Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

9 Iyar 5765 - May 18, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Eitz Hadaas: Planting Trees of Knowledge in Every Chareidi Neighborhood

by Y. Epstein

Eitz Hadaas was born along with "HaReches," a.k.a. Jerusalem's Ramat Shlomo neighborhood (Shuafat). "In the middle of the school year in 5756 (1996) the network was started," Director Rabbi Avrohom Maklev recalls. "As they began to move into their new apartments, the residents of HaReches wanted nice kindergartens of a high caliber. Kindergartens that would match the nice apartments in the new neighborhood. And perhaps an opportunity for something new, a network that would put into practice the world-view of gedolei Torah shlita. As such, they turned to the rabbinical committee that brought people into the neighborhood, which in turn referred the matter to maranan verabonon."

To get a complete picture of Eitz Hadaas and its mission we sat down with two of the organization's heads, Rabbi Maklev and Rabbi Segal.

Yated Ne'eman: How did Ramat Shlomo differ from other neighborhoods? After all there were kindergartens beforehand.

Eitz Hadaas: "Until Eitz Hadaas was started, the issue of kindergartens and day-care centers was routine, since there was only one chareidi network. This uniqueness no longer exists and that means starting kindergartens in areas where it is not always worthwhile economically to start them. It means new equipment, attention to every kindergarten and every talmud Torah and it also means healthy competition."

Eitz Hadaas has a wealth of stories. Thousands. "Every child is a story. We see each of them on a personal level and our guiding principle is never to allow the development or success of Eitz Hadaas to come at the expense of even one individual. We make supreme efforts not to turn into the Naamat for chareidim."

When one calls Eitz Hadaas he gets a real person on the line rather than an automated answering system with a melody that may not be pleasing to the listener. "We can be reached by phone any day, at any hour of the day. Our line is direct. When a parent tells us something — a suggestion, request, idea — it works just as if a parent group was applying pressure."

The Direct Line to Eitz Hadaas

Eitz Hadaas operates an open phone line several days a week during certain hours. "When I am in the office on Mondays—an open-phone-line day—there is no chance of leaving the office during the course of the day," says Rabbi Maklev. The same remarks are echoed by Rabbi Segal, who mans the line on Tuesdays.

YN: Do you get that many phone calls?

Eitz Hadaas: "Not at all. A month can go by without a call . . . But the parents know they can call. They receive a parents' letter containing all of the details and this is the real reason we are here."

A Child is Not a Business Matter

Chinuch Atzmai does not handle nursery-school-age children. "Our main point at Eitz Hadaas is that educating children must start at the age of three. Nobody wants to see the nursery schools run the way some talmudei Torah operate today, i.e. one avreich lets in only other avreichim like himself. We are in favor of a combination of very good children with less talented children. If the kindergartens are totally segregated and weaker children are sent to weak kindergartens what we will get is an elite but the rest—they will be stigmatized as weak students even before they begin to realize their potential."

This also gives an excuse for unseemly behavior later by those who feel they were left out. "A child is not a private business belonging to someone," says Rabbi Maklev. "A nursery school network must be in operation in every place it is demanded. If a school is needed, a school there will be, even if the local population is not well-to-do, endowed and/or elitist."

But don't get the wrong idea. Eitz Hadaas kindergartens are uncompromising in terms of professional standards, materials and equipment and the type of family whose children are accepted, which is determined by the rabbonim who advise the network.

YN: When you say, "If a school is needed, a school there will be," what do you mean specifically?

Eitz Hadaas: "A place like Elad, for instance. In Elad, a relatively young chareidi town, not so long ago there were two talmudei Torah trying to provide for the needs of every strata of the local population. Based on the needs and the style of education agreed upon among segments of the public the need arose at least for another talmud Torah. Eitz Hadaas assisted two more chadorim to open in Elad, one of them Sephardic."

YN: What assistance do you provide? To open a cheder or a kindergarten seems like a simple matter.

Eitz Hadaas: "It seems simple until you try. At first we opened the Sephardic cheder in our building. We were together for one year and during the second year they wanted to run their nursery school on their own. We gave them the organizational tools at our disposal and our strong backing to allow them to flourish.

"We are merely clerks. We will do whatever we are instructed to do."

YN: Even if you are asked to close the kindergartens?

Eitz Hadaas: "Yes."

This reply is Eitz Hadaas in a nutshell. Most bureaucracies try to perpetuate themselves, regardless of the original intentions of the founders. But those who are at the helm of Eitz Hadaas are shlichei mitzvah who set out to plant trees of knowledge in every chareidi neighborhood. In every place with a demand for a nursery school, day-care center or talmud Torah that provides a proper education.

Not that closing schools is the goal of Eitz Hadaas, says Rabbi Maklev. But when gedolei Yisroel determine the desired goal should be achieved through another means, Eitz Hadaas withdraws from the institution.

This is what happened in a certain outlying neighborhood. "The people there wanted to open `a girls' kindergarten for the daughters of bnei Torah who were only from a certain group.' Seeing this as an attempt to plant a foreign element of elitist education in our camp, gedolei Yisroel were strongly opposed. In order to carry out the opinion of maranan verabonon Eitz Hadaas relinquished its chazokoh on the building in order to allow private nursery schools to open on condition they were egalitarian in accepting students. And this was in spite of years of toil and investment in developing the educational infrastructure over there, for stiras zekeinim binyon—sometimes building institutions is accomplished by closing."

If a Nursery School is Needed Eitz Hadaas is There

The chareidi public is not homogeneous. This is clear to all of us. "In a certain location there was a kehilloh of a few baalei teshuvoh working inside the town to bring their other Jewish brethren closer to their Father in Heaven," recalls Rabbi Maklev. "Later, when their kehilloh grew, they came to the conclusion they needed a nursery school of their own, specially suited to the character of the kehilloh. And they got their nursery school, but only after the Eitz Hadaas administration approached maranan verabonon for guidance and approval."

There are many groups and subgroups within the chareidi public. In one outlying town, for instance, residents requested a nursery school be opened for children without a television set at home. That was all they demanded. Eitz Hadaas is accommodating and sensitive to the needs of different kehillos. It assists them to build. "We are in contact with the rabbonim of the kehillos and together we try to learn how to promote education. If a nursery school is needed, a nursery school will be started. If a cheder is needed, Eitz Hadaas takes the project upon itself."

YN: Where is Chinuch Atzmai here?

Eitz Hadaas: "Today Chinuch Atzmai does not have nursery schools and chadorim in the framework of exempt institutions (mosdot petur). It never had them. The nursery schools under the Bais Yaakov name have no connection to Chinuch Atzmai, as all the other Bais Yaakov schools do. They are operated by Rabbi Goldknopf of Jerusalem."

And there is also another perspective. "Today there is a need to open up various locations for the chareidi public. Bnei Torah are in need of housing solutions. What do we do? We open a nursery school in a new location. We open a day-care center. Voila! The infrastructure for bnei Torah already exists.

"Often they come to a certain place rather than somewhere else because they inquired and found that there is a nursery school. This is of great importance to the public. In Beit Shemesh, for example, there is a very large American kehilloh. Before making aliya many Americans verify whether there are educational institutions suitable for their children. They arrive because of the nursery school or day- care center and not the opposite."

YN: Do the Americans constitute a kehilloh of their own?

"They fit in among the other bnei Torah but they have a uniqueness of their own. After all they did organize to form a kehilloh. There is also a nursery school for Americans in Neveh Yaakov and a cheder in Tel Tzion. Those are somewhat remote places and it is not certain that they would have succeeded in opening nursery schools and talmudei Torah through some private network."

Growing With the Town

As the tree, Eitz Hadaas, grows more and more, its shadow stretches further as well. The network's activities do not focus on nursery schools alone. "We accompany the kehillos in their development," says one of the administrators. "Is there already one girl in the new town? Great! We are there, too. We don't wait for the town to grow and develop. We grow together with the town, watching the process from the start."

Take, for example, Kiryat Cheftziba in Modi'in Illit (near Kiryat Sefer), a project initiated by Degel HaTorah's Binyan Sholem. It is scheduled to be occupied in the course of the coming summer months but registration for school next year has already taken place and preparations to open the nursery schools are well underway.

Sometimes it can be hard to recall a certain place's recent past. In Ramat Shlomo, when construction on the chareidi neighborhood began the place was totally desolate, close to the Arabs and likened to an urban desert. Today all that has changed.

The same applies in Ramat Beit Shemesh. Does anybody recall what it was like there until just a few years ago?

"When we arrived in Ramat Beit Shemesh there was nothing," says Rabbi Maklev. "We were not alarmed. We founded a nursery school. We have no doubt that the nursery school was one of the factors that encouraged people to decide to come, and it really gave the kehilloh a push. The day-care center, nursery school and cheder are a part of the place's history."

The development of the nursery schools, day-care centers and talmudei Torah helped advance nursery-school-teacher training at the seminaries. How many nursery-school-teacher- training program graduates had a chance of getting work before Eitz Hadaas was started? Their chances of finding work were next to nothing. A lot of those who got jobs were those with connections.

"It also meant the image of the nursery school teaching program was not particularly high. Today, classes have been opened for nursery-school-teacher training and the whole program has gained. When there is demand the supply comes too."

Eitz Hadaas employs nursery school teachers from the entire spectrum of the chareidi rainbow—Litvaks, Chassidim, and Sephardim. Take note of the following astonishing figures: "In our garden 4,000 trees are planted and deriving nourishment from the living wellsprings of Torah and yir'oh."

YN: Four thousand students! Can that be for real?

Eitz Hadaas: "It certainly is for real. In Jerusalem we have 30 nursery schools and two day-care centers—in Bayit Vegan and Ramat Shlomo. The nursery schools are in every neighborhood, including Ramat Eshkol, Bayit Vegan, Maalot Dafna and Ramot Polin.

"In Beit Shemesh today, there are already 20 nursery schools, talmudei Torah and day-care centers. In Modi'in Illit, 26 nursery school classes have already been opened. And in one town we already have a multipurpose day-care center."

YN: And what is that?

Eitz Hadaas: "A day-care center where children stay from 7:00 am to 7:00 p.m."

YN: Sounds—how shall we put it?—unpleasant. Who wants to spend so little time with their child?

Eitz Hadaas: "Some situations are less than ideal. Not in every home, not at all times and not in every situation are women able to function. When a mother has to stay in bed before giving birth, for example. When, choliloh, the circumstances at home are difficult. There is a range of such situations. And if the child comes home after bathing, clean, sweet-smelling, fed and calm he can get a kiss and go to bed. This is a tremendous relief not only for the parents, but also for the child who is not neglected but cared for with full attention."

YN: How do you know which families are eligible to place their child in such a day-care center?

Eitz Hadaas: "We work within the kehilloh . . . We hear about some families from the social workers. Not all families are in need of a multipurpose day-care center all the time. In many homes the child receives this help for a limited period of time until the situation at home improves."

YN: Do you address the professionalism of the workers at the day-care centers? Do they receive training?

Eitz Hadaas: "This idea has already been discussed. We even spoke with the principal of HaSeminar HaChadash, HaRav Yeshayohu Lieberman, about setting up a program for [training] day-care center caregivers."

"We did speak about it," HaRav Lieberman confirmed, "but for now we have not gone forward. According to what I've been told there is a proposal for the Ministry of Labor to set up this program but I do not have enough details on it at present to provide our staffers information."

YN: And what is your personal opinion of the idea?

HaRav Lieberman: "Anything that can provide parnossoh is a good thing."

Strong Backing

Eitz Hadaas administrators attribute the chain's success to the strong backing the organization provides. "We operate under the guidance of gedolei hador headed by Maran HaRav Eliashiv shlita," they say. "But in addition we are held in high regard by the rabbonim of various neighborhoods and towns. They know we [have an open enrollment policy]. Therefore they open doors for us. We listen and think together with them and are focused, together, on the common good for all of us. And we speak with rabbonim from every segment of the population—with Litvaks, Chassidim and Sephardim."

This dialogue is especially important in the case of small towns like Tel Tzion, where the residents have much in common.

YN: What are your acceptance criteria at nursery schools and talmudei Torah in towns of this sort?

Eitz Hadaas: "We accept children if their parents are willing to accept our conditions."

YN: What are they?

Eitz Hadaas: "Conditions vary from one town to another. In general it is what HaRav Steinman shlita, instructed us to do, in consultation with the local rov. This is how we build a common ground for the chareidi framework. If the local rov supervises the educational institution the situation is good, for a kehilloh rov generally knows the needs of all the members of his congregation and does not take into account just the elite sector. Therefore before we open a nursery school, day-care center or talmud Torah first we go to the rabbonim. They guide us, delineate for us modes of activity and if there is even a small doubt, we go to the rov to ask. Our guidance principle is not to come asking for approval after the fact but simply to come and ask."

YN: And what about the elite segment? Does such a segment exist?

Eitz Hadaas: "Yes, it does exist. We serve it by educating their sons and daughters. The elite segment proudly carries on the ways of its rabbonim, and they are also our students and family members.

"A unique question arose one day in a certain town, and please forgive me for blurring the details for the sake of anonymity. At one of the nursery schools, a set of parents asked to enroll their child. It was a child who was born with an external birth defect and his appearance was repellent— even frightening. There are not many cases like it in the world.

"Other than his birth defect, the child was an excellent student: intelligent, and from a really good family. But it was obvious that the other parents would not agree to put a child like this in their child's class. On the other hand, who wants to be responsible for causing an unfortunate child to remain on the outside?

"Fortunately, the parents of our students are parents who know and take to heart the message the gedolim convey to them. The dilemma we had to solve was not a simple matter, but we have a route to bypass problems. We took the question to HaRav Steinman shlita, and laid the problem out before him. He listened and said, `I can't tell you that you have to admit him, but if you do you will have earned your portion in the World to Come.'

"Two days later the boy came to the nursery school."

YN: How did the boys react?

Eitz Hadaas: "You have to realize the shock in cases like this is not felt by the children. The ones who are shocked and worried what it will do to their child are the parents. In this case, the boy fit in and there are parents who send their sons to play with him in the afternoon. "

YN: Do children with Down's syndrome apply too?

Eitz Hadaas: "Today a certain percentage of Down's syndrome children are included in the nursery schools and day- care centers At one of the day-care centers a plaque was hung by the parents of one such child when he left the center. `To a special director, thank you from a special child,' it read. As long as the presence of a child like this does not harm others and he is able to fit in there is no reason to keep him out.

"We feel as if deciding in cases like these is like making life-and-death decisions. When a request like this comes up, we sit and discuss it from every perspective. We have an admissions committee and every aspect of the question in any request is looked into. I cannot recall a case in which we overturned the committee's decision."

YN: Who are the members of your Admissions Committee?

Eitz Hadaas: The members are rabbonim and public figures from every part of the country working alongside the representatives from the national board, who participate in the Admissions Board and admit children based on the specific guidelines of the educational institution in question and in accordance with the guidance provided by maranan verabonon. When the committee members fail to reach a consensus the shaliach returns to clarify his shlichus.

To Accept or Not to Accept

"`On the day you do not shed a tear over a child you are forced to reject,' HaRav Steinman told us, `shut down the institution.' This kind of remark is unforgettable. This is what guides us and not the prestige of our institution."

The public understands and appreciates the Eitz Hadaas approach. "Bnei Torah are watching us," says Rabbi Segal, "and they realize how we operate and they discern Eitz Hadaas' principles, for we believe that a message that is genuine, gets passed on." And here is an example.

Sometimes certain dilemmas arise. Not whether to accept a child but whether or not to expel him. "A few years ago we had a case of this kind," recounts Rabbi Segal. "We had a child whose father had undergone a difficult trauma in his youth. The father became an orphan during his seudas bar mitzvah, and he never fully recovered from that. Now the grandson was unable to adjust to the nursery school. The other parents objected to admitting the child. `If he's in, we're out,' they told us. It was a two-year-old boy! But 20 parents warned us that they would leave.

"What did we do, you ask? We went to ask HaRav Steinman, who ruled not to expel the child. The boy might be a bit unruly, but he was manageable and he and his problems had to be taken care of in order to put him on track. If he were to be pushed out of the normal framework he would be a lost cause. The stigma would never leave him, even when he was ready to enter yeshiva gedoloh.

"We summoned the parents who had threatened to remove their children from the nursery school, and we spoke to them bluntly. `We sought daas Torah and we were instructed to take care of the child. You can leave. Even if just a single child remains, we will have a teacher for him and the nursery school will be fully operational.'

"None of the parents left. They understood that we were repeating exactly what gedolei Yisroel had told us, and that we intended to carry out their instructions unequivocally. They stayed.

"In general, Eitz Hadaas parents genuinely want to follow the light of gedolei Yisroel and we at the Eitz Hadaas administration act in the name of the parents to illuminate chinuch in their light."


It may seem like opening a nursery school just means setting up a doll corner, a doctor's corner and managing workers, but in reality it is much more. "In public management numerous questions arise. Who to deal with, who to avoid. Sometimes questions arise that call for charging forward or for retreating. We always ask. We would rather retreat with the backing of gedolei Yisroel than charge forward without them. We simply walk a straight line."

To Rabbi Maklev and Rabbi Segal, Eitz Hadaas means chinuch and not politics. Chinuch and sending students in the light of the conveyors of Torah. A network of educational institutions for bnei Torah.


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