Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Preparing and Torturing Ourselves

by Reb Akiva @ mystical paths


It’s Rosh Chodesh Elul.  In Jerusalem posters are up announcing trips to Uman for Rosh Hashana for Breslev chassidim and the many who find Rebbe Nachman of Breslev’s Torah a positive impact in their lives.

In Elul the custom is to blow the shofar at shacharis (morning prayers in synagogue), to start to wean us away from the relaxation of summer and to thoughts of teshuva (return to Hashem) with the coming of Rosh Hashana – now only 1 month away.

Chassidus teaches us that the King is in the field…this month Hashem is more open to our tefilot and teshuva, having left the palace (so to say) and all the barriers, gates and protocol that must be fulfilled to get to the King (of kings) and is out and about – approachable directly as He’s nearby (so to speak).

Yet Elul portends another thing for ultra-orthodox Jews.  It’s the yearly ritual of back to school time.  School always starts before Rosh Hashana, and besides getting the little ones ready with supplies, backpacks, uniforms, books, etc, the parents suffer through the annual ritual of tuition flogging (by the tuition committee), embarrassment as their intimate deeds are examined (by the acceptance committee), gehenom (purgatory) as some of the children are not accepted or families can’t meet the tuition demands and don’t start the year as the parents go begging school door to school door and influential rabbis’ door to influential rabbi’s door, and hell as they place some of their children in institutions that are unable to provide them a decent education, that send the children home every day angrier and more troubled, and that aren’t dealing with problematic staff members that may do terrible things to (just a few) children.

For these parents (and I’m having a hard time finding a family that can’t relate their experience with at least one of the things I wrote – if not multiple) Elul is not a season of turning to teshuva (repentance), it’s a season of JUDGEMENT and execution (of that judgment).  These parents never get to the point of fearing the Heavenly Court, they’re busy suffering from the results of the ultra-orthodox human pseudo-court of the schools.

For these parents Rosh Hashana holds no fear.  They are tzaddikim!  Tzaddikim because a system that represents some of the primary goals of Judaism (Torah education) tortures them and their children year after year…and they stay religious, maintain faith in Hashem, and try their best to maintain themselves and their family in a Torah true fashion.  They try to explain to their hurt children that it’s just a few negative or stressed out people, not the system and not (G-d forbid) Torah or Hashem.

These families pay for the privilege of their Torah education 4x (four times over).  First they pay the education fees, living a simpler lifestyle for the sake of their children’s education (a strong positive attribute that has helped Jews throughout generations.  Next they pay “extra” for resources to help their child that’s not quite “working out” in a class with an unskilled teacher and/or in a school that doesn’t know how to handle anything not 100% average.  Then they pay for counseling and outside help to try to offset the emotional damage and educational loss being incurred by their child.  Then they pay as all this pain comes back and impacts the rest of the family and needs to be handled….  They pay if they can.  If not, they just suffer.

Some Jews cry in Av, the month of the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash.  Some Jews cry in Tishrei, the month of our judgments by Hashem.  There is the new year for trees, for kings, for rain…Elul is the New School Year.  And at least 30% of Jewish ultra-orthodox parents cry in Elul, the month of judgment of the children.

Chodesh Tov, welcome to Elul.


  1. Thanks for this post. It helps me remember that I am not alone in this struggle.

    You forgot one more struggle, the teanager who says, "You never do anything for me" as you deplete your bank account for the special school so that they can thrive.

  2. Can you propose some potential solutions?

  3. Sounds a tad like the school system in the Philippines. Yes, it's public school. Yes, the state pays for each child to get an education. However, you must pay for school uniforms, supplies, extra fees the teachers dream up (like testing fees) and even the use of fans come at a cost. The temp around the coastal areas isn't that bad, but the humidity is a killer.

    Bottom line, most kids stay at home slaving with their parents to earn enough for maybe one of the kids to attend school and it's usually a girl, because she'll have a better chance to attend a nursing college or something and then be able to slave overseas as a domestic or a clerk or something in some Muslim country.

    (If she's pretty enough, the family might even land some non-Filipino cash cow from the 1st World as an in-law. Of course, when the reality of such matches typically doesn't pan out like the family had planned and most of these marriages don't have a happy ending.)

    And the lucky kid who does get to attend school usually doesn't learn much in class to prepare them for the "real world," in part, because the family can't afford a good breakfast and since few if any have the extra money to pay for a fan or an A/C for their kids, the whole class just sits there with their empty stomachs churning and their brains baking from the heat and humidity.

    Life is tough all over. Would that HaShem could hook the complainers up with enough money to fix the problem, but I guess He's too busy seeing to it that Warren Buffet and their ilk are sitting pretty, whilst the masses suffer for the sake of righteousness.

    I guess we ought to just be thankful for what we do have, huh? It could be worse! We could be blessed with an insane amount of wealth!


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