July 19, 2024
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July 19, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

There Is More Than One Path

Having read Martin Polack’s letter, “Warning for Parents Researching Colleges” (Oct. 24, 2019), we disagree with the assertion that secular college leads to a decline in the level of observance in our children. As Jews we should be very careful of casting aspersions and making generalizations about others who are choosing a different yet equally valid pathway toward education. As King Solomon said in Proverbs (22, 6): “Teach the lad according to his (or her) way (משלי כב: ו חֲנֹך לַנַּעַר עַל פִּי דַרְכּוֹ”)

We spent this past Shabbat at Brandeis University visiting our daughters. What we observed was a community of serious, dedicated, spiritual and rigorously observant young men and women. The tefillah was inspiring, and the community was warm, friendly and inclusive. The Torah learning by both men and women was serious and well attended. The Beit Midrash was full of sefarim that are being used constantly, despite the students’ heavy course load and array of extracurricular activities. Chesed opportunities abound both on and off campus. Rabbinic role models are ever present, and more importantly the students, our children, are learning with and inspiring others who may not have had the Jewish education that they were afforded. Shabbat on these and other campuses are motivational and allow our children to develop leadership skills that will hopefully serve their future communities well. In speaking to many of our friends who have children at other secular colleges, we have found that their experiences mirror those of our children’s at Brandeis.

Unless the young adults who came to shul late were wearing their college sweatshirts, we wouldn’t know how someone could tell which college they attended. We believe that you would find a healthy mix of young adults who were late from any college, including YU and Touro. Students at any institution are influenced by a myriad of factors that determine their level of observance. To blame the secular university and ignore these other factors is facile and convenient, but completely inaccurate, in our opinion.

For many students, a Yeshiva type environment may be ideal, and even necessary, to maintain their level of observance, but for others this environment might be stifling and counterproductive. If we were to simply dismiss secular universities, as Polack has suggested, we would be depriving some of our best and brightest minds of the resources that these great institutions offer.

Knowing your child and preparing them appropriately for the challenges on college campuses is a responsibility of parents, Jewish educators and community leaders. Being exposed to the “non-Torah ideas” of biblical criticism, atheism and abortion is inevitable. By encountering such values and resisting them, our children become stronger and more committed observant Jews. In fact, we feel that our children, having left the “bubble” of Bergen county, but having their values reinforced by their home, community, yeshiva high school and gap year experiences, are better equipped to enter the secular world with their level of observance intact, if not strengthened.

Talia and Michael Farbowitz
Dena and Mark Levie
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