When you preach a certain set of values, but practice a completely other one, people pay attention and get mad.
A yeshiva education cost about $25-30,000 in after-tax income per kid when we sent our kids to school. Now the cost is probably higher.
What are you getting for the money?
When we sent our kids to school, we really looked to the yeshiva to teach them how to be religious. Both of us worked full-time, not just to afford the yeshiva but also kosher food, summer camp, and the higher cost of living in walking distance to the shul.
In the younger years the education went well. There was a lot of emphasis on the emotionally positive aspects of yiddishkeit. But as the kids got older, the school began to "teach to the test," and Chumash became yet another exercise in anxiety over grades.
We were fortunate to come from a family with solid values. Our grandparents, and our parents, had varying levels of Jewish education and familiarity with halacha. But overall they taught us to be decent people, to show respect to our elders, and to take care of our responsibilities whether they were "fun" or not.
Yet in the wider world, the experience of Jewish community was definitely uneven. The amount of judgment laid on you by so-called religious people, without a single word being expressed, was (to put it mildly) unbelievable. It was to the point where I would walk into shul, sit down one of the seats, and I could feel the eyes on me. I would hear the Rabbi's speeches, most of which I tuned out, but one of them really stuck in my mind. He said that some people who go to shul are not really religious, they just pretend to be, and we should be on guard for these fake Orthodox Jews always, as they could lead us down the wrong spiritual path.
What an idiot!
It reminded me of how we were divided from each other in high school, in yeshiva. The girls who were in the "honors" class "just happened" to come from families that were known to be religious. Everybody else was divided by actual academic rank. It was a class system where religion was defined, not by the quality of your soul -- for such is unknowable to man -- but rather by the uniform, or brand, with which you presented yourself.
We used to visit the family in Boro Park when I was a kid. And they never gave me a hard time. In fact it was kind of fun. I remember when we got to see the "hidden" television that was behind a wooden cabinet, and I thought to myself, this is absolutely crazy, that people have to hide one of the most normal things associated with American life.
It was also weird that we could wear pants at home, but had to wear skirts when we visited them. I think it bothered my sister more than me; I was emotionally distant from it already, but she was more invested. I saw the Brooklynites as one of many possible sects; she identified with Orthodox Judaism, and it bothered her to the core that we should do one thing in one place, and another thing in another.
One time I went to the Williamsburg relatives for Shabbos. I went to shul and could barely see anything through the mechitzah. It wasn't for me, overall; it was a suffocating experience, actually; but the family was very warm. I have consistently found the Chasidish side of the family to be that way. No way could I live in Chasidish-land for any period of time, but there is something in the water that they drink -- they are humane about Judaism, they don't force-feed this cold academic model down people's throats, and it is a pleasure to be around them no matter what name they call themselves (Satmar, Vishnitz, Belz, and yes even Chabad which is in a totally different orbit).
There's no panacea in life.
I am not sure what gives with the suspicious, judgmental, and sometimes even mean and exclusionary attitude that Orthodox people have sometimes. It is a total turnoff. And I see that there are many others who recognize this now also. Including the outreach community, the rabbinate, the schools -- they are getting the picture that you can't be a totally judgmental bunch of jerks and expect people to fork over most of their hard-earned money for the privilege of getting your approval.
Not gonna happen.
May God bring Moshiach speedily in our time, and redeem us from the physical and spiritual exile that is Golus.
Copyright 2017 by Dr. Dannielle (Dossy) Blumenthal. All opinions are Dr. Blumenthal's own. This post is hereby released into the public domain. Creative Commons photo via Pixabay.