Attacks on Jews Could Come to Your House of Worship
The war on religion has reached my front door.
My Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn is facing an unprecedented level of hostility. Hate crimes abound. Hasidic Jews have been shot, punched, kicked, violently shoved or nearly crushed. During Covid, politicians banned our community from gathering to pray, celebrate and mourn – even masked and distanced – while allowing and even joining in public protests. And now they are coming for our children.
The latest attack comes from the New York Times. On September 11, the Times published a report on its year-long “investigation” of the crown jewel of our community, our education system. Despite the report’s meager pitfalls on investigative journalism, the charge – clearly stated – was that Hasidic Americans are too corrupt, child-abusing and illiterate to be treated as equal members of society.
The Times fired another salvo on September 16, essentially arguing for giving extraordinary authority to state government and local school boards to “protect” our children from our “failing” schools and better prepare them for the future. . Oh !
I’m afraid they have a very different view of my children’s future than my wife and I.
I am a retired partner of an elite global law firm and had the honor of serving as Deputy Secretary of the United States Department of Treasury. My wife is a health professional. We chose a Hasidic yeshiva education for our children in Brooklyn, even at great family and financial sacrifice—commuting weekly to Washington, D.C., while serving in the Treasury—because we are committed to, and do not wish to disrupt, an education that provides critical texts. analysis applied to a broad and balanced curriculum, imbued with good values and optimism.
When you compare the harmony and hope in yeshiva schools to the public school landscape of drugs, alcohol, depression, suicide, violence, dismal literacy rates and hopelessness, our choice was easy.
gratuitous negativity and inaccuracy
Rather than presenting even one story of success within our system, the Times chose to push a dehumanizing narrative of ethnic stereotyping. His 275 interviews over more than a year have not given a single voice among the tens of thousands of families touched by our yeshivas in profoundly positive ways.
It is relatively simple to dismantle the Times house of cards case against our yeshiva school system. First, he claims that our schools provide poor education. Test scores, graduate success, and parents of about 100,000 students at more than 250 schools say otherwise. Unlike most public schools, where grade inflation is rampant and approximately 25% of graduates are functionally illiterate, our system offers a high rate of academic achievement, with most alumni engaged in lifelong learning. of life.
Then he claims that the yeshiva system is providing this substandard education while cheating New York State out of millions, if not billions of dollars. Waste. Yeshiva parents fund our system with over $1 billion a year in private funds – in addition to the taxes we pay to fund the public school system used by our fellow New Yorkers. In fact, the yeshiva system saves New York taxpayers hundreds of millions each year, receiving far less per student than public school students. Our students receive only a fraction of the more than $30,000 per student spent in New York City public schools and nearly all of that is earmarked for mandatory services or things like public transportation or federally funded meal programs that are available to all students.
Finally, the Times alleges that we are bad parents who insist on an education that traps our children in “a cycle of unemployment and misery.” Nothing could be further from the truth. There are mountains of studies and statistics (ignored by the Times) showing higher income and monetary performance for our students compared to their public school counterparts. More importantly, there is plenty of compelling evidence for longer lifespans and higher contentment and peace in our community.
Our critics focus on poverty rates (rather than actual income) and eligibility for Section 8 housing or Medicaid benefits. But eligibility is often a direct result of Chasidim who typically marry at a young age and have larger families, so families can receive benefits during years when they have young children at home, even when ‘they make over $75,000. “Fixing” their upbringing won’t change the results, because it didn’t cause the problem.
Opt for a varied course
Our children’s yeshiva curriculum is based on the sacred texts of our religion and our people – the Talmud, the Scriptures, the Code of Jewish Law, and the vast scholarly and legal literature of Judaism. The subject matter covered is not exclusively religious and ranges from the esoteric to the mundane, covering a multitude of topics in the humanities and sciences. This is precisely what we parents want for our children.
Success in our school system is high, but not easy. In addition to the intellectual and devotional elements of our program, students must be fluent in many languages. My sons were fluent in English, Hebrew, Yiddish and Aramaic when they finished primary school. Granted, Aramaic might be useless if you’re standing on East 66th Street trying to get directions to the Hamptons, but, for another group of travelers looking for a view of paradise, this is the ticket.
As “People of the Book,” Jews revere a life of learning, study, and debate. What other group has hundreds of thousands of members – ranging from bus drivers and plumbers to doctors, lawyers and billionaires, many of whom rise before dawn for this purpose – dedicated to a study cycle of seven years of the Talmud, then rents out MetLife Stadium to celebrate the study’s completion with a standing crowd nearing 100,000?
The timing of the Times report was no coincidence. It featured prominently in the Sunday edition just two days before the New York Board of Regents voted on its proposed “substantial equivalence” regulations, which represent an unprecedented and dangerous intrusion into our private school system. Hasidic community and so many others.
The state education department, board of trustees, and local school authorities should not be empowered to impose draconian mandates on a school system they do not understand, against the interests of parents who are satisfied the education this system provides and the values it promotes. .
All schools can improve, and as a parent, I always push my children’s schools to excel. But more government control over our children is the last thing our communities need. So here’s a better idea. The regents of New York can sift through the 2,711 folios of the Talmud and the sources our children learn with hermeneutical rigor, and tell us what we are missing. In return, our leading Hasidic educators can offer approaches to produce happier, balanced, focused, and academically successful public school students. The resulting dialogue would be far more productive than the unwarranted attacks on my community this week.
But I won’t hold my breath because this campaign is not about improving education in Hasidic schools. This is to promote a narrative that presents believers as intolerant, ignorant and uncivilized. In the service of this anti-religious narrative, facts will be invented, statistics massaged and enemies of the people conjured from scratch. The Hasidic-American community is the target today, but expect these attacks to happen soon at a church, mosque, synagogue, or meditation retreat near you.
Mitchell A. Silk served as Assistant Secretary for International Markets at the U.S. Department of the Treasury from 2019 to 2021 and is Chairman Emeritus of the Agudath Israel Pro Bono Legal Services Network. He was the first Hasidic Jew to be confirmed by the Senate to a high-level position in the US government and currently has three children in Hasidic yeshivas in Brooklyn, New York.