I really should not be writing this article, or anything else for that matter. Tomorrow we will be moving to Baltimore, im yirtzeh Hashem, and I should be spending my time with last-minute packing. But the matter I intend on writing about, however briefly, is upsetting as it is urgent.
As you know, the New York Board of Regents is likely voting to bring equivalency into yeshivos. This means that the curriculum of all yeshivos will have to conform to the secular standards of the public school system. The main target was chasidish yeshivos, specifically Satmar, which has a very limited if any secular education department.
In a classic New York Times front-page hit piece against Jewish interests this past Sunday, the Jewish (who else?) authors painted an awful picture of these yeshivos as producing a high rate of ignorant and impoverished students, as they squander government funding.
It can be debated forever if yeshivos should have a more enhanced secular program. But that is not the point.
Besides many other flaws in the article, The New York Times painted a very one-sided story. It did not bother to have a serious study on how the chasidim graduating these yeshivos actually live. No crime, no drugs, no blight. Instead, they have wholesome families, support those less fortunate, and are quite content.
Most importantly, they did not portray the enormous success rate of the chasidic community in the business world, despite having no formal education. I have been to places like Houston, where I have walked into a local glatt kosher restaurant and seen business meetings with all sorts of people conducted by chasidic Jews. I have seen videos of incredibly sophisticated business fairs run by chasidim for chasidim.
Yesterday, I was in Passaic, New Jersey, to celebrate my grandson’s bar mitzvah. It was a truly wonderful simchah, as was the entire weekend. The celebration was in a huge complex called Aisle One/Brook Haven. This is an oversized kosher supermarket which also has a clothing mall and reception hall. Everything was state-of-the-art and beautifully maintained.
I was marveling at the entire enterprise when I realized that this was almost entirely conceived and managed by chasidim (check out their website). I thought to myself: Why does The Times not come here to Aisle One and showcase how these poor, uneducated chasidim are doing? Compare them to any other ethnic group that passes through the public school system.
In English, an aisle is a passageway that people walk along between shelves in a supermarket. In Yiddish, an aisel is a donkey. I would like to refer to The Times as something else, but right now, suffice it to say that they are Aisel #1.
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, Vice President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.