June 15, 2024
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June 15, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I feel like every year we have to get a kid into a high school. First my daughter, then my son, then my other son… And it’s not like elementary school, where you pick a school and you have a meeting and you’re done, and then when people ask, “Why that school, of all the schools out there?” you get to say, “Well, it’s in the town we live in.”

To get your kid into high school, you have to spend an entire year agonizing about it. You want a school that is not only good for your child, but is also one you can stand behind when other people ask you where you’re sending him for high school, because it’s important that you give them an answer they can stand behind as well, as someone who barely knows your son’s name. Or else they’re going to ask you things that make you question your entire decision and start over.

“OK, we’re starting the search again.”

“Why?”

“I couldn’t explain our choice to Mrs. Klein.”

“Who?”

“My friend from shul.”

“Oh. Where’s HER son going?”

“Great idea! I’m going to ask her that.”

And it’s getting late. It’s not like a hotel, where if you book with them at the last minute, they have a couple of slots they’re willing to give away, as long as you’re willing to have someone sleep on the floor. You have to sign up for a bunch of yeshivas right off the bat, because otherwise by the time the one you chose says no, it’s too late to apply to another yeshiva without looking like the type of family that does everything last minute.

You don’t even get a basic sense of how your child did on the farher, because the menahel takes your kid into a room without you, and then the kid comes out and says, “I think I did OK.” He has no idea, because he gave whatever answers he thought were right, and the menahel didn’t correct him on anything—he just nodded and made a mental note. Your son has never before been to a farher where he wasn’t corrected a single time! And now he thinks those answers are right, and he takes those answers to his next farher.

So I feel like we’ve spent two years now going to open houses every weekend. Last year, we went to basically every open house we heard about, because we were keeping our eyes open for yeshivas for two very different kids so we wouldn’t have to do it again this year. And this year, we have to go to all of the same open houses, because what if something changed since last year? Also, we can’t just hand in the application form we picked up that has last year’s dates on it. Speaking of looking like a family that procrastinates.

Here’s how the open houses work: First you show up, and they give you a stack of paper to flip through during the speeches, I guess. You have to, because some of the speeches will assume you already read the whole stack. Parents will try to make conversation with you before the speeches begin, but you have to say, “I can’t, I have homework to do here.” You never know who’s watching.

The good news is that there will be a brochure in this stack with pictures of various scenes from the typical yeshiva day. There will be several of bochurim learning, a picture of them arguing with a rabbi, and one with guys playing basketball. It’s never another outdoor sport. It’s never tackle football in the snow in the parking lot. And then, depending on the caliber of the yeshiva, there might be one picture of secular studies, to show that they take that seriously. If there’s no picture of secular studies, then either the yeshiva doesn’t take it seriously, or the photographer doesn’t. Or he just couldn’t show up in the afternoon, because he had a wedding.

If there is a secular-studies picture, it will show a bunch of kids joking around with their least Jewish-looking teacher. Definitely someone with a moustache. That way the parents know it’s definitely secular studies. They’re not going to show the rabbi that teaches math, because everyone’s going to think it’s just a picture of students doing math homework during shiur.

And if the yeshiva is really serious about secular studies, there will be a lab picture featuring at least two students in goggles. No one wears goggles for limudei kodesh. Unless they’re doing a hands-on sugya about tumah. Either way, goggles = good yeshiva.

Some brochures also show a picture of the bochurim in the dining room, but I have no idea what that proves.

And then they include pictures that say a thousand words that the yeshiva doesn’t feel like saying in writing, such as, “Everyone wears a white shirt here,” or “There are tables and shtenders!” or “At some of the mesibos, there’s dancing.”

The brochure has words, too—about the sterling, dedicated staff equipping students at this critical stage of pivotal development with tools and special emphasis, while being well-rounded in conceptualization since its inception to meet the challenges of remaining above the general reading level of an eighth grader so that the administration can converse with the parents above his head, because all of this is frankly none of his business. The grown-ups are talking. Look, there’s ping pong!

The paperwork includes an application too, of course, which asks, for example, what mesechta your child is currently learning, so the menahel can learn it quickly before the farher.


Mordechai Schmutter is a freelance writer and a humor columnist for Hamodia and other magazines. He has also published seven books and does stand-up comedy. You can contact him at [email protected].

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