To Yeshiva or Not, That is the Question
Special to the Jewish Week
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Eleven years ago, when I got married- all heady from wedding gown fittings, arguments with the photographer and the fact my husband, a very secular Jew, agreed to celebrate our union in a most Orthodox, Jewish way -- the word “yeshiva” would not have been a blip on my radar screen.

If you had asked me whether or not I’d be inclined to send my kids to yeshiva, a haughty cackle would have emanated from deep in my throat: “no, are you crazy?”

When I met my husband, I considered myself a staunchly ex- and anti-yeshiva girl, having fled the confines of my modern Orthodox school's halls after 10 years for the mean streets of public high school.

I still mull over that decision and review the events that precipitated such a bold move.

More often than not, I struggle with a “what if” scenario: what if I had stayed and graduated from yeshiva high school? Would I have maintained ties to the community in which I was born and raised? Would I have married a frum-from-birth guy?

Of course it’s all conjecture and while it’s been more than 20 years since I graduated, I know that ultimately my decision was a necessary one and one that I don’t regret.

While I was raised modern Orthodox and followed every tenet passed down to me by my parents and teachers — I really was that girl who, on Shabbos, would never conceive of flipping on a light switch or eating anything without a strict kashrut certification- as I got older I found it harder to straddle two worlds.

I longed to be a larger part of the secular one, which seduced me with Cyndi Lauper’s “girls just wanna have fun” lyrics playing on a constant loop in my head.

Eavesdropping on the public school girls in my dance class and hearing their chatter about their easy-breezy after-school schedules provided me with a brief glimpse into another existence.

I was tempted: to step inside their worlds, to experience the powerful allure of a McDonald’s Happy Meal.

The flip side of this was that I loved my rabbis- well most of them- and did better in my Hebrew studies than the English ones. But the temptation to dip my toe into the unknown ultimately pushed me over the edge and paved the way for my rebellion and ultimate decision to leave modern Orthodoxy for unknown secular parts yet to be discovered.

Fast forward through so many years and dalliances with forbidden fruit and men, I met and married a Jewish mother’s dream- - a nice Jewish doctor.

Well, almost a Jewish mother's dream; he was a secular Jew with a very steep learning curve when it came to understanding and integrating into my family’s practices.

Phrases like Havdallah, eruvs, shidduchs and oh so many Yiddish terms that were a part of my life's vocabulary held absolutely no meaning to this once-a-year Jew.

I think I may have been the first Jewish woman he dated.

But I assured him, as my father outfitted him with a special tallis and yarmulka, that the only religious part of our union would be our wedding ceremony.

But now, two kids later, I understand the phrase “never say never.”

Both of my kids -- despite my nagging questions about putting them through a double curriculum and oh-so-much studying and rule-obeying and depriving them of that precious after school time -- have been attending yeshiva for the past five years.

Believe me, I never thought I’d be this mom -- thethe one who spends two hours every night studying Chumash, Navi and Dikduk and then tackles math, social studies and science.

And as my husband facetiously laments almost daily, “Wow these kids are really going to need Torah studies to get a good grade on their SATs.”

But I am steadfast in my decision to keep them firmly planted where they are steeped in both religious and secular studies.

Perhaps because I was raised in a yeshiva setting, the guilt over not furnishing them with a Jewish foundation and a sense of identity was too much for me to bear and was what ultimately sealed my decision (and their fate).

Despite my husband and my own misgivings over the intense workload I keep reminding myself of this one very important point: if I want my kids to understand who they are -- the reasons they eat kosher, why women dress modestly, why we don't drive on Shabbos and so many other laws that, to some, seem irrelevant and archaic -- I need to school them on their meaning.

And truly the only way to effectively do that is to provide them with a solid yeshiva education.

I also know that if I want them to live a life in which Judaism plays a role I have to give them a reason and an understanding of why and how to do so.

And I know that if one day they choose to intermarry it won’t be because I never showed them what it means to be Jewish.

Sure, you may be able to accomplish these goals through Hebrew school and weekly synagogue attendance. But at this age — when they are truly forming their personalities and understanding of the world around them — I need their Jewish identity to be sealed. For me, yeshiva is the only means to that end.

Melissa Chapman is a writer living in  New York City with her husband and two children. Visit her personal blog here.

Last Update:

03/03/2011 - 14:13
Jewish Education, Jewish life, parenting, Yeshiva

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I really enjoyed the article. This coming from somebody having been through 3 years of yeshiva and now studying at Hebrew University.
I find it amazing that you're determined that your children don't intermarry. Why is that such a value for you and others like you? The Jewish answer is definitely that every Jew has a spark of Jewishness within them. The same spark that secular Jews gave their lives for when asked to go against religion throughout history. But I didn't mean this to be a mussar shmooze. I wanted to ask why you personally don't want your children to intermarry?

I graduated valedictorian of a very competitive high school, went to one of the top five colleges in the country and graduated from one of the best medical schools in the US. But I didn't learn to think until I went to Yeshiva.
From one non-observant yeshiva hating kid who stayed the course and "hated" every last minute of it and swore I wouldn't do this to my hit the nail on the head...made me smile and tear at the same time, simply because in retrospect, Flatbush in some deranged way gave me a stronger Jewish identity and in turn sending my kids to jewish day school is giving my children a tremendous jewish foundation while straddling both worlds! Well done. Keep up the good work on all fronts.
What a warm and wonderful piece. While I agree with your reasoning for sending your children to Yeshiva, it is important to acknowledge that not everyone has the financial ability to do that and that a Jewish home with strong Jewish foundations can be beneficial as well.
This is a wonderfu;l and much needed perspective on Yeshiva education and the writer really has an eloquent way of expressing herself and her viewpoint.
Thank you for opening your heart and sharing it with us!

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