Like chametz. Then you’r telling the truth and get your way. Remember that over 50% [do you think 90%?] of the student population breaks the takanon.

    1. Rav Wosner retracted after my conversation with the principal – and don’t ask me how they chose to go according to his psak. Probably because it’s already so close to in line with their rules, or maybe because the way it was given over at the asifa was that it was a psak that was binding on everyone.

    1. Karen, I wasn’t aware of all the details but I did know about the commercial aspect, and was actually discussing this with one of my older kids on Shabbos (before I saw the link!).

  14. Don’t lie, be true to yourself and to the standards of the stricter charedi society in Israel, which also includes tzniut. There are other schools to consider that are Internet-friendly but not 100% charedi. 100% Charedi schools usually don’t teach secular studies even to the girls. But you will find <100% charedi schools that are more tolerant. Welcome to Israel!

    1. Moriah, though charedi girls schools don’t have the bagrut it’s not accurate to say they don’t teach secular studies – all that I know of in the center of the country as well as here in the north definitely do. If you’re thinking of chassidishe schools, that’s not our path and I’m not familiar with what they do or don’t do.

      1. There are various flavors of Charedi schools. The American ones do offer secular studies. The Israeli ones don’t. The American ones in the community I’m familiar with do admit that they are not recognized by the Israeli Charedi schools as being charedi because they offer secular studies and/or the Bagrut.

        When I interviewed with an Israeli Bais Yaakov in the community I moved to at first, I was told by the principal about a few rules:

        1) If any of my sons have ever enrolled in school X, Y, Z in Israel, their sisters will not be accepted by the Bais Yaakov system.

        2) I must have an Israeli Rav, not an American Rav who will recommend my girls to that school.

        Perhaps, you can approach the American Charedi Rabbis to ask them for recommendations and help you find schools that are Internet-friendly in the home for parnassah. Rabbi Yitzchak Berkowitz comes to mind.

  15. Avivah I love the Internet because I have people like u in my life! Seriously, I consider you my “indirect” Mashpia (because well, I’ve never really met you in real life ;)) in which case, this whole school thing feels messy and confusing, maybe Hashem has different plans for your daughter? Like with your son, he didn’t get into one yeshiva but then he got into another? All is hashgacha pratis, your integrity for being real and honest is not going to be overlooked by Who it matters most. You are a leader!!! I can’t wait to see how everything works out, gam zu letova!

    1. Estee, I don’t know how it will work out since on the outside it doesn’t look likely, but after I cleared away my frustration from this situation, I was able to get in touch with my gut feeling on this. And that feeling is that this is the school where dd is supposed to be and that she’ll be accepted there. Whether that happens or not, all of this is part of a plan for both dd and I to grow in some ways, which can happen regardless of what the actual outcome is.

  16. Avivah,
    I truly hope you don’t start second and third guessing everything you write. If anything, you are an example of how to state a strong opinion without denigrating those with whom you disagree. Anyone who writes or speaks in public about any idea of consequence is going to a) sometimes be attacked even if what they said and wrote was wise, temperate, fair and tactful b) sometimes say or write things they wish they hadn’t said or wrote in exactly that way (at least I know that’s true for me – including very recently). Mishlei says that there is no ‘tzadik in the land who does good and doesn’t sin’. I always learned that means that you can’t be a person of consequence without sometimes taking a wrong step. Sometimes the wrong step is even necessary and demanded in order not to take a worse step. But if you want to do good – and you affect so many Jewish lives for the good – you don’t have the option of staying quiet in order not to risk being seen as wrong either in reality or in the eyes of those who choose to criticize you.

  17. boruch hashem – all girl schools teach secular studies. They don’t all do the bagrut, but they learn all the secular subjects. Math,English,Geography,physics,grammar, literature, history, health, science, etc etc.
    Every school.

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