Saturday, July 04, 2020

Our Israeli seminary/yeshiva system has rejected a number of students due to what they explain is overcrowding. After 12 or more years in the yeshiva system, my 18-year-old, who wanted to continue learning for an additional year to develop his spirituality, closeness to Hashem, Torah learning and love of Israel, was told that there are no spots available. This is a good kid, who has done all the right things. No behavior issues, great recommendations, and his high school stands behind him completely. The administration and Israel guidance were baffled and said it was inexplicable. 

Who are the students that are being left out because of lack of space? Of course there can be many reasons and I am sure it is a complicated process to determine which students are chosen. According to the Israel guidance departments, the most important part of the acceptance process is the interview. Our 18-year-olds are being chosen for a spiritual program based on how well they can physically represent themselves. Maybe some kids are introverted or shy and may have a hard time coming across with confidence and self-assurance. This may present negatively but surely does not at all depict their character. These, I believe, are the kids that are affected the most. They are the young adults that are left behind and cut off from an opportunity that they deserve.

Some may say at this point, “well, there are other yeshivot,” — and yes, there are. But maybe those schools are full or are not appropriate for our child. Let’s be honest: it isn’t just about spending the year in Israel; the school has to be appropriate for each individual kid. There is much thought that goes into where our kids would thrive, based on their needs and hashkafot, and these are not issues to be taken lightly.

Why is this happening? And more importantly what should we do about it?

I am not in the seminary/yeshiva business. And yes it is a business. Businesses need to keep their customers happy and they need to anticipate growth. But this business is not doing a very good job at anticipating growth. If there is a growing need for more spots in our Israel schools, then isn’t it their responsibility to create those spots? It is also their job to be better at responding to inquiries and requests about making more room. Some do not even return emails.

They may need to be innovative and progressive in their thinking to create the spots, or make changes in the system so no child is left behind. It is time. The system has not changed for at least 35 years (if not more), and Baruch Hashem we have grown exponentially as a vibrant diaspora community.

One idea that has floated around is to adopt a matching system. Each high school senior should rank their top three choices and only match at one school, thereby simplifying the system and ensuring that every student gets at least one spot. This does not solve the problem of insufficient spots but does streamline and create a fair, more inclusive process. It is a start, and something that could be done immediately and seamlessly. If there is a common application system, then there can surely be a common system for acceptance. How can schools that are trying to teach our kids how to aspire to the highest standard of Judaism not use a system that incorporates the most basic standard of middot? Take a lesson from the medical schools in the United States which have been using this system for years to match their new MDs with residency training programs.

I know that the situation will change. It has to. Every kid deserves a chance to experience a year learning in Israel, especially if they are choosing to do so out of their own volition. Empower them, guide them, teach them. Don’t push them away because you are not running your business well. Think about the kids, not the bottom line.

Name withheld on request

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