- I grew up pretty assimilated because of the local Conservative and Reform communities, then became Modern Orthodox, then religious Zionist, then Litvish-charedi, then Sephardi-charedi after I married—which I still am, but with a hefty dose of Breslov at this point.
- My husband was born in Morocco, but grew up dati in Eretz Yisrael and became yeshivish-Litvish-charedi later before returning to his Sephardi customs within the charedi world.
- Our children attend Sephardi schools and yeshivot.
And coming to Israel so young enabled me to pick and choose among the American and Israeli mentalities, i.e. keeping the aspects of each that facilitate spiritual development while flinging out the rest. Needless to say, marrying an Israeli also contributed.
- This means that while I’m not Israeli and never will be, I also no longer fully identify with Anglos.
Being not fully part of any group, while yet being a part of every group, I fit in everywhere and nowhere—which is actually a very pleasant place to be.
It means that I can relate to almost anyone and almost anyone can find some common denominator with which to relate to me. But at the same time, I have the flexibility to grow at my own pace and in the direction Hashem takes us. We can do what’s actually best for our children rather than kowtowing to the pressure of others, including well-meaning family.
I also hear a lot of what people really think because people forget who they are talking to when they talk to me and tend to talk to the part of me with which they identify and forget about the other parts. ;)
And we’ve also faced rejection.
It’s very, very painful to run smack into a closed door for something you can’t do anything about and in many cases, is even something positive that shouldn’t be “fixed.” For example:
- It’s good to be Sephardi. (It’s also good to be Ashkenazi. In general, it’s good to be a Jew, regardless of ethnicity.)
- It’s good to be a baal teshuvah or a convert; either status means that you volunteered for hefty spiritual development, which says something very positive about you.
- And it’s fine that you are an Anglo living as a minority nationality in Eretz Yisrael—again, it means that you ignored the easy way and went straight toward meaning and spiritual development.
And in other situations, don’t children with learning difficulties, or who come from problematic family situations, or who struggle with ADD deserve just as much of and just as a high a quality of Jewish education as anyone else?
Personally, my heart winces every time I hear about another case of rejection—especially when it’s followed by blaming the rejected and nitpicking at or about them. Anyone who faces rejection deserves our empathy and compassion—yet scratching the surface, it’s also clear that too many people overlook the core reasons behind the rejection.
Hashem causes the rejection—and despite how painful it can be, He only does so for your ultimate benefit.
Hashem only does what is for our absolute best. If an institution or community doesn’t want you, then it is not good for you to be there, regardless of what you presumed or what anyone else advised.
At a closer glance, the second reason is more obvious than Hashem’s hidden Kindnesses usually are:
- If a school looks down on Sephardim, then why do you want to send your children there?
- If a community looks down their nose at dedicated baalei teshuvah and geirim, then why do you want to live there?
- If the school couldn't be bothered to make sure your non-Hebrew-speaking child learns the language and feels comfortable or couldn't be bothered to deal with your child's learning disability (or whatever), why do you want to send your children there?
Unfortunately, the chareidi community is the favorite whipping boy for anti-rejection activists. However, personal experience shows that EVERY community can fall prey to rejectionism. At the other end of the spectrum, a secular Leftist (whether Jewish or not) shows more outright prejudice and censorship than any other type I’ve encountered. Many others noted this, too.
And among frum Jews, chareidim are unfortunately not the only culprit in the problem of rejection—again, speaking from personal experience.
When my husband graduated his government-religious high school, he deferred his army service to go to yeshivah. He went to apply at a prestigious religious Zionist yeshivah, but met with rejection because he hadn’t attended a yeshivah for his high school years.
This led him to a charedi Ashkenazi yeshivah, which decided that this Moroccan boy wearing a knit kippah and taupe pants who arrived at their yeshivah instead of enjoying his post-graduation vacation showed the commitment necessary for yeshivah learning. And my husband spent many wonderful years there.
(His religious Zionist relatives still mourn that rejection from the original yeshivah—“If only they would’ve known!” his relatives lament.)
When we first searched for a school for our oldest, we met with rejection. A self-hating Sephardi told us there were no good Sephardi schools in our area. The main Ashkenazi school rejected us saying they were too full, but everyone else got in, so of course we understood the real reason…
I can’t tell you how embarrassing it was as an insecure young mother to sit at the park or walk down the street and have friends say things like, “So, you’re sending to [name of school] next year, right?” And then when I said, “Well...no,” they looked surprised and said, “Really? Why not?” in total innocence because it never occurred to them that we’d be rejected, so they assumed it was our decision.
And then I had to say that the school didn’t want us.
I wouldn’t care now. But back then, it was torture.
(And I held no and hold no resentment against the inquirers because they based their words on their positive impression of us.)
But it taught me a big lesson in sensitivity that I would not have otherwise realized.
We also got rejected from a Sephardi-Litvish school for not being the “right” kind of Sephardi.
Finally, we discovered a relatively new Sephardi school and got accepted. All of our children have learned there and for almost all of them, it has been a very positive experience. For our needs, this school is actually superior to the schools that rejected us.
- Most of the teachers are children or grandchildren of olim who don’t speak Hebrew as a first language. I felt like the teachers dealt with me with extra consideration and understanding because I, like their beloved parents/grandparents, was an immigrant with a different mother-tongue and a different mentality.
- You have descendants of Sephardi gedolei hador sitting side-by-side with the children of baalei teshuvah and gerim.
- Sephardim are a diverse group. In addition to differences in customs between, say, Moroccans and Persians, you also have Breslov and Chabad children in the classroom. The students grow up learning to respect and be friendly with Jews of different legitimate traditions and don’t develop a narrow-minded arrogance about their own group’s customs and gedolim.
- While my children hardly have classmates from English-speaking homes, they do have classmates from French-speaking and Russian-speaking homes. Some of their teachers speak Farsi to each other in the hallway between classes. Other teachers speak Arabic to their parents on their cell phones. Most of the teachers are born-and-bred Israelis, but some hail from Syria, Iran, France, and Argentina. Such exposure reduces the importance of regional and ethnic differences— whittling them down to the level of, say, differing hair color or eye color.
- The teachers are diverse in others ways, too. One year, my child sat in a class taught by the grandson of Rav Tzadka with a huge picture of Rav Tzadka hung on the wall. The next year, he sat in a class taught by a Moroccan who’d learned in Torah Ohr and a huge picture of Rav Sheinberg on the wall. The year after that, he sat in a class taught by a Yemenite baal teshuvah who’d played professional soccer and now was Breslov and taught them Breslov songs and told them Rebbe Nachman’s stories. (He also took them out a lot to the local park for soccer games.) Then at a Chumash party at the end of first grade, the boys acted out a chassidish play based on one of the Baal Shem Tov’s stories. Likewise, my husband and I also respect all gedolei hador equally; ethnicity is not a factor for us.
- Because expectations are different in the Sephardi world, Sephardim feel free to interweave their methods with those of others—basically, doing whatever works. For example, our school adapted some of the methods of the Zilberberg method. They also added a second year of Mechinah before first grade to give late-bloomers a chance to catch up. The boys also learn the taamim (the melodies by which to read Torah). The school provides resource rooms with teachers trained to advance struggling students in reading or Gemara.
Words cannot express how grateful I am for the rejection of those other schools, despite the initial pain, desperation, and humiliation.
But at one point, even this school didn’t work out with one child.
So he was dismissed by mutual consent. Then he went to a worse school and that didn't work out either.
This led to us finding a wonderful yeshivah where he happily stayed until graduation, even though it meant a 3-hour commute each way.
But yes, the whole period of struggle (which lasted around two years), before we found that school, was grueling and increased our compassion and empathy for families going through the same struggle.
Sometimes, rejection is Hashem’s way of saying that you need to move to a different community. I’ve experienced this personally and seen others do so, too.
When discussing the need to move, it’s not done blithely. Moving is a royal pain and a mess for many reasons.
It is also not a pragmatic solution when school is about to start.
It’s Elul/September already and if you can’t find an appropriate school, how are you supposed to completely relocate within the next two weeks?
Of course that’s a logistical nightmare.
But at the same time, I can’t help seeing that relocation can be the best response to rejection. It’s like Hashem uses the rejection to get the person/family to relocate to a much better situation.
Even if you can't do it immediately, you could still just look into it.
For example, I love my community, but it’s not for everyone.
I watched as one family struggled here, unable to fit in. And despite tens of schools from which to choose, they found satisfaction with none. Because I liked this family so much, it was hard to advise them to find another community, but all the signs were clear. (Been there, done that.)
Anyway, they found a wonderful little community with a bus that comes every two hours (and they had no car) with only one school for each gender and guess what? Those two little schools were perfect for their children! So transportation is a pain in the neck, but everything else is great.
And yes, sometimes rejection means that a child lives in a dorm or faces a huge commute. I don’t know why, but that’s how it is sometimes.
And what about the people who finagled their way into schools or communities, either by tremendous acts of protexia or misrepresentation (i.e. lying or hiding the fact that you are Sephardi or not FFB or whatever) or extreme pressure?
It just doesn’t work.
Well, maybe sometimes it does, but I don’t personally know of any.
There is a big price to pay for ramming yourself in to where you are not wanted (and where maybe Hashem doesn’t want you to be for your own good).
What's the price?
- People face tremendous pressure to be like their coveted group.
- Sometimes, children face rejection or bullying within that coveted school by either their classmates or their teachers. (Which means it is NOT a good place and does NOT have an authentic Torah hashkafah, regardless of its shiny reputation.)
In one case, an entire family fell apart after spending years in a system that did not suit them. The parents divorced, one of the parents and some of the children became totally secular while everyone else slid, and some left Eretz Yisrael.
I don’t blame their choice of community and schools for the divorce because there were shalom bayit issues before, but I honestly believe that had they chosen a community and schools that actually suited them, they would all be frum (well, maybe except for one) and living in Eretz Yisrael today.
Also—and I feel silly stating the obvious, but apparently a lot of people get stuck in this idea:
Just because a school or community seems very frum or even speaks Yiddish does NOT mean that they do everything according to authentic Torah hashkafah.
It could mean that, but not necessarily.
I've seen so many people stumble over the Yiddish issue, especially in Eretz Yisrael, with very bad consequences.
Some well-meaning people sink into unwarranted sentimentalism and idealism, leaving their children to pay the price.
So let me repeat: Language does NOT reflect or affect middot or hashkafah.
HOW you use that language reflects and affects middot or hashkafah.
But the language itself does not.
So please, do not try to force your children into a school ONLY because it's in Yiddish.
(No, I'm not bashing Yiddish schools. I'm bashing superficial standards. More on this in a future post.)
There is a lot of confusion today and you find Erev Rav/personality disordered leaders in every group—no exceptions. Also, good Jews have picked up bad habits along this interminable Galut.
Every community has its good points and bad points; no one is spared.
I wouldn’t say one group is better than another; I’d only say that one group suits your needs more than another.
Finally, your needs can change. What was good for you at one point may no longer benefit you. For example, I’m glad I started out as Modern Orthodox. I could not have handled even watered-down charedi when I was seventeen and yanked between the corrupt Leftist world of mind control vs. the soul-cleansing world of Torah and Eretz Yisrael.
Also, it gave me insight into the Modern Orthodox world I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I’m also grateful that Hashem didn’t leave me there in that world. It was a good stepping stone to get to where I am now. Not everyone needs it, but I did.
It’s Not Me, It’s My Spouse
Deciding on the most suitable community and school can create huge tension in a marriage, depending on the positions of each spouse and the firmness of each one’s position.
Maybe you’re ready to look outside the box and go according to your family’s actual needs, but your spouse is still living in a state of hyper-idealism.
The best way to handle this situation varies from couple to couple, but copious prayer and discussions with Hashem certainly help.
If you wear tangerine nail polish or va-va-voom shaitels, intend to send your sons to the army, and watch Disney movies, please don’t look down your nose at communities and schools where this is considered inappropriate.
Just live and send your kids learn in a place where such things ARE acceptable.
For Anglo olim, this can be a huge adjustment. Maybe you were considered superfrum back “home,” but Israeli charedim consider you mohderni.
This can also happen within your country of birth when you move from, say, Oregon to Lakewood.
At the outset, it seems odd for people to davka settle in a place that doesn’t suit them. But the truth is, people get very idealistic about Torah life.
Because it doesn’t occur to them that others interpret Torah values differently than they do, it doesn’t occur to them to research communities and schools first.
Or perhaps their spouse insisted on it and they don’t want to say because they don’t want to badmouth their spouse. Or maybe there’s another reason.
Other times, the place and schools suited them when they first arrived, but then things changed, which isn’t their fault, but it does mean they need to reconsider things.
One thing I find amusing (or annoying, depending on my mood), is how the same baalei teshuvah who complain of rejection refuse to send their children to a Sephardi institution because, well, it’s Sephardi. They may do the same thing with regard to Chabad institutions. Now, if the local Sephardi or Chabad school isn’t good, then that is a good reason not to send your child there.
But if it IS good and it suits your needs, then why not?
Guess what the rejected BTs say?
- “Oh, it’s just not for us.”
- “They’re different culturally; it just wouldn’t be a good match.”
- “I’m afraid my child wouldn’t fit in. He looks different and has a different last name…”
- “They have different customs and daven in a different nusach.”
- “Oh, I know that Sephardim learn in Ashkenazi institutions, despite different customs and nusachim, but that’s different. It’s okay for them.”
Aren’t those the same reasons why FFB institutions reject baalei teshuvah?
“They’re just different, ya know!”
I once recommended my son’s non-mainstream yeshivah to an Anglo BT friend whose son was struggling. She said, “Oh…hmm…aren’t they mostly Sephardi there? Hm…I don’t think it would be a good fit. No offense, it’s just that it’s too different—I mean, it's fine, but it's just not us.”
But after her son did miserably at another place, she sent him to where my son learned and her Ashkenazi-Anglo son did amazingly well in that Sephardi-Israeli environment, both scholastically and socially.
(I want to say that this Anglo BT friend is an exceptionally fine person. Some Sephardi institutions are indeed blah and that’s what she’d seen and was afraid of.)
I guess I’ll just leave it like this: I can’t tell you how many Ashkenazi Anglo BTs and FFBs look down their nose at Israelis and Sephardim, while considering themselves so open-minded and full of ahavas Yisroel at the same time. It’s certainly not everyone, but it’s just an issue that each person needs to examine on their own.
Looking Good vs Being Good
Also, I see struggling parents, whether BT or FFB, who pound their head against the wall in order to find the “right” yeshivah for their struggling child.
They run around the entire country—or even visit other countries—and twist a hundred arms of protexia and try this or that medication and this or that “expert” and so on.
I don’t claim to know all the reasons for why someone might suffer years like this, but we know that any kind of suffering begs a cheshbon hanefesh on our part. I can’t help seeing that sometimes, parents insist on a specific type of framework for their child, when maybe the child (i.e., Hashem) has something better in mind.
In fact, I’ve seen some well-reputed Ashkenazi charedi institutions catering to boys who don’t manage within mainstream yeshivahs accept one or two students who are really corrupt and icky just because their parents have money and/or connections. And other parents knock themselves out to get their son accepted there because they think it will save their son.
I’m always sympathetic initially, but when it gets extreme, I sometimes think that if these well-intentioned parents pound their head hard enough, they might eventually knock out the undercurrent of sinat chinam and narrow thinking that may be holding them back.
I know of one family who refused to compromise on strictly charedi Ashkenazi options and it’s sad to see 3 boys from one family off the derech. Obviously, I can’t know the details of what happened, but an Ashkenazi-strictly-charedi-or-bust attitude can be a child's undoing. It depends what Hashem wants from you and for your child.
And what Hashem wants may not be what you originally thought He wanted, nor what simple rabbis or rebbetzins told you He wanted.
Narrow-mindedness and sinat chinam sometimes appear under the guise of “high ideals.”
I’m not saying that looking outside the box is always the solution, but it’s worth investigating when other options aren't working.
One of the annoying things about rejection is the blame game.
- Why did you move there?
- Why didn’t you lie?
- Why did you lie?
- Why didn’t you do your research?
- Why did you believe the ads/the hype/that person?
- What on earth were you thinking?
- Well, what did you expect?
For example, maybe you didn’t do your research. Well, guess what? Your impulsive idealism was from Hashem, something your critics fail to acknowledge. No one is perfect and if you hadn’t made that mistake, you would have made another. Your critics aren’t perfect either.
Anyway, part of your job here calls for searching for the message Hashem is telling you. You can look at what you could’ve done and see how to avoid that mistake in the future.
Done properly, this generally leads to discovering a certain middah you need to work on, and not that you should hyper-focus on the actual action.
People who hyper-focus or who encourage you to hyper-focus on a particular action end up missing the point.
For example, self-flagellation about why you didn’t do your research or ranting about how nasty frum people can be both result from hyper-focusing on the externals.
(And both are perfectly natural initial reactions, but if you stay stuck there, then things can get really dysfunctional.)
Also, some things remain incomprehensible and we suffer through excruciating experiences as a kaparah.
And Yes, I Put My Money Where My Mouth Is
Please know that we sent one of our children to an institution run by extremely fine frum people, but it was not our hashkafah or our derech, although there are many aspects of this group that we respect and admire.
Anyway, it was the only place suitable, and that child flourished.
And now that child identifies strongly with that group, entailing us to buy hechsherim and stuff according to that group.
But so what?
Had we been all narrow-minded about it, we would have lost that child—and lost that child in a particularly bad way.
Validation and Emuna
Finally, while I strongly encourage empathy and compassion when hearing of someone’s experience with rejection, I equally encourage people to see Hashem’s Guidance in the whole disappointing disaster and to look for the open window near the closed door.