Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

23 Tammuz 5763 - July 23, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Testing our Own Reading Comprehension

by Rabbi Eliezer Sorotzkin

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 and see!"

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 kollelim.

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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