Sunday, February 22, 2015
These Brooklyn kids aren’t learning their Oy-B-C’s.
The battle over secular education for ultra-Orthodox Jews has flared in the Hasidic enclave of Williamsburg after a reform group unveiled a massive billboard questioning the quality of a yeshiva education.
Young Advocates for Fair Education’s controversial cartoon on a Flushing Avenue building shows a young boy learning in a yeshiva in 1988, disgustedly saying in Yiddish that “English is profane.”
The next panel shows him as an older man wrestling with a mountain of unpaid bills — presumably because the shoddy schooling he received as a lad prevented him from making enough dough as an adult.
“Oy, what was I thinking?” he kvetches.
At issue is the education that kids receive in some of the city’s 250 Jewish private schools, particularly in ultra-Orthodox enclaves such as Williamsburg and Borough Park, where Yiddish is considered the primary language and English classes end for boys at age 13.
“Most of them provide maybe 1.5 hours of English and math at the end of an already tiring day, taught by nonprofessionals,” said Young Advocates founder Naftuli Moster.
“They are just a mess when it comes to providing a proper education,” added Moster, 28, who is working on a master’s degree in social work and is a former member of the Belz Hasidic sect.
Young Advocates was founded in 2011, but this is the first time it has put a billboard in a neighborhood it is targeting for change. When one went up along the Prospect Expressway near the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in 2013, members of the insular Orthodox community were outraged because it aired the community’s dirty laundry to a wider audience.
“So this has to be done from the inside,” explained Moster, who promised more billboards in Williamsburg soon.
Some passersby were less than impressed.
“It’s disgusting,” seethed one woman. “Our secular education is good enough that if someone wants to, they can go to college, too. This is horrible.”
A man who only gave his surname as Lefkowitz said, “I know that by my family, people are successful without all the education.”
But others cheered the call for change.
“I pay big bucks for their non-education,” griped one member of the Satmar sect who wishes his kids could receive a better secular education. “This is ISIS ignorance.”
But the man, who attended area yeshivas and said he can’t name a president before Ronald Reagan, cannot put his kids in public school.
“I will be shunned by my family if I give them a secular education,” he said. “I am only part of my society. I can’t fight it by myself. I would lose everything.”
The state Education Department requires local public-school districts to certify that private schools are “educationally equivalent” to a public school, a spokeswoman for the agency said.
The city Department of Education said that while the state sets the standards, district superintendents do have the authority to assess yeshivas.
But without a specific issue, “it’s neither reasonable nor appropriate” for superintendents to visit every nonpublic school in their district, a spokesman said.
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