It's so simple to be wise.  Just think of something stupid to say, and then don't say it.     Sam Levenson (1911-1980)

Monday, November 10, 2008

What We're Used To

What began as a comments on Conversation in Klal's recent Seminary post (read her post first to understand the context of mine) has morphed into its own entity.

My year in seminary, here in Israel, was one of the most meaningful and impacting in my life, both in terms of learning, and being in Israel. During that year, I learned more about Jewish thought and practice than all years prior or thereafter. I spent time with incredible teachers, who opened their homes to us throughout the year. My
hesed (community service) project was working with kids in the hospital, which eventually led me to... a career working with kids in the hospital. I grew up in a nonreligious home and attended public school, so I had quite a lot of catching up to do in terms of Jewish learning, but by age 18 I was mature enough to make up quite a bit of it in only one short but intensive year. (I wanted to stay on for a second year, but that's another story...) My Rabbanit helped prepare me for the year by tutoring me in some pre-catch up catch up, and my parents generously funded a summer in ulpan to help me improve my Hebrew. (Ulpan was an intensive experience in an of itself, but that is yet another story, for another time,. In retrospect, the time and money investment proved invaluable later, when I returned to Israel to stay). Yes, that year was expensive (seminary cost less then, but still). I am thankful that my parents could afford it, and that they chose to support my wishes to attend seminary in Israel. I am fully aware that these days, this type of expense does not fit into many family budgets.

But allow me to look at the economic issue another way (and like Prof K, I'll probably get some flak for this too, and so be it). You might say my parents had more money to spend on one year of seminary because they didn't "waste" money all those years paying outrageously extravagant day school tuition, when there was an excellent public school freely available two blocks away. Back then, my family didn't have a choice -- unlike today, there were no Jewish private school options anywhere near my home town -- but if we're talking about educational luxuries, why stop at seminary? Some (I among them) would argue that Jewish day schools, with their ridiculous high prices, should not automatically be considered a necessity these days, but rather, a luxury. I would guess that the cost of a semi-private tutor for Jewish studies, split among the families even a small group of kids, has got to be significantly less than day school tuition.  

I know most religious Jewish people outside of Israel view Jewish day school as a given, and that no parent in his right mind would dare send his kids to public school. But those of us who didn't have the option as kids, don't necessarily view it as a necessity now, either.  Would religious families who chose to send their kids to local public schools, despite the availability of a local Jewish school, be shunned by the community? My guess is, yes, they would.

I see the irony in the idea that my own kids are growing up in a completely different situation, where public school IS Jewish school and costs under $1000/year (including books). Despite the many advantages, I'm not completely comfortable with the state education system having such a dominant role in the formulation of my children's religious beliefs. But -- you guessed it -- that's another story.

Maybe it all comes down to what we're used to...

Keep the balance,



Lion of Zion said...

"my parents generously funded a summer in ulpan to help me improve my Hebrew."

did you actually use hebrew in your seminary anyway?

Mrs. S. said...

I think that a distinction should be made between:
a) seminaries (and yeshivot!) which basically serve as money-making ventures for their founders and heads and as "finishing schools" for the girls...
b) quality schools - including the one I was B"H privileged to attend many years ago - which have much to teach and offer their students.
I agree that the former may very well be a waste of time and money. The alumni of those institutions often emerge with little knowledge and certainly no connection to Israel.
But the latter can make all the difference in one's life, and I - for one - am so grateful to my parents for having given me that opportunity and experience. (And for the record, I received an excellent yeshiva education before coming to Israel.)

A Living Nadneyda said...

L of Z - Absolutely. Keep in mind: public schools do not teach Hebrew (I studied Latin for four years!). A majority of Jewish texts, from the Chumash and its commentaries, to most Talmudic commentaries, Halacha, philosophy, history and mussar, are written in Hebrew. True, it's not always the same Hebrew as what is spoken today, but it's close enough to have helped tremendously.

In addition, I tried as best I could to interact with Hebrew speakers when outside the seminary, including my volunteer time in the hospital. I did not make great gains in spoken Hebrew that year, but I certainly was able to understand and benefit a lot more from the written texts.

Mrs, S - I'm glad your experience was also positive. I was not aware of the prevalence of the "seminary as finishing school," although during that year in Israel, I was familiar with some seminaries that did their darndest to get the girls married off as soon as possible, and at any price.

One of my closest friends was the victim of a terrible, abusive marriage, and its lingering aftermath, as a result of such a system. I am not putting these places in the same category as the type of seminary I attended (which did not actually refer to itself as a "seminary," perhaps for that very reason).