Israel Education: Picking Your Battles (part 2)

Continued from yesterday…

Har Sadom

Later in the day I received a call from Yisrael’s 5th grade teacher asking why he hadn’t gone on the class trip. From the permission slip that was sent home on paper (we’ve yet to receive the electronic communications we’ve been requesting for 3+ years) we determined that the 5th & 6th grade boys and girls would be going together on this full day (8:30 am – 6:30 pm) trip to Har Sodom where they would see Lot’s pillar of salt wife, and Ayin Bodek Nature Reserve where they’d be hiking a moderate to difficult level trail through water and needed to bring:

  • Comfortable shoes for walking in water
  • Breakfast, lunch & snacks
  • 3 Liters water
  • Hat & change of clothes

We (along with Yisrael) decided that he would not go on this trip for the following reasons:

1) Yisrael suffers from allergies and asthma (usually triggered by plants, trees, and new environments) and has already missed about 3 weeks of school this year due to illness. And I’m not confident that the few (unknown to me) adults on the trip would be equipped to respond correctly and quickly enough if he were to have an asthmatic episode.

Ayin Bodek Nature Reserve

2) Had this trip been scheduled for May or June, a pair of Crocs might have sufficed for the water part of the hike; however, the trails still appear to require at least good pair of hiking quality sneakers. And just to keep this in perspective for those who still (are able to) buy American, in Israel a pair of men’s Nike type sneakers (which is what my 11-year-old wears) cost about 400 shekels (over $100), so the option of him ruining his in water just wasn’t acceptable to us.

3) The trip took place on a day when temperatures that morning were around 15 C (in the low 60s) – and because we couldn’t afford to go out and buy him a new pair of waterproof hiking boots – we thought it irresponsible to send him out where he would get wet and remain that way for an unpredictable period of time. (When and where the boys and girls would have an opportunity to change their clothes was another unknown to us.)

It is completely possible that all these issues would be covered appropriately by the responsible adults, however, since the quality of communication leaves us in the dark – we have never been afforded the opportunity to have any of these plans explained to us, and don’t know any of these unnamed adults, I have some trust issues over sending my precious child out into a potentially dangerous (for him) situation with them.

I expressed my concerns in a Facebook wall post exchange between several other local parents and one veteran (who is a high school teacher and gets to go on these trips) responded:

… they don’t have to have special hiking shoes or anything like that, but good tennis shoes, not all star, crocs or keds. Most hikes are in or around a river. From Sept. until about March, the rivers are still pretty low and the kids can jump from rock to rock and not get their feet wet…

Ayin Bodek Nature Reserve

Believe me, my son doesn’t possess that level of coordination, he was going to get wet! And then she suggests:

Source sandals are fine for this or just an old pair of tennis shoes that you don’t care get wet or ruined will also be okay…

First of all, Source hiking sandals in my son’s size cost between 300 & 400 shekels. Then there’s the challenge that at his age and growth rate, there is no such thing as an old pair of shoes of any kind that still fit him. Plus the fact that it’s too cold to be walking around in sandals this time of year! His classmates later reported that the “water was freezing!” She goes on to explain:

… these trips are designed to teach group skills and love of the land so that the kids will want to defend it later in the Army! … They don’t let parents go because it defeats the purpose of the trip. It is supposed to toughen the kids up and build their self-confidence and their reliance on each other.

Wow. I don’t agree that 9- to 11-year-olds should be toughened up and taught to become independent of their parents and dependent on other kids their age. Pushing children to grow up too fast results in the “I just don’t know what’s wrong with kids these days” statement from the older generations. What’s wrong is that parents allow schools to replace them – some viewing the parenting role as burdensome, some not having the time to devote to their kids because they’re too busy working to buy all the things “needed” to accommodate peer pressure, and others just to make ends meet. This may be the root of the disrespect we witness in our communities and some homes. Children in this age group – in my opinion – should be allowed to be children and enjoy those short years that many adults later long to return to. I don’t believe that it’s healthy or safe for children to be pushed into becoming “independent” of their parents. Most don’t possess the maturity to cope with difficult decisions and situations that they may be thrown into – this is why Hashem gave them parents! I also don’t agree that a public school system has the right to mold our children’s lives beyond teaching academics and an approved religious curriculum. Nor is it appropriate for a democratic state to interfere in or undermine the parent-child relationship, regardless of how socialist that democracy’s roots may be.

Ayin Bodek Nature Reserve

She goes on to admit:

… I was in shock at the difficult level of hiking that was expected out of fairly out-of-shape teenagers.

This is exactly why my asthma sufferer isn’t being sent on these hiking trips. And then on to another challenge facing American olim:

I am never worried about my kids going on a school trip, but a Bnei Akiva trip however is a different story

New olim please beware! Sending children to clubs like Bnei Akiva, Ariel, etc. is a parental decision that should be based on knowledge of the values and goals of those clubs (which may have American branches, but do not always operate in a similar fashion), as well as the background and credentials of the leaders. If you don’t agree, don’t cave in to peer-pressure and send your child just because “everyone else” does. Guess what? Not everyone does. Some of us do encourage our children to participate on a certain level, but don’t allow the full “program”. For example, my son goes to Ariel events but must be home by 8 pm at the latest on a school night – and in time for Havdala on Shabbat. I have friends whose 10-year-old daughters return from these clubs after 9:30 pm on a school night because that’s how the program is run. Well, guess what – that’s tough, I don’t buy into the program and you don’t have to either. If enough parents oppose these 9:30 PM – 1 AM programs, one of two things will happen:

1) The programs will change to accommodate a more responsible schedule.

2) The programs will refuse to change and demand that if we want our children to participate, they must conform. In which case we do have the freedom to form our own clubs! It’s a matter of being willing to put forth the effort for the sake of our kids.

Bnei Akiva 2 am - most finally went home

During my first year in Israel, I lived in an apartment with a mirpeset that overlooked a Bnei Akiva building and bonfire pit. Our sleep was interrupted almost every Shabbat, Motzei Shabbat and Tuesday night (and sometimes other nights) until 1 or 2 AM by what we thought were junior high and high school boys and girls hanging out together unsupervised, blasting music, singing, dancing, burning things (food and whatever noxious trash they could get their hands on) and leaving broken glass scattered around the neighborhood. Learning later that some 8-year-olds in my son’s class were included in that group (some out as late as midnight), was quite unsettling. If this is not what you want for your children then JUST SAY NO!

I don’t like to be the bearer of bad news but in case you haven’t noticed, evil in the physical realm seems to be escalating in our era. I know three men who were molested and/or raped between the ages of 8 and 12. More than 10 years later, they remain traumatized – in their words, their lives were ruined at the hands of respected rabbis and/or classmates and after years of therapy they still haven’t been able to overcome the devastation. Two of the three violent attacks occurred in Hebrew day schools in New York and Ohio (and happened more than once because adults didn’t believe the boy). The third occurred as the boy was on his way home from a Christian school and a group of bullies from his school beat him up and dragged him behind a garage and took turns raping him.

I also know a young woman who was raped at 14 in the youth center of her shul in Ohio by the son of a wealthy family. The young man was scolded, but not allowed to be prosecuted because his family had money and hers didn’t. I’ve known this girl since she was 5 or 6; she was raised in a very modest home and was the most shy and timid among her six siblings. The family was driven out of town in shame as the boy’s family spread lashon hara about her, and the long-time locals were forced by the wealthy family to choose their loyalties (continued funding or righteousness). This family is still suffering from the devastation of that evil act; the family has broken up and all seven children (now young adults) have left the derech because their view of Judaism is now through the lens of the violation and community abandonment of their family.

On Sunday I learned from someone who monitors the police band that around 11 pm Motzei Shabbat the police were trying to catch a kidnapper, who had grabbed a girl in Ma’ale Adumim, before he could enter Azaria (the neighboring Arab village – FYI, Arabs like to take young virgin wives and if they can have a Jew they consider her a big prize because their custom bases a child’s religion on the paternal lineage). Why was this child out on the street that late at night? My guess is she may have been walking home alone from Bnei Akiva. Use common sense and protect your precious children. This is not an isolated Israeli incident; evil is being perpetrated against innocent children worldwide in our own communities by “respected” people (e.g., the horrific murder of Leiby Kletzky).

If your intuition is nagging at you, it’s better to cope with a whining child or upset school teacher than to risk the unthinkable. As parents, God has entrusted us – not the Israeli government, not a classroom teacher and not a madrich/a at a youth club – with the safety and proper chinuch of our children. And therefore, the final decision is ours to make.

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