Thursday, March 23, 2023

The Pollack family recently moved to Redmont Hill. They were a young couple with two children: Maya, who was 7, and Max, who was 4. Michelle Pollack’s new company was renting an apartment for the family, so the first order of business was choosing a school for the kids.

Redmont Hill served as the home for two yeshiva day schools, which were significantly different from one another. The Open Yeshiva (lovingly known as OY) was the “different” option in the area. OY opened its doors eight years before the Pollacks moved in, and did things very differently than what people were used to. Starting in third grade, students were able to move freely from classroom to classroom, choosing to work on a project, research a topic, or simply read. The truth is that the word “classroom” wasn’t really appropriate; they were more like learning areas separated by foot-high walls. Each learning area had a different theme—the beach, the rainforest and a rodeo, among them. Teachers (who were known only by nicknames) were there to help guide students, but not to tell them what to do. The day Maya visited OY, she sat with Ella, who was researching recipes for bubble gum in the snow globe with Mrs. Giggles.

The second school in the area was a more classic yeshiva. V’Ahavta Elementary Yeshiva (VEY) was known as a serious institution. VEY used a structured curriculum, which dictated the skills and information each student must learn, along with the specific materials each teacher should use. While OY was project-central, VEY focused very little on projects, choosing research papers as the most common long-term assignment. The academics were serious both for learning Torah and general studies, and VEY students were often accepted to the best colleges in the country. The day Maya visited VEY she followed Ruth, who took perfect notes, and who had all the presidents of the United States memorized in order.

Maya enjoyed her time at both schools, and her parents felt Maya would do well at both. Of course, a decision needed to be made, and the Pollacks decided on VEY for Maya (and Max would go as well). They figured there was no need to “take the risk” of sending Maya to a “different” type of school, so they decided to go with the classic education offered by VEY. First, Max and Maya had to come in for interviews and hopefully VEY would accept her. (After all, they had no reason not to.) So, VEY invited the Pollacks for an interview. When the day arrived, all four family members hopped in the car and headed over.

The Pollacks had their interviews first thing in the morning, so they pulled up to the school during arrival. They got in line with the other cars, but when they got to the front, they didn’t know exactly where to go. Some cars went left and others went straight. Did it depend on which building they were headed to? At the front of the line stood Rabbi Rosen, who had a very serious look on his face. “Nu?!” shouted Rabbi Rosen, loud enough to be heard through the car windows. “We don’t have all day!” So Steven Pollack just decided to go straight, which happened to be the right way for him.

As they walked into the building, Michelle noticed the school’s slogan. “VEY: Where you go to become your best!” She turned to her husband. “Steven, I know it’s not a big deal, but I don’t love a slogan that describes the school as a place to ‘go.’ It feels less welcoming.” Steven shrugged. “I hear what you are saying, but I would make too big a deal of it.” At that moment, Rabbi Rosen arrived to welcome the Pollacks and to meet Maya and Max. As he walked up to them, a student walked by holding his kippah. “Joseph!” exclaimed Rabbi Rosen, “Do I need to glue that kippah to your head?” “No,” replied the scared-looking boy, as he placed his kippah on his head. After seeing this exchange, Steven and Michelle looked at each other and nodded. “You know what?” said Mrs. Pollack, “I think we’ll try somewhere else.” And with that, they walked out.

A week later, the Pollacks arrive at OY for their interview. As they pulled up to the parking lot, they were met by Rabbi Goller, who had a smile on his face. “Welcome, Max and Maya!” said the head of school, as he handed them cookies. As they walked to the building, Michelle pointed at the sign with the school slogan. “OY: Welcome to the place where you become your best!” The Pollack parents smiled. They knew they made the right choice.

In this week’s parsha, Hashem tells Moshe “bo el Pharaoh—come to Pharaoh.” This word choice contrasts with the “lech el Pharaoh—go to Pharaoh,” that was used for the first plague. This teaches us that Moshe felt more confident and comfortable going to Pharaoh as the makot continued, his success based on feeling like he belonged. Moshe no longer felt like he was leaving someplace (“lech”) to go help. Instead, he was coming to where he belonged, in front of Pharaoh, saving Bnei Yisrael.

Yair Daar is the director of Student Life at Bicultural Hebrew Academy High School. He can be reached at [email protected]

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