Op-Ed: Emanuel – What Now?

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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)


16 COMMENTS

  1. A cliche as old as the English language says, “Birds of a feather flock together.” Regardless of observance levels in halacha or tznius, Ashkenazim and Sephardim are different. I am personally acquainted with former “mixed” marriage couples who just couldn’t bridge the cultural gap. I don’t go where I am different. That’s my personal choice. Why would I cause stress and the very strong potential of academic failure by placing my children among those who are different? Ahavas Yisroel has no bearing on this issue. The Gemora in Taanis speaks of tradesmen davening in shuls segregated by their respective trades. It is nothing new that people want to be surrounded by their peers. Rabbi Alsenstark’s logic, confusing a lack of Ahavas Yisroel with a basic human (and Jewish) need is astounding.

  2. Rabbi Aisenstark was from the first mechanchim to recognize that exclusionary schools are gayva disguised as yiras shamayim. Kol hakovod to him.

  3. “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.”

    What about the story of the baker & the Noda B’Yehuda?

  4. This would be a fantastic article however it leaves out the fact that this was a state funded/subsidized school. You cannot accept money from the state and then be angry when the state doesnt like how you are running your school. Either dont take the money or face the consequences.

  5. He who pays the fiddler calls the tune, and as long as frum Jews accept money from frei Jews (or goyim), it is “they” who call the tune.

    If we want freedom to be frum, we can’t also be schnorring from apikorisim.

  6. locknload [1],

    There’s a big difference between just being different than being looked down upon for being different. Sephardim for decades feel looked down upon, and it didn’t come from nothing. Ask Rabbi Berel Wein, he’ll tell you all about it.

    And besides, what you are saying doesn’t apply to children. Children can and should murge, and not forever be devided, just as american children grow up to be Israelies despite the cultural difference.

    In past generations sephardim and ashkenazim who moved into each other’s communities intergrated much better than in the past 40-50 years, and the same goes for Germans with Hungarians etc. (the Chasam Sofer was German…) – look in history books. We just became bigger babies…

  7. proudjew [5],

    The state cannot dictate a clone school for the entire nation. The very basys of the “State”s charge that there was separation based on race was totally false. Some of the jailed parents were themselves Sepharadic…

    And by the way, the court in Israel doesnt really represent the Government. It’s an unelected left wing body, and don’t ask me who set it up that way…

  8. While you are correct that you have the right to decide your own family’s hashkafah and level of observance, if you are taking money from the State they have the right to decide how you should run your school. If you don’t like it don’t take their money.

  9. I agree with #5. The first mistake was taking government money. If you take their money you play by their rules. It’s fair and it’s the way the world works. Their rules may be stupid wrong or both, but you have to follow them. Second, yes there is racism in the schools, maybe not in that one, but it exists. It’s time to teach children tolerance, that a person can be different, disagree with you, or even be wrong, but that you must respect other people. That means Asknazim must respect Sefardim, Chasidim must respect Misnagdim, and the Frum must respect the non-Frum. The secular world and courts are usually wrong, but if they’re even a little right we should not be afraid to accept mussar from them. If we become greater from this then that’ll be a Kiddush Hashem and maybe this will not have been for naught.

  10. All kudos to Rabbi Aisenstark for running a successful Beis Yaakov in Montreal. However, this Hashkafa of opposing exclusionary school policies is fine and good when your school is the only frum school in town, as Beis Yaakov (in Montreal) was when it started. However, when there are other schools available and families have raised their children to a greater spiritual standard, I think it is presumtuous to assume that the principals of these schools and the parents are suffused with Gaava. It must be mentioned that Rav Shach was also in favour of exclusionary schools when alternatives were available. And if exclusionary policies are inexcusable, then every major yeshiva ought to accept everyone without question. Ponevezh should be open to anyone. There should be no entrance exam. Every Gadol should accept any student in his Yeshiva. They don’t, by the way. Lack of scholarship is merely a lack of the tools needed to fulfill the mitzva of Talmud Torah and a lack of sensitivity to tznius is a lack of the tools needed to fulfill the mitzva of tznius. Does Rabbi Aisenstark accept every girl in his seminary? Absolutely not. If they are on par in particular standards that he looks for, then yes. But otherwise, he practises an exclusionary policy, like everyone else.

  11. In essence, Rabbi Aisenstark is correct. The problem is that Ashkenazim and Sephardim have different Minhagim in many areas and sometimes even exactly the opposite of each other. Every member of the community should adhere to the Heritage taught by his/her parents. Inter-marriage by Ashkenazi and Sephardi very often results in deep differences within the home. It is not simply a matter of Ahavas Yisroel.

  12. nice article. i wish it was this simple.

    sof davar hakol nishma…

    those who acted against HOCHOMIM and DISCRMINATED will get their share.

    those who change their minhagim better get permission from their parents/rabbi

    those who can see the richness of their heritage lost everything.

    good night

  13. ATTORNEY MORDECHAI BASS’ EVALUATION OF THE BEIS YAAKOV EMANUEL CASE:

    A brief synopsis.
    This is the document that should have caused this case to get thrown out of court.

    Page 1

    Invitation to investigate

    “On January 28 2008 I was invited to evaluate the complaints of ethnic discrimination made against the Beis Yaakov Emanuel administration. I have thoroughly reviewed relevant material … and have met with administrators from the ministry of education, the chinuch atzmai (independent religious schools’ network, which Beis Yaakov is under), and I visited the two schools in question.”

    Page 2

    Evaluation of ethnicity

    “The percentage of Ashkenazi families in the original school is 23%, and in the new (Chasidi) school, 73%.”

    (Footnote at bottom: “Such figures are not totally accurate – firstly, the schools do not note the ethnicity of their students in the registration – and this is a good thing! Secondly – this figure was…partially based on the tenor of the family name, which can also be inaccurate.” )

    Were any families refused admission to the Beis Yaakov Chasidi, Emanuel?

    “All parents wanting to sign up their daughters to the new school, and were ready to accept upon themselves the school’s conditions, were accepted (lit. “not refused”). Since there was no rejection (of any applicants), where is the discrimination?”

    Page 5

    Description of Emanuel Community“

    A varied population dwells in Emanuel – Chassidic, Lithuanian, Sephardic, some families have been Haredi for generations, some for one generation, some are newly religious for a few years. In larger towns, this variety is expressed in a variety of schools. Until this year there was only one (Haredi) school in the town.”

    Attorney Bass notes the tensions between the stricter, sheltered factions and the more open, lenient factions.

    Page 6

    Attorney Bass notes the founding of the Sephardic girls’ school in Emanuel, Beit Rachel and Leah, under the Mayan-Shas network, which at the time had only a small first grade.

    He notes the various options that the parents explored – having different tracts in the same building, or opening a new school. In the end, a new school was founded.

    Page 7

    “The two schools are administrated separately, with two different principals.”

    Physical separation between the two schools – fact or fiction?

    “…photographers claimed that the cloth that was placed on the (pre-existing) fence prevented the girls from seeing each other. This is not true. Only part of the fence was covered. The yard surrounds the school from four directions, and the girls (from both schools) are able to see and play with each other. The (media) portrayal of two completely separate sections of the school yard…is not true.”

    Page 8

    “Were the students in the two schools divided according to ethnicity?

    “Were the students in the two schools divided according to ethnicity? The plaintiffs claim yes (the top of this page exhibits the plaintiffs’ claim)….The original school has 107 Sephardic girls and 32 Ashkenazim. The percentage of Ashkenazim is thus 23%. The new (Chasidi) school has 58 Ashkenazi girls and 21 Sephardim. The percentage of Sephardim is thus 27%….I repeat that…anyone interested in registering their daughters in the new school and ready to accept the school’s way of life was not refused.

    “I spoke to the plaintiffs and asked for one instance of parents who asked to register their daughter and was refused and they had no such case.

    He goes on to discuss the legal technicalities of opening a new school, licensure and so forth.

    Page 11

    Again -physical separation between the two schools – fact or fiction?

    Attorney Bass reiterates that accusations of physical barriers between the two schools were exaggerated and that indeed there was free access between the girls of both schools. He notes that the new school occupies (the third floor) rooms which were unused. (The third floor had housed the high school, and was vacated in September 2004 when the high school got its own building.)

    (I laughed when I read paragraphs 4 and 5, which address the plaintiffs’ accusation that the times of school starting and recess were at different times. Attorney Bass found this to be untrue. Of course both schools begin at the same time – 8am. Of course the recesses are at the same time. Would it make sense to have recess at different times, with one school trying to study while the other half is making noise outside?)

    Paragraph 6 on page 11 addresses the plaintiffs’ accusation that the girls in each school were forbidden contact with each other. Attorney Bass notes that there was no such ordinance issued by the school.

    Page 12

    More on the culture of Emanuel – Sheltering childrenHere, Attorney Bass sensitively notes the great variety that exists in the Haredi world, despite its outward uniform appearance in dress. He suggests that non-Haredim attempt to understand the mentality of sheltering from the outside world, and that the more strict and sheltered Haredim would understandably be wary of having their children have close contact with more lenient and worldly Haredim.

    Page 13, paragraph 22

    Was there ethnic discrimination in the Beis Yaakov Emanuel?

    “The division was not ethnic, it was religious. I am convinced that there is no ethnic discrimination.”

    Conclusion“

    When ethnic discrimination actually occurs, we must combat it with all our might. I express my sorrow about complaints like these – thrown in the air – that increase hatred among Israel, and are totally baseless.”

    Signed

    Attorney Mordechai Bass