Toward Gap-Year Consensus
Tue, 02/14/2012

One of the outcomes of the controversy over Rav Aharon Bina and his Netiv Aryeh yeshiva in Jerusalem is the increased attention focused on the fact that teens who spend a year in Israel are to a large degree on their own, with their parents often in the dark about the policies and intellectual and emotional environment of the institutions where they have sent their children.

No doubt most of the youngsters are in the good hands of respected and reliable educators. Still, we were pleased to learn this week that a conference will take place in Israel next month that brings together for the first time the heads of key year-in-Israel yeshiva and seminary programs and American yeshiva high school principals to discuss “over-arching issues and compelling concerns,” according to a statement from the American planners.

The nine U.S. educators who signed the invitation called the Israel Programs Conference, organized with the help of Yeshiva University and set to take place in Jerusalem March 12-15, a “groundbreaking” event. Until now, the two groups of educators, those here and in Israel, have been, in effect, partners by default.

“As a group, we have never expressed our concerns or collaborated with our peers in Israel about the strengths and weaknesses of the gap year experience,” wrote Eliezer Rubin, principal of the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy Middle School and the Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston, N.J., and point person for the 13 U.S. schools organizing the conference.

He said the hope is “to galvanize yeshiva high school heads in a thoughtful and responsive” coalition because until now, “each yeshiva high school is operating in isolation.”

The effort is to be commended, and comes not a moment too soon. For while all concerned share a common goal of providing young men and women the opportunity to focus for a year on serious Torah study and commitment to a life of mitzvot, the fact is that many parents and students make their choice of schools — so critical to the youngsters’ future — without the kind of serious inquiry they put into college searches.

The gap year has had a powerful and overall positive impact on the Orthodox community of America in the last 35 years, strengthening commitment to Torah study and to Israel among a whole generation of young people. But given the thousands of miles separating parents and children for many months, and the lack of a central authority or standardized accountability procedures among the Israeli programs, it is not surprising that misunderstandings can and do arise over a range of issues, including religious ideology, curriculum, pedagogical styles and discipline.

We wish the conference success and hope it will lead to greater understanding and consensus, and ongoing communication among educators here and in Israel, making the gap year an even more rewarding experience.

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It should be noted that the comment I made earlier on this article was out of line. The issue has been cleared by all parties, and my comment did not help the effort. I apologize for putting anyone in a bad light because of my words.

As a former student of Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School, I am glad to see that this conference is finally taking place, because it will shed light on the great programs that are going on in Israel. Unfortunately, the amazing program that I am currently on, Leadership Yeshiva Academy, was not invited to represent at this conference, and sadly, this will only add to the ignorance that goes on about Yeshivot in Israel. With the exclusion of yeshivot from this conference, high schools in America and eventually parents will not get the full picture of the gap year experience, and they will not be able to make an informed decision.

As one of the members of the steering committee for this program on behalf of men's yeshivot, I can inform you that most if not all of the yeshivot and seminaries in Israel connected to Y.U. are on board. Representatives of many yeshiva high schools in the U.S. will be joining us in March for a a multi-day conference. We plan to announce a list of the participants when everyone has joined. We will keep you posted.

Rabbi Todd Berman
Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi

After several weeks of creating an enormous Chilul Hashem with your soliciting and airing numerous disgusting diatribes from predominantly anonymous contributors who have had nasty things to say about Rav Bina, you now try to take the "high road" with your editorial comment talking about an upcoming conference of educators who will scrutinize the "gap year." This is a poor choice of phrases, as it is really a "growth year" - a year for students to take what they have hopefully learned throughout their many years of studying and develop skills and a proper understanding of Yiddishkeit as a way of life, not just something a subject to study and leave in the classroom. But once again, your bias shows through against Rav Bina and his yeshiva, despite the overwhelming success of a program that does not let students waste the year, and makes students accountable for their actions. You continue to assert that parents who send their children to this yeshiva clearly don't understand what they are doing and don't know to what they are subjecting their children. Fortunately, your agenda will not have much impact on the school, as attested by the overwhelming support for the school and its Rosh Yeshiva, and the many new students vying to be accepted. We wish Rav Bina and his superb staff of Rabbaim continued Hatzlachah.

It should be noted that parents are also to a very large degree in the dark about what their kids are doing right under their noses in the modern orthodox high schools they send them to.

As a recent high school graduate, I was disgusted by most things that I saw in high school. I attended one of the well known and popular modern orthodox high schools, and I was in the honors class. My friends were not the ones getting in trouble. But I would say that more than 75% of the kids in the school were either doing drugs, getting very drunk and/or involved in activities with those of the opposite gender that are clearly forbidden in our religion (and I'm being conservative with my estimation). It would even be in their own homes! Even with a parent not far from home. I witnessed kids smoking things that I didn't recognize during lunch breaks 3 minutes from the school. I know of kids drinking vodka in class (in a poland spring water bottle). Etc. Etc. Etc.

And I know for certain that this is the NORM in almost all of the modern orthodox high schools. I almost felt that there was something wrong with me for being clean from drugs, alcohol and girls.

So before going and checking out what goes on across the ocean, go and check out what goes on in your own homes and schools. Parents are just totally in the dark. It could never be their kids doing these things. They are great parents and great role models and their schools are the best. Time for a reality check -- the problems start in the day schools we are attending. I know that most parents reading this post are going to sweep this under the carpet and say that it can't be true. That's because we only believe what we want to believe. We only believe that Rabbis across the ocean are guilty. We are the best parents and have the best schools.

Maybe we could blame Rav Bina for the problems in the modern orthodox day schools. I'm sure we could find an anonymous poster to say that it is Rav Bina's fault. After all, everything else is his fault -- right?

Can we have some information about the conference? A link? Names of schools? Anything?

As a high school Judaic principal as well as congregational rabbi, I can attest to the fact that gap year yeshivot and seminaries in Israel are more interested nowadays in the Midot or character traits of the applicant than his or her academic capabilities. Parents must apply the same criteria to these schools. Are these schools representative and reflective of proper MIdot inculcation by practice and by reputation?

At one time, students did not go for their year to Israel until they were in their third year of university. Today, with the Israel experience taking place on graduation from high school, students are not as mature as their counterparts of the 1970's who waited till their junior year to go to Israel. Therefore, the schools and the parents have to be more discerning. Not every gap experience is a good or productive one.

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