31 for 21 – Switching our boys to the cheder

Today is Day 6 of 31 for 21, a blogging effort to raise awareness for Trisomy 21.

After my last post, some of you may be wondering why my boys are in the school they’re in and not the same school as their peers.  Initially I did this to ease the acclimation for our then fourth grader, since the administration of the school he went to (Amichai)  was much more flexible and understanding toward new immigrants than the cheder, who expect boys to very quickly perform like kids who have lived in Israel all their lives.  They also provided tutoring for new immigrants to help them learn the language.  Then as time went on last year, I started to think that Amichai could be a good option for all of our boys and registered ds6 there for first grade.  It has so many advantages and is technically a better fit for Americans than the cheder – the  main thing that was missing was a strong peer group from boys in the community.  At that point I decided I was willing to be the pioneer and send my boys here and trusted that others moving here would realize it was a valid option.  All it would have taken was one or two other families to do the same to have made Amichai a viable educational option to mainstream families.  But no one else made this choice, and it became obvious to me that my kids were going to pay the price by being socially isolated if I left them there.

That’s the cliff notes version of a very involved issue.  A week and a half into this school year (ie a month ago), I made the decision to transfer them to the local Talmud Torah for social reasons.  This was prior to my boys experiencing any social negativity, but it became clear to me that there’s no way to be part of the charedi community and to make visible choices that are different than what everyone else does.  If we hadn’t had so many other things to deal with, I would taken care of this during the summer but I was busy trying to keep my head above water with a new baby and doctor visits and nursing…and I didn’t have any head space to think about it.

I didn’t anticipate having much of an issue with the transfer.  Why not?  1) Firstly, it was the very beginning of the school year, not weeks into it.  The time before the holidays is always a time of irregularity in all schools. Studies in earnest don’t start until after Sukkos vacation.  2) We’re part of the community and they know our family.  We have an eighth grader at the cheder who is an excellent student and has made a great transition.  We have two more boys in their gan system.  They knew ds6 since he was in their kindergarten last year and was one of the most advanced kids in his class despite being a native English speaker.  There are plenty of people who could vouch for us.  3) Last year, I had a conversation with the principal before registering ds (then 9) at Amichai, to find out if there was any transfer policy that would cause an issue for him at a later date.  I explained that Amichai had support services for  new olim that I thought it would make his transition to life in Israel easier and my plan was to transfer him to the cheder after a year or two, when he was acclimated.  The principal said he understood that and there shouldn’t be any problem.  I wouldn’t have made this school choice without this assurance in advance.

But now that conversation has been forgotten.  When I called the principal, I was told that they don’t take boys from Amichai.  He told me my boys will be behind (remember, ds6 had only been in this school for eight days a this point) and it’s too complicated and it’s impossible.  I’m not going to go into the specifics of what was said, but I finally told the principal that they sounded like excuses and asked what was really going on.

One reason I haven’t written about this because it’s not pretty.  Everyone involved is a good person with good intentions.  But it’s a political issue and what is best for my kids isn’t part of the equation.

Some of you may say I need to find insiders to help me get my kids in.  We’ve tried that from several angles.  One friend is a peer of the decision makers and got the inside scoop on why this is being done, because we seem like the least likely American family for this to happen to and it doesn’t make sense to anyone.  He was very, very upset about this decision as well as the reasons and told them what they were doing to us was terribly wrong.  I had guessed about what was going on from some veiled hints and when I heard the insider’s version it wasn’t a shock to me, it confirmed what I thought.

I spent way too long going over and over in my mind what to do.  Who to contact, how to approach them, was it a mistake to want them in a school that was taking this position, should I send them to a school in a different city instead, should I leave them where they are, should I homeschool them, what would I do with ds5 when he goes into first grade next year, what would we do if our boys were disenfranchised from the community, is the charedi community where we want to affiliate, etc, etc, etc.  My mind just kept going over and over all the different variations of possible problems and solutions.

We had a meeting about this issue right after Yom Kippur with the chief rabbi of the city, who generally stays out of these situations.  Right now we’re in a waiting place.  After lots of efforts and intervention, we were told not right now and to be in touch with them again.  So after Sukkos we’ll give them a call once more.  I have a lot of ambivalence about this situation and regardless of how it all plays out, will probably continue to feel some ambivalence.

The second big reason I didn’t want to post about this is that I know there will be some people who think we deserved this, that we were out of touch for sending our kids to a different school to start with, that there must be something wrong with our family if the school doesn’t want to accept our kids, that we don’t understand charedi society….it’s been unpleasant enough to deal with all of this without these kinds of presumptions and I can’t explain myself more without saying something that will negatively reflect on others.  Yes, I was optimistic about taking a different path than what was typical and thought we could bridge it, but a year ago the emotional and religious climate of the community was different than it is now – and I still believe that was a reasonable belief then.

I do want to share that one thing that was very recently decided – this isn’t public yet but I told the chief rabbi that I felt a responsibility to tell people about this.  More people learn about the charedi community here from my blog than anywhere else, and it’s not fair if people come here with expectations of inclusion that won’t be actualized.  The cheder will no longer be accepting families without looking at them very closely.  They have said they don’t want to take Americans anymore, but this isn’t quite accurate.  I believe they’ll take families who they think are a good fit but my guess (and please realize this isn’t what they’re saying, but me reading between the lines) is that the families of most olim and baalei teshuva or anyone who doesn’t quite walk the mainstream charedi line are likely to be excluded.  This is a definite shift from how it’s been until now.

So that’s the short of a long situation.  It’s ironic to  me that I agonized for countless hours for the last year over the decision to send the boys to the cheder, and I breathed a sigh of relief when I finally decided to make the switch, thinking I would finally have peace of mind about a difficult choice.  Now this situation has me back and forth in my mind again, and what I’m trying to do is shut off my thinking about this and just wait to see what will happen.  This isn’t easy for me at all because it’s not my way of doing things.  So now I’m getting a chance to develop this aspect of my character.  :)


20 thoughts on “31 for 21 – Switching our boys to the cheder

  1. Sending hugs Aviva! What a difficult situation!
    I’m sorry the chareidi community is so excluding and the school so narrow-minded…
    I can’t really relate, as I’m not chareidi, and I’ve always swum against the tide, but there’s no way you “deserve this” – you always work so hard to find the best fit for your children and your family, in every respect, not just re schools.
    Wishing you calm and strength, and success in working this out,

  2. Avivah,

    I am so sorry you are going through this! You think so carefully about what is best for your family that it is really hard when something external gets in the way.

    Hatlacha in getting this all worked out,


  3. Truly sorry that you and your family have to seal with this. I wish you a peaceful resolution that best benefits your boys…THAT is what you really deserve! Hope to see an upcoming post that reflects more tolerance for shomrei mitzvot Jews that can think outside the mainstream box.

  4. sometimes when i’m going back and forth about a decision i act as if i’ve already made a decision in one direction and then i see how i feel physically. we can tell ourselves lots of stories and try to convince ourselves of many things, but our bodies don’t often lie to us. so maybe sit with one decision for a bit and see what bubbles up for you. does it make you feel calm and at peace finally or the opposite? it won’t always be the decision we wish it was, but it will always be the right one. i wish you certainty, whichever way things play out. let’s hope your use of this phrase : “I agonized ” is forever in the past tense! with love- julie

    1. Julie, this is a very insightful suggestion. We’re planning to ask some rabbis we respect for feedback and guidance, but I’m going to try your specific suggestion over the next day of yom tov and see if I feel any differently. I look forward to having having emotional peace with our decision!

  5. Very sad, I guess the Cheder is afraid of your progressive thinking, putting your sons first and the fear of the way others think may taint their sons. But I am not surprised at all. We are national religious Americans and years ago one of our twin daughters was rejected from attending a high school in Jerusalem when they heard her older sister was serving in the Nachal Dati branch of the army. All I can say is there is more division here in Israel between the different religious groups and it is very hard for an American to understand and come to terms with, one of the not so joys of living here. Good luck and be strong!

  6. Hi Avivah,
    I am sorry to hear about your school situation.
    You are a great mother and you and your family deserve better.
    You did everything you had to do, with the principal assuring you of his co operation if you wanted to change back to his school, and now he has changed his mind and it has become political, with maybe an anti American bias?
    Since you probably won’t get anywhere talking to the person the principal reports to, maybe it is time to think outside the box?
    Swing for the fences it you have nothing to lose, in trying.
    What I mean is maybe try the mayor’s office for help.
    If you could learn who works in the mayor’s office, and find out if you know someone who knows somebody who works there, or at least try to make a connection with someone who works there, you might be able to work towards getting a meeting with the mayor himself?
    I have in my past have found that sometimes going to the top, you find those persons much nicer and helpful, because of the fact they have made it to the top.
    Many people believe it is not worth the effort, but I have found it can be surprising what help you can get by talking to the top people, if you can get to them .
    Anyway it might be food for thought?


    1. I’ve met with the head of the department of education at the municipality to discuss this issue with him and see if he could use his influence to put pressure on the decision makers. He’s made calls and confirmed for us what the other inside person told us: though they say they have personal reasons for not taking us (when I asked what this was, I was told that because ds13 had an irregular attendance last year – mostly due to frequent sickness – and they say that his attendance is fine now, this is why they won’t take his siblings) – it’s actually about policy issues bigger than us. Since the cheder is a private school outside pressures from an office like this are are of limited help.

  7. Oy. I am so sorry you and your kids are going through this. While we parents have the koach to be outside-the-box, the “system” uses our children to control us. There is nothing we wouldn’t do for them and they know it. I’ve personally had to find a box I could fit into once my kids entered the school system as teens, even in the USA. I can only imagine how it’s so much more intense in EY. It’s the price I’ve decided to pay for their social acceptance, and it’s worth it to me. I’m honest with my teens about these things though. I often remind myself why I’m frum, and it’s not about these external things at all. Ein Od Milvado. every blessing, michelle

    1. The social acceptance piece is why I wanted to switch them and that means being willing to go along with whatever I have to in order to be consistent. But now that we’re hitting this major roadblock, I’m not sure if Hashem is sending me a situation that I need to plow through until the kids are accepted or if He’s showing me this isn’t the right place for them. It’s this uncertainty that is making it hard – the question is, is this the world where I want them to fit in and find social acceptance?

  8. dear avivah –
    i am going to be very blunt- YOU cannot please ALL the people ALL the time. there is no point in even trying so move on and keep your son in amichai and consider transferring the rest of your kids there too as they move up the chain….

    AS a giyoret I deeply and personally feel the pain of “not being accepted” and you know what – I DON”T CARE. Because someone or a faction or a kehilalh that wants to exclude me and my family because I am a Bat Sarah it is they that are oveir on the mitzvah of not oppressing the ger. We go were we are accepted- I will not “knock on anyone’s door” that I know will not open it with grace and chessed. There is no point in even setting myself up for hurt.

    You are an admirable family that is well known and have stirling middos. Please understand that what i am reading from your experience is that you are teaching your son that short term social integration is superior to a long term sucesssful academic and liguistic absorbtion.

    And so you continue to justify the charedi bias by saying it is only a political situation and not personal. Which is by no means true – because there is no room in chinuch for politics. The decision makers of the cheder find value in not honoring a verbal commitment AND using your family to reinforce their Israeli Charedi bias towards olim and baalei tshuva.

    Other kids will continue to pick up on the schools grudging position if they do agree to accept your son – there will be a backlash because those same kids that made fun of your sons at the simchat beis hashoeva will still be in his kita/ cheder.

  9. gonna say a couple of things here. it is not just israel, it is getting this way everywhere, even in my beloved hometown, where we used to be known for so much achdus. the whole frummie scene is becoming much more narrow and parochial. and the “labeling” process is very important, apparently, in order for others with little vision and self-esteem to feel better about their decisions and lifestyles. Great, run me over with a steamroller so that YOU can feel better! don’t even get me started with how this plays out during shidduchim. all i can say is I am sending you hugs…..sorry this is so tough! guess this is a good news/bad news kinda thing. The good news is that more people are moving to your town. the bad news is that facts on the ground and the ‘religious climate’ have changed very quickly as a result. again, hugs!

  10. The shidduch piece is why I’m climbing into my “box”. I have several friends who made aliyah and previously fit (sort of,not stam) into a chassidic box. The reality of EY was so different with that derech, they moved into the Chardal camp (not stam either) because it tolerated more flexibility. You have really made an amazing effort and that’s all you can do. You know this, but the school administration is really just a stick in Hashem’s hand. HE is doing this, so yes, it’s for you to decide where he wants you. I know this is radical, and maybe crazy impossible, but would you consider a more Anglo area and a move? I know someone who moved several times before she found the right fit there for her kids. While it wasn’t easy to move, it was more painful to endure the social stigmatization. You are all in my tefillos. Hatzlacha with this test. May it move you only closer to Hashem:) Chag Sameach!

  11. Hashem Yaazor Avivah!
    It sounds like such a tough situation, and one faced by many Anglos, Sephardim and especially Anglo-Sephardim :) .
    What you should know for sure is that this is NOT personal. They are not rejecting you, your boys or your family. They are a young school that has grown to the point where it can now afford to be selective. They are obviously new at this and an American boy from a non-chareidi school is an obvious target for their new policy. It has nothing to do with who your son is or who you are.
    My prediction is that there will be a new cheder opening up in Karmiel within the year IYH. You are certainly not the only family in this situation and a solution will be created for people like you.
    Hang in there and daven that a new solution will appear very soon and you’ll never look back!

    1. I’m not taking it personally – I actually believe that my kids are going to get in but that we’ll have to do things in a way that the other families they are telling they can’t accept because of coming from the school my boys are in won’t be upset. You’re exactly right about the cheder now having the luxury of being able to be selective, and I understand their perspective – they want a certain student body and are trying to draw the line in a way that families that they feel are compatible with their approach will be accepted.

  12. You are such an amazing woman. There is such a great song that I heard for the first time a couple of days ago–it’s called Ani Yehuda: I am a Jew and I am unique http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_UJn14n49E It’s so sad that all of this heartache and hardship is being thrust upon you and your children. It’s too bad that we can’t all just be Jews and welcoming toward each other, loving and accepting. You are a pioneer, and I’m sorry that some people don’t see how wonderful you and amazing your family is. Kim from Baltimore.

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