Monday, May 30, 2016

Why Do Jewish Leaders Keep Ignoring Ultra-Orthodox Education Crisis? 

The New York State Legislature is currently considering two bills, one introduced by Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee in early May , the other by Sen. David Carlucci and Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski in January , to strengthen existing legislation requiring nonpublic schools to meet the state’s minimum education standards. But Jewish leaders and groups who are usually very vocal on issues that directly affect the community’s wellbeing are staying silent, possibly because they fear a backlash from the Haredi groups that oppose the legislation. This inaction threatens the bills’ future, and could, in time, have severe consequences for the community as a whole.

Although the American Jewish community is well known for its educational achievements, philanthropy and investments in communal organizations and services, it has mysteriously allowed a significant portion of its own community to grow up undereducated, without the skills to earn a basic living. Why?

Jewish elites and organizations in the United States have long worried about demographics. Intermarriage, assimilation and low birthrates may do what centuries of anti-Semitism and persecution have not: threaten the community’s survival. As such, leaders repeatedly express concern over how to reverse the tide — how to reach out to those unaffiliated with Jewish institutions and how to inspire strong Jewish identity in a country so full of equality, acceptance and material comfort. And yet, in the meantime, another challenge has gone unnoticed or ignored: the education of what will become the majority of the community in a couple of generations.

The growing assimilation and shrinking numbers of secular American Jewry have been accompanied by the immense growth of the Orthodox population , especially the Hasidim, who have higher birth rates, lower intermarriage rates and little assimilation. Data from the Pew Research Center show that as of 2013, 10% of American Jews identify as Orthodox, including 6% who belong to ultra-Orthodox groups. This population is on a rapidly rising trajectory. The Pew data also show that over a quarter of American Jews under the age of 18 live in Orthodox households . According to a 2011 UJA-Federation of New York study, almost two-fifths of all Jewish children in New York City are Hasidic .
Many youth in this community, especially the Hasidim, are ill prepared for employment and likely to struggle with poverty. The problem is most acute among boys, because they receive less secular education than girls. On average, Hasidic boys receive only 90 minutes of instruction in English and math four days a week, until the age of 13. After 13 they receive no secular education at all, because they focus on Judaic studies for as many as 14 hours a day. As a result, these students can be well educated in religious studies but unprepared to find jobs in the workforce. They often do not even speak proper English because of their lack of exposure to it (Yiddish predominates within the community). While students finish the equivalent of high school, few have gained enough secular knowledge to pass state exams, which they don’t usually take.


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