Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Poor Daughters of Mine

...after all, I [gasp] work.

Via Wolf, who has a good post on the subject, I read these letters to Rebbetzin Jungreis by two girls whose parents work - and how this has been a dark mark on them from schooling to shidduchim. They're almost too unreal:
In the Bais Yaakov high school I attended, extensive time was devoted to praising the merits of the kollel lifestyle. Numerous hashkafah/machshavah classes were dedicated to this cause. I can say without any exaggerations that not once during my entire high school career did any teacher say that a working lifestyle was also acceptable. In fact, teachers were exceedingly negative toward the possibility of living a life where work and Torah were combined. I always felt that a working lifestyle would best suit me, but early on, I learned that sharing my personal feelings would only place me in the bad graces of my teachers and principals.

Once, my principal accused me of doing some inappropriate things that I would never dream of doing. When I told her that I was raised differently and that my Yiddishkeit meant too much to me to ever participate in the activities she accused me of, she said that she would expect such behavior from me because I was "not a good girl" as I unfortunately "come from a working family." Even more hurtful was when I was told to "not lower myself to my father's level" by marrying a working guy even if he would devote time to Torah. This general theme unfortunately continued throughout seminary and into shidduchim. Once, when my mother spoke to one shadchan about me, he asked her, "What kind of a girl is your daughter that she does not want to marry a learning boy?"
As much as I had heard about these interviews, I was not prepared for the hurt that was inflicted upon me. The person who interviewed me questioned me about my parents' professions and their heavy work schedules, and then went on to make some very unkind, critical remarks which I prefer not to repeat because, a) it's too hurtful and b) it would be disrespectful to my parents. I left the interview shattered and broke down in tears. I later found out that I was not the only one who had been reduced to tears – other girls were equally mistreated and put to shame.
These stories aren't just talking about single instances. The first one is detailing an entire culture, the second the entrance exam to an apparently popular seminary. Between this pressure from one side, and the worry of being considered "subpar" on the other, it is no wonder that so many young men and women feel pressured into a specific lifestyle at the degradation of any other.

The second letter writer also makes a side point that is important:
There can be no justification for the "ona’as devarim - hurtful words" that were hurled at me. This is not the way to interview girls for a year of study in Yerushalayim. I also find it curious that those same people, who are so quick to criticize, have no problem approaching working parents for fund-raising purposes.
When G posted "YoU Are Subpar II...", we received a lot of criticism questioning our decision to publish it. A lot of it was very reasonable; a lot of it was absolutely off the wall. As noted then, one of the reasons it was felt it was important to post was that
I think it is important for people to see the opinions that those who have an influence on their children have. I don't think most people are aware of the type of thinking that is given over in places in EY, and just how pressured it is. ...

A few people have noted that it's one thing for anyone to choose on an individual level how they want to live, who they want to follow. But when it becomes a large group, it becomes a cause for serious concern.
The truth is it is not just in Israel that this happens; it starts earlier on, from hints during elementary school to strong pushes if not outright statements during high school, as noted by the first letter writer. It is important that parents be more aware of the education that their children are getting, and the messages they're being taught - and it is important that people who are giving money know where that money is going, and what messages it is being used for. If donors knew that the school they were giving money to would then turn around and criticize their lifestyle, they might be a little more hesitant in how they give out their tzedaka.

Over Shavuos, Pobody's Nerfect and I attended a community panel discussion on The High Cost of Jewish Education. The discussion was very good, and one of the suggestions included a central communal fund that would then disperse funds to individual schools. While this idea is basically a good one, one drawback that could exist in theory is a lack of direct accountability: When a school does things that are "beyond the pale" to their donors, their donors simply don't support the school anymore. An umbrella fund would allow schools to receive money even if donors would rather not be supporting that specific school. Direct donations allow a much greater give-and-take between parents and donors and the schools they are supporting and sending their children to.

One of the issues that they did not cover in the panel was why there are so many people in need of tuition breaks and the like. While they touched on the legitimate needs of many (single-parent homes, parent who lost a job, etc.), they didn't discuss either the poor management of money by so many due to lack of knowledge or caring, nor the incredible drain the increasingly large kollel world has had on the Orthodox world economically. As this cycle continues - increased shunning of the working world leading to an economic drain that is no longer able to sustain schooling - it is important that the money that is there be given to schools that will help build for the future of the Jewish community, not those that drain our resources.