Following the debacle in the city of Emanuel, we of the Orthodox world, must take a good hard look at what really happened there and why. We must evaluate our needs for the future and what we have to do in order to improve our Torah way of life. We know from Chazal that if something unsavory happens to us “yefashfesh be’maasov”, we must look into and examine our past deeds.
Yidden were jailed after being accused by the secular establishment and the Supreme Court of Israel for their choice of schooling for their daughters. The problem was diffused and the incarceration was resolved only after a solution was hammered out by two of our Gedolim, one from the Sephardi world, Harav Ovadiah Yosef and one from the Ashkenazi world, the Slonimer Rebbe. The Court accepted the agreement of the two Gedolim that the three last days of school will consist of a conference of all frum girls in the city of Immanuel on the topic of “Ahavas Yisrael”. It is quite strange to me that such a topic has to be the subject of a ‘summit conference’ of Ashkenazim and Sephardim. Should not Ahavas Yisrael have been an integral part of the life of these frum girls in Emanuel to begin with?
Although the crisis was temporarily resolved, we of the Torah world have lost, as they say in the vernacular, “big time”. We were accused of apartheid, discrimination and racism. All of this was completely untrue as the entire crisis had absolutely nothing to do with racism which is the antithesis to Jewish religious life. The issue was the mixing in of the secular court regarding the practice of one level of frumkeit versus another.
A person has the inalienable right to bring up his children in his own hashkafa without interference from the secular courts. We certainly have the right to raise our children with a stronger commitment to Torah scholarship, Chassidus and tznius than another person without being called racist. The schools also have a right to decide on the level of frumkeit and should welcome any student who will adhere to their particular level. So why was the problem portrayed by the media as one of the Ashkenazim versus the Sephardim? In my opinion, the only issue was one of the level of religious observance and not one of Ashkenazi vs Sephardi background since the school in question already had a student body made up of 25% Sephardim.
Maybe the reason for these accusations is to be found in the past treatment of Acheinu Bnei HaMizrach by their Ashkenazidike brethren. They were treated in such an appalling way that the Ashkenazim did not even accept them into their schools. They had to build their own chareidi school system “El Hamayan”.
To illustrate this divisiveness, I would like to relate a story, as told to me by a mother of Sephardi heritage who has a large family and whose husband is bearded, wears a Homburg and a long jacket. Thirty years ago, she went to register her eldest son in a Yerushalayimdike cheder (Yiddish speaking). The Menahel, an extremely goodhearted human being, wanted very much to accept the first grader but told the mother that the children in the school, and, believe it or not, the Rebbeim, would pick on him because he is Sephardi. The child would not be able to thrive under such circumstances. The Menahel’s advice to the mother was to either find a Sephardi school or to officially change her name to an Ashkenzi sounding name in order to have the child succeed in the school. The family changed their name and the child did in fact succeed.
This story is only one of many, many, stories on the same theme. I suppose that as a reaction to such a situation, Harav Ovadiah Yosef, the Rov and mentor of most Sephardim, and one of our Gedolai HaDor, proclaimed that no Sephardi should send his children to Ashkenazi Mosdos HaTorah because they will not succeed in learning true Toras Hashem.
The untenable situation in Immanuel caused many of our Gedolim to march in protest against the Supreme Court of Israel for dictating the type of religious education we should administer to our children The Supreme Court has never before interfered in this area. The order of the Court was under the guise that the schools take government funds for the schooling of those in their charge, and, at the same time, these schools practice discrimination. The truth is that the schools in Immanuel split because of the level of religious practice and not because of discrimination.
Unfortunately, divisiveness is found in so many groupings of Klal Yisrael, not only in religious practices but in levels of scholarship. If you are not able to reach a certain level of scholarship because you were not endowed by the Ribono Shel Olam with the ability to reach that level, you will also be discriminated against by a school by being denied admission. So that the school may keep it’s so called “high standards” and standing in the community. Rabbi Joseph Elias always said about schools who boasted of the scholarship of their graduates, “they only let in the smartest and most diligent, of course they would graduate the best”. This is a type of discrimination which may include ethnic and geographic discrimination even when on the same religious level. Why is it that we don’t listen to Rav Shteinmann who claims that non-acceptance of “different types” of students to our schools is “gayva, gayva, gayva”? Once we discriminate in one area, it will definitely carry itself further into many other areas.
What I am trying to say is that if we don’t listen to our Gedolim and leaders, then the secular population, which is constantly trying to put down the frum world, will use this inequality to placate themselves by making us into absolute monsters and calling us racists. They will ultimately use the courts to jail us for what they call the practice of bigotry. They will point a finger at the wall that was erected in the Bais Yaakov in Immanuel to separate the two schools in the same building, the separation of play during recess, and even two teachers’ rooms, one for Sephardim and one for Ashkenazim – a true disgrace.
There is no lie that does not have a kernel of some truth in it. The truth of our gayva in not accepting those of lesser Torah scholarship has lead to our not accepting students from various other groupings, whether they are Chassidish, Misnagdim, Taymanim, Ashkenazim or Sephardim. Furthermore, we do not want our children to associate with them during their free time. A case in point was told to me by Rabbi Bulman ZT”L who had relatives living in an American, English-speaking, chareidi community. The relative, – a young girl, ventured across the road on a Shabbos afternoon into a Bnos group. She was told that she could not join as she came from an English-speaking community. I personally asked Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky ZT”L a question of inclusion of different types of schools for a weekend. His answer was that the Torah commands the mitzvah of “Hakhel” where all Jews – men, women and children – will come together. Why not here?
Our exclusionary attitude comes from our belief that their religious practices are not the same as ours. This ultimately puts us in a bad light with the Ribono Shel Olam. What must be learned from the debacle at Immanuel is that as long as someone keeps the Shulchan Aruch with the Mesoras Chachomim, it makes no difference what culture he comes from, or his spoken language. Everyone must be accepted on the same level for Ahavas Yisroel to become an integral part of our lives. Children need appropriate role-modeling from their parents and educators to acquire Ahavas Yisrael and for it to become an intrinsic part of how we function 24/7. We can’t rely only on the Gedolim to save us from the next calamity. We must rely on our Gedolim when a problem of acceptance of another person creeps into our lives. Ask the Gedolim for advice and follow their guidance.
“B’Tzoro Gedola Anachnu – ve’ayn lonu al mi l’hishoayn, elo al Avinu She’Bashomayim”. We are in the midst of a great sorrow and we have no one to turn to except for the Ribono Shel Olam. For us to understand Hashem’s will, we must turn to the Talmidei Chachomim and Gedolai HaTorah at every turn in the road.
The Slonimer Chassidim of Immanuel certainly created a great Kiddush Hashem by demonstrating for a chinuch that is in keeping with their Hashkofas Hachaim without any governmental interference or without the secular court’s outlook on education. They were even willing to be jailed for their beliefs. They did this with the total Emuna of “Va’yaaminu baHashem u’b’Moshe avdo” (Shemos 14:13) a complete belief in our Torah as interpreted by “Moshe avdo”. Their Emuna is contingent on the understanding of our Torah’s hashkofa by the Slonimer Chassidim’s Godol Hador, the Slonimer Rebbe.
My quarrel is certainly not with their willingness to be moser nefesh for their children’s chinuch. It is only with where the split stems from and how the class division was implemented. I do not want to elaborate on what was already mentioned in order not to be “mekatreg” on Yiden. Yet we must find ways to eradicate the creation of so many unnecessary divisions in Klal Yisrael or we will, chas ve’shalom, completely destroy any fibre that unites us.
We are all children of Avraham Avinu and therefore have his “genes” of rachmanim, baishanim and gomlei chasadim. Because of our long golus among so many different nations we have acquired, to our chagrin, some of their undesirable traits. A wise man once said that when one Yid has differences with another it is the acquisition from the nations of our galus that is having those differences and not our ingrained midos of mercy, humility and conducting ourselves as achievers of chesed.
Rabbi Aharon Granevich-Granot, a respected writer for “Mishpacha” magazine, recently wrote an article about Schindler’s List and how Schindler saved thousands of Yidden from Hitler’s, ym”s, clutches, while putting his own life in peril. He asked a survivor of Schindler’s factory “How did such a decent person emerge from the Nazi party?” The survivor answered “I actually asked Schindler this very question. He told me that his childhood neighbor was a prominent rabbi, and he used to play with the rabbi’s children. He learned to love and respect Jews.”
I am not, by any means, advocating that our children should be friends and play with non-Jewish children. However, I am strongly advocating that no fence should ever be erected to separate two Bais Yaakov girls.
As we just read on Tisha B,Av, ”al aile ani bochia” over these things I weep. “ oi me hoyo lonu” Oh woe! What has happened to us?
(Written for YWN by Rabbi S. Aisenstark, Dean of Bais Yaakov Bnos Raizel Seminary in Montreal)