Ben Gamla is an excellent alternative

said Rabbi Goldberg to me, when we met yesterday. It’s an excellent alternative to public school, when all options have been exhausted in trying to keep your children in a Jewish Day School, is actually what he said. He feels very strongly that Ben Gamla is not a substitute for yeshiva for many reasons, all of them good, but that if it has come to that point, whereby even with financial help, you cannot afford to send your children to a Jewish school, that it is certainly a better option than simply putting them in the local public school. This is the first time that I have heard Rabbi Goldberg say this out loud. And I was happy to hear him admit it.

The issue, of course, is that Ben Gamla will keep your children current in Hebrew, and in Israeli culture, and perhaps even Jewish history and Israeli history, but Ben Gamla will not give your children the religious education that they are currently getting at their day school. In order to maintain the same level of Judaic studies, parents must be willing to make a commitment and to stick to it. The commitment will be time and it will be money. In the past, people have approached the Rabbi to help them put together a Judaics program for kids in public school. Each time it has not come together, because the parents were unable to agree on what it was they were looking for. We all know the joke – 2 Jews, 3 shuls/schools etc. But it’s no laughing matter now.

If we are truly at a crossroads of Jewish education in the US, then it is the perfect time to develop a system that works for children who started out at yeshiva, but have moved to Public Schools. Perhaps in the past there have not been enough people. Perhaps those people didn’t consider Judaics to be so important that they needed to work something out. Maybe, at the end of the day, they figured as long as their kids can read Hebrew, they can read from the siddur and chumash. Everything else they’ll learn from what they see around them. But now there are so many people in a situation where their children would be in yeshiva through 12th grade, but for financial problems. Now we have a group of kids who began life in a yeshiva situation, but who, due to circumstances beyond their control, are going to Public School, children at different grade levels, with a really strong background in Jewish learning. Before it gets too late, before those kids have been out of yeshiva for more than a year, let’s get together, agree on a program – base it on the one that is being used currently in the day school most kids are coming from – and find a way to make it happen here, after school, 3 or 4 days a week.

We must not forget the Talmud Torah system of the 1950s and 60s which was a miserable failure. Rabbi Goldberg feels that we need to do due diligence of that system to understand what went wrong, so that we can avoid that happening again.

Parents must also step up and spend that extra time to learn with their kids, to ensure that their lives are still immersed in Torah and Yiddishkeit, even if they are not in it all day at school. It might be something as simple as parents making brachot out loud on food and drink, or always washing for bread, and benching. Maybe learning parasha on Friday nights together as a family. For younger kids, attending Veshinantam Levanecha at BRS in the Winter months and instead of reading a story book, bring a real sefer to learn with your kids from.

If we can do this, and come up with a workable program, I have Rabbi Goldberg’s word that he will back  it. So let’s go, let’s get this party program started, and have it ready to go by the time Ben Gamla Boca opens its doors next year. G-d Willing, it won’t be necessary, because the economy will have turned around, we will all be making enough money to pay our tuition, not only for our children, but on behalf of other children too, and because those people who are currently benefiting from financial assistance who don’t really need it, will have found their conscience, and won’t apply for help.

Shabbat Shalom

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