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…