31 for 21 – Finding our place in the charedi community

Today is Day 20 of 31 for 21, a blogging effort to promote awareness of Down syndrome, also known as Trisomy 21.


>>How does it play out practically to have different kids in hashkafically (philosophically) different school systems? What I’m really saying is- do you have a community to fit into now??<<

When my husband and I were discussing what school system to put our boys in, the issue of where we – and they – would fit into the community was a major concern.  The charedi community is tightly defined and little things that you do can easily put you outside of the community.

We talked a lot about if the charedi community was the right place for us or not and have agreed that it is.  Though I said the charedi community is tightly defined, it’s not as narrow as it may seem- a major Israeli paper a while back coined the term ‘modern charedi’, and others have used the terms ‘post charedi’ and ‘neo charedim’.  All of these are referring to charedim who don’t quite conform to the charedi mold but affiliate as charedi. I don’t care for any of these terms, but then again I’m not a fan of labeling so that’s not so suprising.  My purpose in bringing this up is to say that we think there are a large number of people in the charedi community who think similarly to us, though most of them will look externally like everyone else and make the choices that everyone else is making.

We do feel that as far as an Israeli charedi community goes, Karmiel is on the open and accepting side.  Having said that, it is still an Israeli charedi community with standards and expectations that are charedi.  In this community, sending to any school but the local cheder is a choice that positions you to be seen as outside of the community.  When making the choice to send our boys to Amichai, we looked at it as follows:

1) People tend to be superficial.  If we and our kids look and act ‘normal’ (by the standards of this community), that’s a big factor to being accepted.  This is what the chief rabbi of the city said when we discussed this decision with him.  This was also true of homeschooling and I believe that was one of the biggest factors to my influence regarding homeschooling in the Orthodox world – that our family didn’t broadcast ‘different’.

2) You don’t have to bring up the differences you have philosophically with others.  It’s much better, in my opinion, to talk about what makes you similar than what makes you different, until you have a decent relationship with someone.  Once you have that framework, then you can talk about your differences and the person you’re speaking to hopefully already has some degree of respect for you as a person.  In my case, this means that I don’t talk about my beliefs that are outside of the charedi norm in casual conversation.

3) We already know many people in the charedi community and are considered part of the community.  I don’t think they’re going to be so quick to turn their backs on us just because our kids go to a different school if we adhere to no. 1 and no. 2 above.

4) When we talked about what we were concerned about socially for the boys, there was the short and long term view.  In the short term, we want them to have like-minded friends.  At this early age this is more external which  means they are very compatible with boys from the cheder.  They can continue to have friends from the charedi community even if they aren’t comfortable at social events geared to only those in the school.  They may or may not be seen as part of the larger group of boys their age in the community, but as long as they have individual friends, the group dynamics aren’t that important.  In any case, when kids run in groups it generally isn’t when the best social experiences happen.  Kind of like when dogs run in packs.  :)

In the long term, we also want them to have like-minded friends, and this is where we see running into trouble a bit down the road if we send to the cheder because as they get older, the commonalities need to include common goals, aspirations and an overall worldview, in addition to external similarities.  So we’re thinking about how to position them that they’ll have peers at a later age who will be a match for them.   There are some wonderful things about the charedi boys educational system, and there are some things that aren’t quite a fit for our family.  Our goals for our boys are different than the goals of those who send to the cheder in a few key areas; these areas of dissonance are very common to Americans who move to Israel.

As I’ve mentioned before, we see value in sending them to an elementary school where other boys will later be attending high schools in which they will get diplomas that will enable them to pursue higher education, which in turn means they are on track for some kind of career outside of full-time Torah learning.  This probably doesn’t seem like a big deal to those of you outside of Israel, but is so major that it’s the main reason I spent so many hours soul searching if we could call ourselves charedi.

Since where the boys go to school at the elementary level is tied in with where they’ll go to high school, it’s also tied into army service, higher education, and who they will marry, and this last one was a big concern of mine.  Young men who are already working or engaged in studies other than full-time learning (even if they continue to spend hours daily in Torah study) when they get married are definitely viewed as second rate (sug bet), versus those engaged in full-time Torah learning.  Our boys are bright and can be successful in the Torah only model; we’re not choosing a different path because they can’t handle the intensity or rigor.  To us, a young man who is serious about Torah and able to navigate in the professional world is the Torah ideal, and it disturbs me that those who try to rise to these ideals are looked at as less-than.  It’s a more challenging path than the Torah only path and deserves respect; however, I don’t harbor any false hopes about this.

As I said in my last post, I know we’re walking a fine line.  Fine lines aren’t the easiest things to stay balanced on!  But I’m hopeful that we can successfully navigate this and that our family will feel welcome in our local community.


4 thoughts on “31 for 21 – Finding our place in the charedi community

  1. I always appreciate reading your posts because they are well thought out and thought provoking. Sometimes raising children can become automatic and you raise issues which facilitate thinking more deeply about these issues and others.

  2. Hi, I also appreciate your posts, especially since we are going through a similar dilemma. We are going to PG make aliya next year and I’m still undecided as to which kind of school to place my kids. Coming from England, my boys go to charedi schools but are also learning secular subjects and I would like them to continue in Israel. But it seems I may have to compromise on the level of frumkeit of the school if I were to do this. I don’t want my boys to go to the army either. I feel like we don’t fit into any box, which makes it difficult to place ourselves in any particular community. I think you will navigate this issue just fine, b’siyata dishmaya.

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