Two Wonders

by Rabbi Yaakov Shapiro

There is no community in the word so advanced in Chesed and social services as the frum community. "Mi K'Amchah Yisroel Goy Echad Ba'Aretz": The Hatzolahs, the Bikur Cholims, the funds for the needy - all of this is unequaled anywhere in the world. And no wonder - "Rachmonim" and "Gomlei Chasodim" - compassion for others and doing kindness - are two of the three attributes that characterize the very essence of a Yid.

Another way Klall Yisroel distinguishes itself from the other nations is education. Chazal tell us that in ancient times there was not a little boy or girl that was not a expert in the most intricate Halachos of Tumah and Taharah. As opposed to most of the Goyim in those days, who could not read. Yehoshua ben Gamla the Kohen Godolinstituted compulsory education for every town where Jewish children are found, and we have fulfilled his directive ever since. Among the nations, compulsory education started in France in the 19th Century. Chesed and Chinuch have been the two mainstays of the Jewish community throughout history, and remain so today.

And so it comes as a Pliah Atzumah - a wonder of wonders - that in a community so replete with Chesed and scholarship in every form and manner, that a sizable chunk of our children are left to fall by the wayside. "Left to fall" because we refuse to provide for them the manner of Chinuch and type of Chesed that they, in the way Hashem made them, so desperately need.

There are many such groups of children among us. They can all be categorized together, however, as "Those For Whom Mainstream Yeshiva Education Is Not The Answer". They include the learning disabled and the Attention-Deficit, as well as children from problem homes and those who simply are not "cut out" to learn all day.

Rav Shach shlita gave us the green light four years ago to create vocational institutions in America, where students would learn one half of the day and work the other half. There is a tremendous need for such an environment, yet it is not to be found. As far as vocational training goes, there is one Yeshiva, in Bradley Beach, New Jersey, that offers vocational instruction together with Limudei Kodesh.

Resource Rooms in Brooklyn are almost nowhere to be found. Students are bussed in daily to places like Yeshiva Darchei Torah in Far Rockaway, where the Resource Room services dozens of students daily, who have no chance of success in a regular Yeshiva.

I receive phone calls regularly from parents of ehrlicher, frum boys who can not "keep up" with a regular Yeshiva curriculum. There is nowhere for them to go. Yeshivas with more liberal admissions standards accommodate a students less advanced in Yiras Shomayim than these boys are, and putting them in such places would be detrimental to their spiritual health. One particular boy I know refuses to go to a Yeshiva with kids who wear leather jackets, sing rock and roll, and "hang out" at night - he feels they will ruin him - yet can not get in to a mainstream Yeshiva because of his inability to keep up academically. He has consulted many Rabbonim, Mechanchim, and lay leaders. There is no Yeshiva for him. As of this writing, he stays home the whole day.

As far as the children with "problem backgrounds" are concerned, we have been getting new calls daily with such cases at Project ReJewvenation, to the point where we are simply overloaded. The parent, principal, or teacher on the phone then asks "Is there anywhere else I can call for such a case?" The answer, unfortunately, is "no."

Although our Gedolim have encouraged such "alternative" systems of education and Kiruv and fully support those that exist, very few institutions have been created. The vast number of mainstream Yeshivos - Kain Yirbu - indicates the enormous quantity of approaches needed to fulfill "chanoch lenar al pi darko". The same need for multiple institutions applies for he non-mainsream population as well.

Their numbers are swelling, those Yiddishe Neshomas that fall through the cracks due to a lack of available services to fill their needs. You can see some of them on 13th Avenue when your own children are sleeping. But most of them remain unseen, unheard, and unnoticed.

And they remain out there, on the streets, long after we go to sleep ourselves, which is the second Pliah Atzumah here - that we can actually sleep while they roam the streets.