I don’t think anyone would argue that there’s an issue with the Mesivta system, as was recently discussed in the op-ed titled “Your Son Isn’t Our Responsibility, Our Mosad Is.”
But what is the solution – not theoretical perfect world solutions, but solutions for the dozens of boys who have nowhere to go for next school year and are unwanted by many Mesivtas because they will require the teachers and hanhala to work a bit harder.
The suggested idea of a Yeshiva made for boys who want a mainstream system but need more patience to ensure success is a nice thought. But we have bochurim who need immediate placement and can’t wait around, waiting for a new institution to open.
I suggest a different solution, one that deals with what we already have and is not based on a future dream. This solution comes in the form of a perspective shift from the hanhala of each Mesivta. Working from the inside out.
It’s time Mesivtas stop lumping bochrim into a collective group such as “mainstream,” “can sit and learn,” or “need more flexibility.” Instead, they look at bochrim as individuals. We now know better than to assume a bochur who “can sit and learn” means that they are struggle-free. The term “top bochur” reveals nothing of what may really be going on inside.
It’s true, bochrim who have behavior or academic difficulties wear a lot of their struggles on their sleeve – but it would be naive to think these are the only ones struggling.
To clarify, this is not about the roughly 20% of boys who are not mainstream and don’t want mainstream. Their needs are clear and different and some good options exist for them.
I am talking about the other 80%, made up of all the bochurim who we now break into all sorts of categories.
Bochurim who make the cut as “mainstream and can sit and learn” are often struggling too; it can be emotion, depression, OCD behavior, addictive behavior etc. They are failing too, because the system is designed to look at bochurim by their academic and sitting abilities only. That leads to just about everyone falling through the cracks.
It doesn’t take professionals or degrees or fancy initials to help most boys. Rather, it can take one person believing in each of them. Every single bochur (every single human!) needs this. And every Yeshiva can and should provide this.
It’s time we did away with the word mainstream; it’s naive to believe that bochurim are that simple.
The boy who was on top of his class all through Mesivta and now is not frum because his (unnoticed) inner struggle of pressure to keep up was never noticed – is that “mainstream”?
The boy who was applauded for his incredible kavana in davening and learning and is now being treated for OCD and depression – yes, he was also “mainstream.”
Had these bochurim been looked at as individuals rather than being lumped into the good bochurim category, maybe their struggles would have been noticed. Maybe they would have struggled less and been helped earlier? Maybe they would still be frum and in the “system” today?
The solution lies in the hands of hanhala of Mesivtas – not the Mesivtas that weren’t established yet, but the ones that exist.
The perspective shift is within:
Build your Yeshivas with boys who care about yiddishkeit, and focus on their personal growth by ensuring each one has at least one person in the hanhala/talmidim-shluchim hierarchy dedicated to believing in them. Look at applicants and see who they really are, build classes with a healthy balance of different types of students, and then create an atmosphere where they can all thrive. Perhaps it’s called inclusion or plain old Ahavas Yisroel.
Whatever the case, stop looking to fit bochurim into categories – start looking at each one as an individual.
Talmidim-Shluchim can be a great asset to make this happen. The main requirement is to truly care. With hanhala’s careful oversight and minimal training, every Shliach can be assigned a few bochrim that they purposefully create a deeper connection with. A place where every bochur can be open and honest, without judgment, and get support through their struggles.
Every bochur, regardless of weakness or strength, will have who to confide in and a support system. Not every struggle needs professional help; when it’s neglected, that’s usually where it ends up.
And the talmidim-shluchim can work with bochrim individually; a bochur who can’t sit through a lengthy general shiur can learn one on one with a shliach. Bochurim with more energy can channel it to leadership roles in mivtzoim.
Bochurim with emotional struggles won’t have to hide behind their learning out of fear of being discovered and therefore not making the cut in their “top bochur” Mesivta.
Categorizing bochurim by who is, for example, better behaved (i.e. easier for a teacher to teach) is hurting everyone, those who make the cut and those who don’t.
Everyone will agree that there are too many bochrim leaving the Yeshiva system and frum life – we need to take an honest look and answer the question; are they falling through the cracks or are they being pushed out. By our own Yeshivas. By our own system.
It’s easy to understand that a bochur who has challenges in behavior or academics requires more energy than cookie-cutter children.
But do we believe or do we not believe that Hashem created each of our children perfect, exactly how they are supposed to be? There are no glitches in the system; Hashem chose which challenges each child will have. And each one deserves our utmost love and patience. The letter from the father of a dyslexic bochur is heartbreaking; how did we come to this, to be focused on the mosad instead of the survival of a bochur?
Understandably, no Yeshiva can accept everyone. And yes, there’s a need for more Mesivtas. But if a bochur is no longer turned away just because more patience and personal guidance is needed to help learn or sit for longer periods, then we’ve already made huge strides to fix the broken link.
These types of kids aren’t going away; digging our heads in the sand and Mesivtas proclaiming they are for” serious learners, top bochrim” is only making the problem worse for everyone.
We are lucky to know better, so now let’s do better. Saving even one bochur is saving a whole world.
A mother who is hopeful for change