Yeshiva Camp and Alcohol Use – A Community Ignoring a Problem and a Rabbi Taking Action

Dear Reader:

We are publishing this Letter to the Editor of Yeshiva World News because we think it is information that needs attention. We do not know if the writer of the letter reads our site, nor was it sent to us by him. He does state that he sent it to several publications that took no interest in his concerns; something we find both reprehensible and endemic of the society in which this problem is being ignored.

This problem cannot go away if it is not actively and openly discussed and addressed. We commend the author’s courage.


The Alcohol-Drinking At Yeshiva Camps Is Out of Control And Being Ignored

Dear YWN readership.

I regret saying this, but my letter was sent to 4 Jewish publications before the summer, and unfortunately, it was ignored. I have since updated it to reflect new information (from as recent as last night), and humbly request it be published for the sake of saving lives.

Parents sending their boys to summer camps in the Catskills may think their boys are safe, but they aren’t.

No, I am not referring to pedophilia. That problem has Boruch Hashem been dealt with by organizations such as Amudim and the Gedolim behind them who devote their lives to helping the victims.

The topic I want to address is alcohol-drinking in camps. But not just any camps. I am referring to the elite “yeshiva / learning” camps. I have decided to leave the names of these camps out and hope that this letter alone will hopefully awaken the masses.

Please don’t start telling me that this is a minor percentage, because it’s not. This is a roaring problem that is largely being ignored and not being taken seriously by the people running these camps. I humbly question why the Roshei Yeshiva of these boys allow them to go to any of these camps as it’s no secret regarding the alcohol consumption at these camps. In fact, I have had many conversations with leading Roshei Yeshiva about this, and they just shrug their shoulders.

Just last night a bunch of these camps joined together to go to a well known amusement park. The day was capped off with a concert and a band with singing and dancing. I don’t think your readership needs to see the footage of the drunk boys staggering all over the place, so I’ll hold that for round two – If immediate action isn’t taken.

What are these camp owners waiting for? Do we need a few boys to die of alcohol poisoning before people boycott these camps? Why is the “zero tolerance for a smartphone” enforced but the drinking epidemic being ignored?

I should add (not that it makes any difference) that I am not referring to drinking beer. I am talking about bottles of hard liquor that the boys have stashed away.

I am demanding that the camps take action before I and others like myself take appropriate action to ensure the problem is dealt with another way. We will make sure your camps are (legally) exposed and blacklisted by every single family in America.

Thank you for publishing my letter, and I am sorry for being so harsh, but the reality demands this.

Have a wonderful and safe summer.

Yeshaya Dovid Braunstein – Lakewood

Yeshiva Students in Ramapo Endangered by Ignorance



It may be difficult to conceptualize the state of the Yeshivas throughout Ramapo and Rockland County. They are being inspected along with other schools, but appear to have the most egregious violations. Many do not have fire-alarms, fire extinguishers and sprinkling systems are unheard of. Many have classrooms littered with trash, and garbage bins littered with everything from food leftovers to papers. In many of the buildings’ rooms there are open electrical fixtures with exposed wiring, simple fixes but also tragedies waiting to happen.

In some of the yeshivas and day-schools the bathrooms are unfit for NYC rats, no less children. Others have doorways blockaded or padlocked, potential escape routes unavailable to students in the event of a fire. There are no lit exit signs in some, dirty food-service areas in others and the list of violations goes on.

In some cases, the violations don’t necessarily mean that these buildings are going to be shuttered for good, only that the they need to be rectified, made safe, made secure and cleaned then reinspected in the future.

One would think that anyone using the words of G-d as his or her source material for daily life would want to see children educated in safe and clean environments, would want not to be putting the lives of the children at risk.

The issue of the obstacles placed to inspection is couched as anti-Semitism, an argument that inspectors are singling out Jewish organizations over others. That may be true. Some of the same buildings requiring inspection were not properly inspected in the first place and are not registered as Yeshivas. Is this a Jewish issue? In our view it has become one by virtue of circumstance. In general the parochial schools being inspected are not creating obstacles to inspection and most have valid CofO’s. Do ultra-Orthodox Jews have a habit of neglecting to acquire a CofO and proper permit? Well… yes. Again by circumstance, they do. Should they be provided an exemption by virtue of a specific covenant with G-d. Nope. Children’s lives are at risk and that needs to change.

We propose that if it were anti-Semitism in its purest form guiding the decisions to demand inspections, the anti-Semites in question would not be making significant effort to keep these children safe, they would be hoping for tragedy instead. This is about safety.

For the true anti-Semite, the bodies of Jewish children in body bags may be appealing. For those responsible for inspecting the Yeshivas in question, such a result is unacceptable. This is not anti-Semitism at work.

Perhaps it is time for the Yeshiva Machers to insist upon inspections rather than create encumbrances to them.   The word of G-d demands it.

ed day

The Law Be Damned – State Ordered Fire Safety Inspections Of Private Schools Are Being Met By Resistance.

Inspectors have been denied entry to several locations. The claim is that the inspectors are not interested in safety but are carrying out a political agenda having ulterior motives associated with County Executive Day.

Day insists that the law will be equally applied to all with special treatment to none.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that the ghettoization of Ramapo has now become confrontational to both State and County authority.…/rockland-exec-yeshiva-inspection…

The Murder of Chaim Weiss -Hoping to Help Solve

Chaim Weiss

The murder of Chaim Weiss – is there a child sexual abuse angle?

by: Eric Aiken, May 25, 2016

Last week I was contacted by Detective Captain John Azzata from the Nassau County homicide department regarding the murder of Chaim Weiss. Chaim was a 15 year-old student at the Torah High School on Long Beach, Long Island. He was brutally bludgeoned to death as he slept in his dorm room bed on Friday night, November 1, 1986.

The murder has never been solved. No one was willing to furnish the police with any useful leads. In a yeshiva with 140 students that ate, studied, prayed and socialized together, not one person admitted to seeing anything, hearing anything or knowing anything about Chaim’s murder or murderer.

When police entered Chaim’s room, his body had been moved, a yahrzeit candle had been lit (on Shabbos) and the window to his room had been opened on a frigid November night. (Opening a window is in accordance with the Orthodox custom for the deceased.)

The case was so profoundly disturbing that it was featured on Unsolved Mysteries and written about by the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Daily News and numerous other publications.

The Weiss family is still devastated by Chaim’s murder. They still grieve and mourn his loss. They still contact Detective Captain John Azzata every week asking if anyone has shared with him any information.

What happened to Chaim is every parent’s worst nightmare. What makes it even more painful for the Weiss family is knowing that someone has information that could identify Chaim’s murderer and no one will share that with the police.

The Torah commands us “Do not stand by while your neighbor’s blood is shed” (Lev. 19:16). It is way past time to end the unimaginable suffering of the Weiss family and Chaim’s aging parents. If you have any information at all about Chaim’s murder, now is the time to call the police.

Perhaps you know someone who was a student or teacher at Torah High School. Maybe you know someone who knows someone who was. Please share this post with as many people as possible.

Any tips can be shared completely anonymously by calling 800-244-TIPS. There is a $25,000 reward available.

You can also contact Detective Captain John Azzata at 516-573-7788.

If you don’t want to contact the police directly, you can contact me at

Eric Aiken is the owner of


see also:

Nassau County, NY – Police Now Believe Faculty Member Or Student Responsible For 1986 Murder Of Yeshiva Student

Nassau County, NY  – It’s been nearly three decades since 15-year-old yeshiva student Chaim Weiss was bludgeoned to death with a “hatchet-like weapon” in his Yeshiva of Long Beach dormitory on Long Island.

Law enforcement authorities reopened the cold case three years ago and interviewed 100 former students, but still came up empty as to who was responsible for the heinous and cold blooded murder that took place on Halloween night 29 years ago.

“It’s one that has really stuck with me,” retired Detective Robert Edwards told the Daily News ( “He was sleeping in his room, a place that is supposed to be safe.” Edwards said some 140 students were initially interviewed when the crime was first committed, but they all “lawyered up” and claimed they didn’t know what happened. “We got nothing,” Edwards recalled.

Yeshiva administrators went to check on Weiss after he did not attend Sabbath morning prayers on November 1, 1986, and discovered his body. His skull was crushed from the blunt force trauma he had sustained to the head. The murder weapon was never recovered.

Weiss’ Staten Island-based parents are still distraught by the loss of their son and are hoping for answers. His father, Anton, visits Chaim’s grave every year before the anniversary of his murder. He also routinely meets with the Nassau County police captain who is assigned to the case.

Police have said there were several strange things about the way the body was discovered. His body had been moved to the floor, a window had been opened in the room, and a memorial candle was placed in the room – all rituals in accordance with Jewish tradition. Weiss was one of only two students who didn’t have a roommate, and there was no sign of a struggle or anything missing from the room.

Investigators have ruled out initial suspects, including a mentally ill man, Halloween pranksters, and a janitor. The police now believe the murder was committed by a fellow student or a faculty member.

“How could this happen and nobody hear or say anything? Somebody’s got a secret,” said Nassau County Police Capt. John Azzata.

Azzata said police still plan to interview another 100 former students again, in the hopes that maturity may have changed their minds about speaking up. “People are aware of what transpired back then and you’d hope with maturity they’d come forward now,” Azzata said. “That hasn’t happened yet.”

NOVEMBER 01, 2015


Unsolved Mysteries, Chaim Weiss

Richard Joel, Y.U. “I told him to get on with his life”

School: YU President Richard M. Joel



Eric Aiken, May 9, 2016 –

Richard Joel, President of Yeshiva University – 212-960-5300

Yeshiva University is the premier Modern Orthodox rabbinical seminary in the world. Thousands of Y.U. students have become ordained rabbis through Y.U. Many of them lead prominent synagogues and Orthodox institutions.

Unfortunately, some Y.U. rabbis have a very long history of either failing to protect Orthodox children and adults, supporting convicted child sex predators, failing to defrock abusive rabbis and ignoring the pleas of victims for help, as will be shown below.

1) Y.U. was sued by 34 former students alleging that Rabbi George Finkelstein, Rabbi Macy Gordon and Rick Andron sexually abused them over the course of many years. The case was dismissed not due to lack of evidence or witnesses willing to testify, but on statute of limitations grounds.

A report commissioned by Y.U. at a reported cost of $2.5 million confirms that abuse took place in many Y.U. locations, by numerous individuals and over the course of many years.

The summary report states –

The Investigative Team has concluded that multiple incidents of varying types of sexual and physical abuse took place at YUHSB during the relevant time period. This conduct was carried out by a number of individuals in positions of authority at the High Schools at various times throughout the period covered by the Investigation, including, in certain instances, after members of the administration had been made aware of such conduct. In addition, the Investigative Team found that, during the relevant time period, sexual and physical abuse took place at other schools comprising the University as well.”

The Y.U. lawsuit was thrown out due to New York’s disgracefully short statute of limitations (courtesy of the Catholic Church and Agudath Israel).

In Judaism, there is no such thing as a statute of limitations. Criminal acts are never forgiven without the offender begging forgiveness from each and every victim and fully compensating the victims for their lifetime of pain, therapy and the damage that they suffered.

Ironically, the world’s most prominent Modern Orthodox rabbinical seminary uses secular law to skirt the Torah and Jewish values because of a statute of limitations that Torah law does not recognize.

Despite Y.U.’s own damning report –

  • No one was fired over the scandal.
    • Victims, to my knowledge, have not been compensated for the harm they suffered.
    • Y.U. will not publicly identify the molesters.
    • Y.U. will not name the rabbis and officials who covered up the abuse.



norman lammFormer Chancellor Rabbi Norman Lamm has publicly admitted that he allowed Y.U. molesters to be hired by other Jewish institutions and he did not warn them.

Contrast Y.U.’s rabbis’ actions with an entirely secular university that had a similar sex abuse scandal – Penn State. In the Jerry Sandusky case, university officials lost their jobs, Penn State was severely sanctioned and Sandusky went to jail for at least 30 years for the sexual abuse of students that went on for years. Penn State has already paid $60 million in compensation to 26 victims and may pay more.

Instead of hiding behind its lawyers, it’s time that Y.U. displays humility, compassion, leadership and a commitment to adhering to Torah law.

  • Y.U. needs to reach out to each and every victim, apologize, beg their forgiveness and amply compensate them for their lifetime of suffering.
  • In addition, Y.U. needs to publicly identify every person it believes to be a sex offender and warn the communities in which the offender lives and works about him.

2) After Y.U. president Richard Joel made 2 public declarations that Y.U. was safe, Y.U. hired a convicted child sex offender, Akiva Roth, to teach Hebrew.

3) Rabbi Matis Weinberg was alleged to have abused numerous Y.U. students in Israel. Y.U. terminated its study abroad program in 2003 because of Weinberg but does not say what Weinberg is believed to have done to Y.U. students. I personally warned Y.U. rabbis about Weinberg 22 years prior to these events. They knew of abuse allegations against Weinberg for decades and yet Y.U. students were still sent to a yeshiva where Weinberg had access them.

4) Rabbi Marc Gafni was once a Y.U. rabbinical student and he also ran a teen outreach program from a Y.U. office. He has publicly admitted to having sexual relations with Sara Kabakov when she was 13. She alleges that she told several Y.U.-ordained rabbis about Gafni and that they either ignored her or defended Gafni.

Judy Mitzner alleges that she was repeatedly sexually assaulted by Gafni when she was a minor. She claims that she reported the abuse to Y.U. and that nobody did anything to protect her or stop Gafni.

“So, what is wrong here? Why did Yeshiva University (who heard my story at the time directly from me, and stories from others) permit Mordechai Winiarz (aka Marc Gafni) to continue his employ as the director of the then Jewish Public School Youth Movement?”

(From Judy Mitzner’s blog)


5) Rabbi Baruch Lanner is a former Jewish school principal and youth group leader. He is also a convicted child sex offender who was protected for years by Y.U.-ordained rabbis. Even after he served 6 years in jail, he was allegedly welcomed into the home and synagogue of Y.U.’s high school principal, Rabbi Michael Taubes.

6) Evan Zauder is a convicted child sex offender who was a rabbinical student at Y.U. Before his sentencing (he received 13 years), 50 individuals sent letters to the judge requesting leniency for Zauder.

Some of the letters were sent from prominent Y.U. staff including:

Rabbi Ezra Schwartz, Rosh Yeshiva of RIETS;

Rabbi Kenneth Brander, Vice President of university and community life;

Dr. David Pelcovitz, professor of psychology and special assistant to Y.U. president, Richard Joel.


Letters were also sent to the judge by prominent rabbis including:

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, Congregation Bnei Yeshurun of Teaneck, New Jersey;

Rabbi Reuven Taragin, Dean Yeshivat HaKotel (Rabbi Mordechai Elon, Yeshivat Hakotel’s former Rosh Yeshiva, was convicted of child molestation);

Rabbi Baruch Taub, Rabbi Emeritus of Beth Avraham Yosef of Toronto Congregation.

No one sent letters to the judge voicing support for Zauder’s victims or advocating for a jail term commensurate with Zauder’s crime. Nothing tells victims of Orthodox child sex offenders that rabbis don’t give a damn about them like the Evan Zauder case.


7) Rabbi Barry Freundel is a world-renowned, Y.U.-ordained rabbi. He was also my rabbi in Washington, D.C. Freundel is currently serving a 6 1/2 year sentence after being caught secretly video-recording 150 women over the course of several years as they undressed to go into one of the most sacred places in Judaism – the women’s mikva (ritual bath).

I can’t think of one rabbi who has done more to damage and traumatize thousands of Orthodox women around the world than Freundel. There are women who refused to use the mikva (causing tremendous marital strife) after reading about Freundel’s disgusting betrayal of his rabbinic power. Women Freundel converted publicly questioned whether they even wanted to remain Jewish anymore.

Yet Y.U., to my knowledge, has not revoked his ordination. For that matter, I am not aware of any rabbi who has sexually abused women or children who has had their ordination revoked by Y.U.

Even the Catholic Church, as horrible as they have been (and still are) in protecting molesters, defrocks molester priests. In a recent 10-year period, the Catholic Church defrocked 848 molester priests and censured another 2,500. I have never heard of a single rabbi, anywhere, whose ordination was revoked due to him being a sexual predator.


Y.U. President Richard Joel, the $2.8 million man

According to The Jewish Forward, Richard Joel, Yeshiva University’s president, reportedly told a man who complained to him that he was molested at Y.U., “[I] told him to get on with his life…”

Also, according to The Jewish Forward, in 2014 (the year that the Y.U. lawsuit was dismissed on statute of limitations grounds), Richard Joel received a compensation package of $2.8 million. This made him by far the highest paid executive of any Jewish non-profit. His previous year’s salary was $900,000. Also in 2014, Y.U. ran a deficit of $150 million. Nice work if you can get it.


Eric Aiken is an advocate for Orthodox victims of child sexual abuse and the owner of






Yeshiva in Ramapo Shut Down for Repeated Violations


Officials: Yeshiva in Ramapo shut down due to unsafe conditions

“A trash-ridden yeshiva in Ramapo that was shown on FiOS1 News last month has now been shut down by building inspectors.

An orange sign was posted on the doors of this yeshiva Thursday, after a second inspection by Ramapo officials deemed the building unsafe.

Building inspectors took notice of the compound, which was hidden from the main road behind a patch of trees, back in April, when it was being used as a matzo factory. It was damaged, and laden with trash and debris.

After an initial inspection, town officials said clean up or get out.

According to Ramapo fire officials, in a second inspection Tuesday, inspectors decided the conditions were still too unsafe and plastered the shutdown notice on the doors.

This property on 33 Forshay Road has been cited for numerous safety violations in the past, including no building permit, certificate of occupancy, or fire safety equipment, according to The Journal News.

This move comes after New York State recently called on Ramapo to ramp up their enforcement of fire prevention and building codes, and demanded that they provide all documentation of previous inspections and results.”

The UK Ahead of US for Equal Standards of Required Education


Teaching ultra-Orthodox Children Subjects in Preparation of life Outside of their insular religious community, demanded in the UK – far too much to ask in the US

May 5, 2016

Few US states are enforcing laws requiring publicly funded non-public schools to provide their children with a  “substantially similar” education as their public school counterparts. This is a problem within many religious communities, though most profound amongst the ultra-Orthodox Jewish who not only refuse to teach subjects like mathematics and science, but also do not teach their children English. For all intents and purposes, ultra-Orthodox yeshiva educated male children stop learning secular subjects around age 13 and girls little beyond that.

While the US lags behind in cracking down on these schools, and in turn helping the children who are being subjugated to a life of illiteracy, the UK is miles ahead. In a recent article, “Chasidic school loses appeal against ban on new pupils” it was reported that:

The Care Standards tribunal ruled that the Department for Education’s restriction against taking new pupils was “proportionate and necessary” until the school met the required standards for independent schools.
The ruling will have significant implications for the independent Charedi educational sector in the wake of a tougher Ofsted inspection regime that has operated over the past two years.

In the case discussed in the article, the ruling is so far beyond just secular subjects but rather focuses on teaching respect for women, teaching diversity, gay marriage, sexual orientation. In the US, we are still struggling enforcement of laws requiring that ultra-Orthodox Yeshiva students learn math and science.

“Dayan Friedman [of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations] had written that if something was forbidden by the Torah, “we are not allowed to put our minds to it, to understand what is done… nor broaden our knowledge of it.”
But Judge Brayne said that pupils would not be equipped “to enter modern British society, which accepts as part of its diversity civil partnerships, gay marriage, families with same-sex parents and acceptance of transgender persons”.
He also said the school needed to do more than simply acknowledge the existence of other faiths in order to promote “fundamental British values” of respect and tolerance towards other people.
Pupils needed to know that “members of different faiths have different beliefs, customs and values, and something about those matters”.
Although Beis Aharon was rated as satisfactory by Ofsted six years ago, it was judged inadequate by inspectors in 2014 and has received two follow-up visits.
The school, which has introduced the teaching of English to children in years one to four, said that it needed more time to implement other improvements to its secular curriculum.
But Judge Brayne said the tribunal panel felt that “the extent of failure to meet standards is serious and we believe only with the pressure of the sanction will the school’s leaders prioritise the work needed”.
He added that the failures were enough to warrant a “more severe decision” from the department.
Chasidic children had the “same right to an education which meets the standards set for independent schools” as any other child, he commented.”

To read the article in its entirety click here.

The US states should be enforcing laws demanding that publicly funded non public schools require teaching basic subjects like  math, science and English. It would certainly be too much to ask that children be exposed to the realities of sexual orientation, respect for women, and other issues forbidden to be discussed, no less taught.


Knowledge is Power – A Child’s Quest for Literacy

Hasidic Children Fighting Their Way Towards Literacy, Education and a Future, Their Stories…

LostMessiah, April 20, 2016

We have reported many times about the illiteracy and subpar education in the ultra-Orthodox community. We make no bones about our views that limiting a child’s education limits that child’s future. We believe that there are children within the Hasidic communities throughout the world who have G-d given gifts and their limited and highly regulated education will never allow them to achieve their potential. 

We have received highly critical comments regarding the 14-16 hours that male children within these communities spend “studying.” We have been criticized for reporting that as subpar education. We do not debate the point that Hasidic children study. We question the scope of what they are studying. Hasidic children learn the Socratic method of understanding Jewish texts. They learn Yiddish. If they are lucky, they learn rudimentary math and perhaps some social sciences and few words of English. They do not learn Science, Heaven forbid. They do not learn the language of their land, not in the United States, not in England, not in Australia, not in Antwerp nor frankly in Israel (except through the religious texts). They learn Yiddish and scripture.

Then there are the courageous…

The Journal News, April 20, 2016.

Yeshiva students take BOCES path to college

“Mendel Taub perched his pocket radio on a warehouse shelf as he began his 12-hour workday packing handfuls of hard candies into cardboard boxes. The volume was set just loud enough to hear Rush Limbaugh’s latest rant.

“Knowledge…is…power,” Taub, 16, said slowly, repeating the WABC radio tag line.

Though born in New York, he was illiterate in English. Desperate to expand beyond his native Yiddish, Taub secretly turned Limbaugh into a surrogate English teacher. That was five years ago.

What he is doing was (and still is) risky because of where he is doing it.

Taub is from New Square, an all-Hasidic village of 7,500 in Rockland County. The Skverer sect there is one of the most insular religious communities in the country. Its powerful grand rabbi (or rebbe) dictates nearly every aspect of his followers’ lives. The secular world and its conduits — smart phones, televisions, Internet connections — are generally banned.

Taub dropped out of his yeshiva at age 15 without the ability to speak or read English fluently, subtract double digits or name the 50 states. Teachers and rabbis dismissed his questions about the fundamentals of his sect’s beliefs. When he persisted, he was disciplined.

“I realized I wasn’t getting an education, that nothing they taught me would ever come in handy in getting a career or bringing in money for my family,” he said. “I realized that Talmudic law wasn’t really going to help me get a job.”

So he convinced a peddler who mostly trafficked in watches and calculators in the village to sell him a radio.

“It went down like a drug deal, on a street corner, in the shadows,” he said.

If he were caught by religious authorities, he could ruin his chances of getting a desirable match in his sect’s customary arranged marriages or risk becoming ostracized from everyone he knew.

At 16, after months of low-wage manual labor, he gathered the courage to secretly call the public school administration: “I said, ‘Hello … public school … Ramapo…?’”

He believes he reached an East Ramapo school administrator. “I said, ‘I’m a kid from New Square. I want a high school education. Can I come to school? What do I have to do?’ They said, ‘You might be here the next 15 years because your English and math are like a first grader’s. Go to Rockland BOCES when you turn 17. You won’t need your parents’ permission. They’ll do the job,’” he said.

“At that point, all I wanted to do was learn English. I didn’t think I’d be able to master math, science or social studies. I was clueless. I didn’t know anything about anything,” Taub said, sitting in an ambulance where he works part-time for the Ramapo Valley Ambulance Corps.

he next day, he called Albert Moschetti, the BOCES’ adult education director at the time.

“The first time I met Mendel, I put my hand out,” Moschetti recalled. “He didn’t know what to do with it. Hand-shaking wasn’t natural for him.”

On his 17th birthday, Taub enrolled at the Board of Cooperative Educational Service. The pursuit of secular studies was so forbidden in New Square that, when Taub confessed to his older brother, Abraham, that he was about to begin at BOCES, he received a bigger shock than he delivered.

His brother had already earned his high school equivalency diploma there and was studying at Rockland Community College.

“I almost dropped dead,” Taub recalled. “I viewed my brother as a nice Hasidic man who didn’t even speak English. I looked down on him a little. I thought, ‘He doesn’t understand what I understand.’ And then there he goes. I was very proud.

“He swore me to secrecy,” said Taub, now an undergraduate student at Pace University in Pleasantville on full scholarship with his sights set on law school.

Path to success

Taub is among a growing group of ultra-Orthodox Jews whose thirst for secular knowledge has led them to an educational passageway from their deeply religious communities to the wider world: Rockland BOCES, a state-backed education program, and Rockland Community College, a State University of New York school.

In recent years, roughly 40 ultra-Orthodox students (mostly young men) attended BOCES each year, an increase from 10 years ago when there were only a handful, Moschetti said. They come from Hasidic enclaves in Monsey and Spring Valley, in addition to the most insular New Square. Many were educated in East Ramapo’s private religious schools.

What was once utter taboo has become more familiar in some Hasidic communities, if not entirely accepted.

It varies, depending on the community,” said Rabbi Mayer Schiller, a Hasidic Monsey resident and lifelong educator. “The ultra-Orthodox also have a center, a left and a right. Even in the hard-core right, if it’s done out of the limelight with no ill effect on the religion, it may be accepted.”

Pinches Dirnfeld, 30, a doctoral student in mathematics at the University of Utah, was among the first teenagers to sneak out of New Square 10 years ago to begin courses at BOCES. Shulem Deen, 42, who chronicled his own journey in his best-selling memoir “All Who Go Do Not Return,” pursued secular studies shortly after.

“Before I went, nobody did,” said Dirnfeld, who attended RCC and later earned a masters’ degree at Columbia. He has encouraged others to follow his path, including his brother, now an RCC student. “Overall, there are a lot more kids who go nowadays than 10 years ago.”

an Newhem taught English composition and journalism to many former BOCES students at RCC for 17 years. He said that, for vulnerable students seeking to step beyond their tightly knit communities, BOCES and RCC provide “a place and people who can safely and appropriately and with dignity and respect help those people out of situation they feel trapped in.”

As Taub put it, “It was kind of a tunnel to success.”

A spectrum of stringency 

Though he is not observant, Taub has remained in his parents’ home. Former friends stopped talking to him. Most people treat him as an outcast. However, he was ultimately left in peace to pursue his own life

“Mendel is remarkable. He has no bitterness toward anyone,” said Thomas Della Torre, RCC’s associate vice president for academic and community partnerships. “His attitude is: This is what’s best for me and I want others to know it’s available to them.’”

Abraham Taub, who is studying to become an emergency-room doctor, is still very much part of the New Square community, with a wife, three children, his own home and a business selling booths for security guards and parking attendants. His children attend New Square’s yeshiva. He was already married when he began sneaking to classes at BOCES, and later RCC. After winning a SUNY Chancellor’s Award for academic excellence, he became slightly more open about his doings. Mendel Taub said the community begrudgingly tolerated his brother’s pursuits.

“He wasn’t considered an instigator. He didn’t change his appearance or try to ‘corrupt’ anyone,” Taub explained.

Now commuting to NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine on Long Island, Abraham Taub has been a role model for his younger brother.

“He has helped me a lot. At first, I didn’t know what a GPA was, anything about the Greek system or what classes to take. He’s been a great brother,” Taub said.

“It’s becoming more and more acceptable to pursue a college education,” said Naftuli Moster, founder of Yaffed, an advocacy group dedicated to improving secular education in Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox schools. “Several grand rabbis have already told their constituents (just married men) to pursue such training, especially vocational training.”

Monsey resident Chaya Wagschal, an RCC student who grew up loosely affiliated with the Satmar sect of Hasidism still embraces her community’s values and practices. Her pursuit of a college degree is rare among her peers: she has enjoyed support from her parents and community.

“Being Hasidic is very much about being accepting of every fellow Jew, regardless of his or her ideals, level of religious observance, or place in society,” Wagschal said, sitting in an RCC library meeting room. “It is those ideals that I find so charming about the Hasidic culture. Being a part of a Hasidic community is like being part of a big family that looks out for you, and is there to catch you when you fall.”

Educational deficiencies

Yeshivas are non-profit religious institutions dedicated to the study of Jewish texts, particularly the Torah and Talmud. Educational standards vary tremendously among the 100 East Ramapo yeshivas that serve 24,000 students. Some offer advanced secular studies, others none at all.

In some cases, boys don’t learn the alphabet until they are 8 years old. At that point, English and math coursework is squeezed into 90 minutes, a few times a week at the end of the day. Generally, around age 13, boys begin to focus exclusively on religious studies.

“Most men graduating from Hasidic yeshivas are severely disadvantaged due to their illiteracy in basic subjects that are taught in most public and non-public schools,” Yaffed’s Moster said. “This includes being able to speak and write in English, understanding what college is or how it works, being able to prepare for a job interview and to actually qualify for most average-paying jobs outside of the community itself.”

Girls, who do not study the Talmud, receive more well-rounded studies.

Such was the case for Wagshal, who had sufficient English and other studies to skip BOCES and go straight to RCC.”

For the remainder of the article from Lohud click, here.