Exactly two weeks ago, dh and I met with ds13’s teacher for our PTA conference. Last year dh attended these alone and I dealt with all of the other kids’ teachers, but I felt that this year I wanted to be more involved regarding ds.
His teacher is a wonderful man, very learned in Torah and a very experienced teacher. And he has a very positive opinion of ds. I’m very appreciative that ds has been able to have such a special teacher.
He told us, ds is a great student, picks material up quickly, gets along with other students very well, respectful, good character, etc. There wouldn’t seem to be much left to talk about, but dh and I agreed that we wanted to get his feedback on high school options for ds. As soon as we asked, he emphatically told us that ds should go to a regular yeshiva, not an American yeshiva. We asked what he meant by that, and he told us that ds has integrated well and would be able to do well at any typical Israeli charedi yeshiva ketana (high school but with no secular subjects).
We then reassured him we had no intention to send ds to an American yeshiva. After all, I continued, we moved to the north of Israel because of our desire for our children to acclimate to life in Israel rather than raise them in an Anglo bubble neighborhood. He was glad to hear me say this… until I continued, “We don’t want an American yeshiva – we want a yeshiva in which he’ll get a bagrut (Israeli matriculation certificate).”
Although it was clear that this wasn’t something he was happy to hear, I appreciate that we were able to speak openly with him. I prefer being direct and open in my communication, and know that many teachers would make negative judgments about our religious commitment for saying something like this. Afterward I only half jokingly told dh, when the teacher tells the school administration about this conversation, they’ll feel justified in having denied admission to our younger kids.
The teacher warned us against doing this – he said if we want to sent to a school like Maarava, we’re going to pay a price for that decision. I asked him what the price was, and he said religiously we’ll pay the price, that the kids attending there won’t be a positive influence. I asked him what the price would be if ds attended a typical charedi yeshiva for high school, and he told me there was no price, that there were only positives. And he’s right, when your child is a good fit for the framework you choose for them, the negatives of that choice aren’t a negative for you so you don’t pay any price. In our discussion, he strongly advocated for this framework. His statement shows his integrity, that his choices are fully in line with his values. But for us and for ds, there would be a downside since our emphasis and goals in education are somewhat different.
Now, though the teacher didn’t know this when he made his statement, Maarava happens to be just the school we have in mind. (For those who are wondering if we’re pushing our agenda on ds, he himself doesn’t want a typical charedi yeshiva.) There are only a small number of charedi high schools that teach secular subjects in Israel, and this is considered the best of them. It’s difficult to get into, and is known to be selective, accepting only about 35 of the two hundred applicants annually. It has a very good reputation. We would view him getting accepted there as a definite accomplishment – we don’t have ‘pull’ to get him in, so it would have to be on his own merits. (However, it’s very expensive – the price I was told was something like 32,000 + shekels yearly, and a few hundred shekels monthly for him to come home for Shabbos – and no scholarships are available. No, I have no idea how we could afford it and this would be one of two reasons that he wouldn’t attend if he gets accepted. Actually, because of this we’re not sure it’s even worth our while to have him interview there, except I think it would be a confidence booster for him to know that he was accepted.)
But in the Israeli charedi world, this isn’t looked at positively. This is an example of the divide between how Anglos and Israelis in the charedi world think – Anglos think this is a great school, Israelis think it’s ‘less than’. An Israeli charedi friend has warned me against sending him, just as the teacher has, and I understand where they’re coming from. I realize that by sending ds to a school like this we’re setting him up to be seen as second rate in the charedi world, and maybe that’s not fair of us to do to a him, particularly since he really could be a ‘top’ boy in Israeli terms. (Please understand I’m not judging anyone as better or worse, just trying to explain how things are viewed.)
But we’re trying to go beyond our egos and find a framework that he wants to be in, that he will feel supported in. The typical yeshiva ketana schedule of only Torah study from the morning until late at night, with just a two hour break in the middle of the day, would be really hard for him. Not because he couldn’t handle it academically – he could. But there’s no sports, no outside activities, and his friends have told him that they spend their free time sleeping since the schedule is so grueling. While this is a good choice for some boys and they’ll thrive there, ds is very clear that he doesn’t want this.
We thought we had a few more months until the application process begins, but just learned yesterday that the applications for next year are due in the next two weeks. I don’t know if this includes arranging for his entrance interviews or if that is a later step in the application process. We were told to start applying to Maarava now, but I don’t yet know if this is true of other similar schools; I’ll have to find out this week.
Fortunately, I’ve been looking into high school choices for over a year (remember, we skipped ds into eighth grade when we moved, and didn’t decide to leave him in that class for a second year until around December) so at least I feel I know what’s out there and I don’t have to rush to evaluate the different schools. But we don’t have a lot of options. There are about five or six schools in the entire country that fit what we’re looking for, Maarava being considered the best. Unfortunately, all of them would mean that ds would have to dorm. I really don’t want to send ds away for high school, even if almost everyone in the country considers this normal and even positive. I consider it highly problematic.
There’s one new option, a yeshiva high school that will be opening this coming year in Karmiel just a few minutes from our home. It’s the same kind of school as the others we’re considering, charedi but with a bagrut offered. If he were to attend this school, ds would be be able to live at home, which is a HUGE value to us. I’m not majorly concerned if the academics are as high a level at Maarava, since I have confidence in one’s ability to supplement. However, it’s almost impossible to know what kind of students will be attending since it’s a new school. We and ds want for him to have a peer group of like-minded friends, and we can’t be assured of that upfront. Ds isn’t interested in considering this, but dh and I are keeping our eyes open to it as a possibility.
Ds has an answer for all of this: in all seriousness, he told us that he wants to go back to America for high school, and already has a family who is willing to host him for the year. We said no.