by Rabbi Eliezer Sorotzkin
Testing our Own Reading Comprehension
The shock that seized the public and political establishment
in Israel recently was real and genuine. The report on the
international study conducted by UNESCO, which revealed the
low level of education in Israel, seriously upset the entire
society. True, this was not the first time studies were
released on the level of learning and achievement in the
government education system. True, the number of students and
parents who have personally experienced the terrible violence
in the schools is on the rise.
But this time the shock was complete, and reactions were
accordingly dramatic. Perhaps it was due to the disgrace in
comparison to other countries, suddenly discovering that we,
"the People of the Book," are at the bottom of the world
ranking--somewhere between Latvia, Thailand, Indonesia and
Albania. That we Israelis are lagging behind dozens of
Western nations. We always thought we were a light unto the
nations and suddenly we discover we belong to the darker
realms of the earth.
It was interesting to read the politicians' reactions. "This
is a blow to the security of Israel," said Shimon Peres.
"This is more dangerous than all of the threats of terrorism
put together," said Yossi Sarid.
"We are raising a generation of woodcutters and water
carriers," said Yuli Tamir.
"This issue threatens Israeli society more than anything
else," said Matan Vilnai who, to remind readers, until
recently was Minister of Science, Culture and Sport.
Everyone knows how to define the problem and everyone knows
how to diagnose the peril. But it seems they, too, have a
problem with reading comprehension. After all, these
politicians themselves are products of the Israeli education
system and therefore it comes as no surprise that they are
unable to understand what must be taken away from a reading
of the report.
Fifty years have not been enough for them to comprehend that
the empty wagon only becomes more and more empty if it is
constantly loaded only with vanities and nothingness. Ein
umoseinu umoh ela beSoraso. Without Torah and yiras
Shomayim we are like the worst among the nations, chas
vesholom. Yet they were unable to understand and take to
heart when Maran HaRosh Yeshiva zt'l cried out, "What
makes you Jews?" and "What does your culture consist of?"
Neither were our own reactions any less interesting. We felt
a certain sense of gratification and even victory, a gloating
"We told you so." This was somewhat predictable. "See the
difference between us and them," was the line generally
taken. "If only the founders of the Enlightenment who scorned
yoshvei beis hamedrash could rise from their graves
Even had there been a more appropriate and desirable reaction
than this one, this would not be enough. We must be aware of
the task incumbent upon us at this time.
Tze'i loch be'ikvei hatzon ure'i es gediosayich al
mishkenos horo'im. Gedolei Yisroel see a great distance
and they teach us the path to travel. Maranan
verabonon, who set up and guide the way of the Lev
L'Achim organization, told us to work to disseminate Torah,
educate yaldei Yisroel and engage in kiruv
rechokim. They told each and every individual to devote a
portion of his time to learning with miskarevim within
certain frameworks and in consultation with the roshei
Maran HaRav Yosef Sholom Eliashiv shlita and HaRav
Aharon Leib Shteinman shlita were the ones who told us
that now is a propitious time to reach out to each and every
parent in Am Yisroel and to present the alternative that
Torah-based education has to offer. They were the ones who
instructed us to operate a large network of school
registration activists across Eretz Hakodesh and to set up
the registration headquarters now operating in 85 locations
from the northern settlements to Eilat in the south, and they
are partners with us in the day-to-day burden of maintaining
all of these activities.
Maranan verabonon are the ones with real reading
comprehension. They are the ones who tell us that at a time
like this everyone must become a partner in this holy work
and nobody can exempt himself. They are the ones who
instructed us to set up a Torah-based education system for
children drawing closer to Yiddishkeit--hundreds of
nursery school and kindergarten classrooms and the dozens of
schools for children from homes that have yet to merit the
light of Torah and mitzvos. Network schools and magnanimous
individuals rose up to the challenge by making major
commitments to build and sustain a multifaceted system and
this work continues, besiyata deShmaya.
The time is ripe. The publication of the report can only
help. Many secular parents are becoming disillusioned.
Thousands of children from nonobservant homes are already
receiving a Torah-based education. At the Torah-based schools
in Hadera, in Afula, in Ashdod, in Eilat, in Kadimah, in
Kiryat Gat, in Rishon Letzion, in Netanya, in Nahariya, in
Yeruchom, in Ashkelon, in Rechovot.
Just take a look at the hundreds of children from the towns
in Haifa Bay ("HaKerayot") studying at the Torah- based
school in Rechasim. Take a look at the dozens of
mesivta graduates entering the top yeshivos
ketanos when just one year earlier they were enrolled in
government schools. Take a look at the girls in the new high
schools, the girls who attend the various seminaries for the
newly religious. The children at the Torah-based school in
Petach Tikva, Tzfas and other places, kein yirbu.
During the period of the maabarot (transit camps) and
the large waves of immigration half a century ago, the Torah
world launched a war just to spare yaldei Yisroel from
forced secularization and to allow them to continue the kind
of education their parents sought for them.
Today the wheel has turned. Today we are being called upon to
approach secular parents and to bring their children into the
Torah-based education system.
All of us must take part in this effort. Everybody has a role
to play, whether it means volunteering to enroll children
actively or becoming a partner by providing the necessary
financial support. Each and every individual can and must be
a partner. And above all, everybody encounters other people--
in stores, at the bank, at the kupat cholim and
elsewhere. Everybody has a circle of acquaintances and family
members who are parents that have yet to merit the light of
Torah and mitzvos.
You need not be an expert in education and persuasion. You
need not take a lecturers' course in order to turn to them
and suggest they contact us. All you need to do is talk to
them about the disappointment in the government school system
and give them the phone number of the Torah-based education
hotline, 1-800-550-300. They will call and we will do the
rest. We will come to them and take them to see the Torah-
based schools. At the beginning of the coming school year,
when besiyata deShmaya they are receiving a Torah-
based education, all of the zechuyos will be yours.
Let's try to comprehend the writing on the wall and
understand our obligation. We cannot allow ourselves to make
a mistake in reading comprehension by failing to fulfill the
obligation now before us. Kol hamatzil nefesh achas
miYisroel ke'ilu kiyeim olom molei.
Rabbi Eliezer Sorotzkin is director of Lev L'Achim
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