I live in Bergenfield, or for the sake of generalization, the greater Teaneck area. I understand that most young adults my age who live in this community do not think twice about choosing to learn in Israel during the year after high school graduation. The decision is often overlooked as a given. Opting in is the norm, and it is one of the most important steps to be taken in the life of a Modern Orthodox Jew. However, when I am personally confronted with the idea of being shipped off to another country to study abroad, I am skeptical. I feel that I should warn you that you will likely find my argument either offensive or compelling. Either way, I believe that you must read it, regardless of your personal reservations.
Most people I know seem to be satisfied with their lifestyle, content with their values and pretty comfortable with their hashkafos. On the surface, this seems like a good thing. Although, it begs the question: If this system is so great, then why do young adults like myself have to abandon it for a year in order to properly develop as a Jew? After all, we are repeatedly informed that learning in Israel after high school is a necessity. Not doing so would be to skip a vital step on the Jewish staircase.
Most people would agree that studying in Israel is a necessity because most people believe that yeshiva/seminary in Israel is supplementary to the Jewish lifestyle provided by the Modern Orthodox system. It does not serve to completely replace the Jewish experience they have seen in previous years. I believe that this idea is false.
For many teenagers, studying in Israel is the make-or-break decision that will determine whether or not they will be keeping Shabbos 10 years after high school. The fact that Modern Orthodox parents are so dependent on their children learning in Israel after high school demonstrates how flawed the system is. If the system was so great, or, at the very least, adequate, what would be the problem of heading straight to college immediately after high school (be it a Jewish college or a secular one)?
I understand that many people will assert that the preceding paragraph is unfounded nonsense. They will admit that yes, Israel does provide something that the Modern Orthodox world does not, but they will also insist that no, this does not prove that the Modern Orthodox system is lacking in substance.
The Modern Orthodox instead believe that they are providing their children with a Jewish experience different from what they are normally accustomed to—one that will influence their decision-making as adults, and one that will allow them to explore ideas in a new environment where they are immersed in a sea of other Jews.
This may be true, but it does not dismiss my prior claims. The Modern Orthodox system is failing its successors because it solely depends on yeshivos and seminaries to straighten out their children before college arrives and the yarmulke comes off. The yeshiva is a last resort, a pleading hope that cries, “Perhaps this will convince him that this is the right way.” So, I ask, why should I submit to this desperate “Plan B” ideology? Maybe I’ll just stay home.
Ezra Epstein is a senior at the Yeshiva University High School for Boys. He can be reached at [email protected].
By Ezra Epstein