Sunday, November 23, 2014
Naftuli Moster was a senior at the College of Staten Island when he first heard the word “molecule.” Perplexed, he looked around the classroom. Nobody else seemed confused. Yet again, because of gaps in his early education, Mr. Moster was ignorant of a basic concept that everybody else knew.
“I felt embarrassed and ashamed,” he said. “Every single time I didn’t know something, I thought, ‘I’m too crippled to make it through.’ ”
Mr. Moster had grown up one of 17 children in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish family in Borough Park, Brooklyn, where most Hasidic men marry young and, right after finishing yeshiva, or high school, either immediately enter the work force or dedicate themselves to Talmudic studies. But if Mr. Moster’s educational ambitions were unusual among his peers, his limited grasp of English was not.
There are 250 Jewish private schools in New York City, and though some schools, like Ramaz on the Upper East Side, have intensive secular curriculums, many do not. Nearly one-third of all students in Jewish schools are “English language learners,” according to the city’s Department of Education. Yiddish is the Hasidic community’s first language, and both parents and educators report that many boys’ schools do not teach the A B C’s until children are 7 or 8 years old. Boys in elementary and middle school study religious subjects from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. followed by approximately 90 minutes of English and math. At 13, when boys formally enter yeshiva, most stop receiving any English instruction.
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