Monday, February 19, 2007

A 13 Year Old Writes - How Yeshiva Destroyed Me

Note: this was received by email with the following introduction: A 13 year old yeshiva bochor expresses his feelings at being hurt by the system (with a little editing help from his father).  The story is confirmed to be true, and truly written by the 13 year old, with some parental editing, by a young man living in the Northeast US. That's all I know.

I'm a Jewish boy, brought up in a religious Jewish home, attended "black-hat" yeshivas ("ultra-orthodox" Jewish religious schools) my whole life.  You'd assume a boy growing up in such an environment would be religious (though I'm not even sure what that actually means, is it the clothes you wear, white shirt and black hat, the subjects you learn, gemora and halacha?)  Of course, parents would hope so, mine certainly wish so, and most people would think so.

But that's not this story. The story is, how the yeshiva is failing some boys, and specifically, how a Rosh Yeshiva, you know, the head guy who thinks he runs the place, the guy with the beard, black hat, suit, and respect of the community, ruined my Jewish identity, Judaism, and relationship with G-d (whatever that is.)

So, how does a yeshiva go about destroying a boy's developing relationship with G-d?  Well, it's starts with whether or not you perfectly fit in. What's fitting in? First, you have a dress right. Right style of shirt, white or blue or whatever the community standard is, right shade of color pants, navy or black or whatever again. Right style of hat, very important, and of course, suite jacket. And, don't forget, right style of haircut and payos (Jewish sidelocks). The last is particularly interesting, because not only is too little wrong, so is too much (even if that's how the teachers are, it's the boy style that counts.) No difference allowed.

Next it's how you learn. "A successful talmid (student) keeps his face in his sefer, his hand on the page, his finger on his place." That's right, frequent glancing to the left or right is unacceptable. Keep your place, keep the pace, or you will be disciplined.

Since learning, that's with a capital L actually, Learning, is the all important goal, the meaning of life, the universe, and everything, it must be done as much as possible. Breaks must be as short as possible, classes don't have to be interesting, just learning (that's Learning). Two hours, face in the book, hand on the page, finger on the word, two hours. Did I mention two hours without a break. 20 minutes out, then another session.

This works for the good Jewish student. I guess it does. But for some of us, the eyes blur, the rebbe's (that's the teachers title) words become a droning noise, the bladder complains, the interest wanes, oh G-d (?), why am I here? Drone, drone, drone, help, how can I stay awake through this? Who hates me so that they put me here. What did I do wrong?

"Mr. M! Why aren't you on the right word, or the right line, or the right page?" Why? Because your voice could put me into a coma. No, I didn't say that, but I did think it. After a few days of this, I guess they just thought I'm bad, because it was off to discipline…

Off to the discipline chamber. "Mr. M, go see Rabbi S!". Off to the office. The secretaries stare, 'there's another bad one coming in.' "I'm here to see Rabbi S." 'Sit there, he'll get to you.' Great, he'll get to me.  So I sit. And sit. For hours on end, I sit. Literally, 2, 3, 4 hours. Seems they just forgot about you, they got busy with some other stuff. So I sat there, and sat there, and, well, you get the idea. Invisible jail, in front of everybody, the other boys glance as they walk by. After a while, you start to hate everybody around you, the principal, the teachers, the secretaries, everybody.

Every test I passed with a Beis (a B) or better. But that's no good, Learning is good. My finger doesn't stay on the page, I learn through hearing. And I learn fast. But that's not Learning, my finger slips, my attention waivers, "Mr. M…", yeah, I know, go back to invisible jail.  Day after day. Week after week. How would you feel if you were sat in a corner like a pile of dirt, day after day?  You'd feel like a pile of feces (my father edited that last word), left in a corner to rot for days, weeks, months, and years!

Years? Yes, years. This was done to me by a large well known mainstream yeshiva for 3 years, from age 9 to 12. No, I didn't tell my parents that I was 'bad', would you? Nor did the yeshiva. I'm not sure if that's because they didn't even notice me anymore, or where just too stupid to even know what they were doing. By age 13, I couldn't take it anymore, and became a problem worth noticing.

Clearly, yeshivas don't appreciate the intelligent students they have, only the Learners (with a capital L) with steady fingers and focused eyes. In the end, the school system is messed up (my father edited that word too) so badly that you can't stop kids from going off the right path. So lets stop screwing up the kids and start helping them out.

Here are some ideas on how to help the kids from going off the right path. Now I am going to give some ideas, so YOU BETTER PUT THEM TO GOOD USE, and stop your kid from getting screwed up if he's not a steady finger focused eyes kid:

1.     Shorten Classes.

2.     Get principals and teachers who do something for your child, who are looking at each child as unique.

3.     Shorter school hours so kids can have a life outside of school, how does it make sense for a kid to get out of school at 5:00 PM and have 2-3 hours of homework? My father's 10 hour workday is shorter than my sister's school day.

4.     Respect your child for what he or she is. And make sure the yeshiva does too!

5.     Pay them more attention so they know you have the best for them in mind.

As for me, maybe Hashem exists, but I don't see how he could and let these people teach in his name and do this kind of stuff. Now I'm in the 'bad boy's' yeshiva, where if I feel like closing my eyes or my sefer during gemora, they let me (got an 95 on the last test).

And maybe I'll put on tefillin one day next week. My mom likes that, I don't  know why.

And if you've got something to say to me on this, you can email me at

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