To preface, I’m a 21 year old bochur who is currently in his last stage of the “system.” We all hear the statement that “the Yeshiva System is messed up;” it is echoed daily by people all across Lubavitch: students, parents, teachers, Shluchim, observers, etc.
The Yeshiva system has had a positive effect on countless bochurim, but sadly, a substantial portion – I would even go so far as to say a majority – seem to be walking away with nothing solid to show from their years in Yeshiva, or even worse: an experience that has left them turned off. There are many reasons why I suspect the system is failing, but there is one in particular that I believe is the main reason we have a dysfunctional system.
I recall once seeing a cartoon with a student holding a test which he failed, and the caption reads: “who failed, the student, or the teacher?” In the Yeshiva system today there is a mindset and a goal shared by the Hanhalas of most Yeshivas – to be considered one of the ”top Yeshivas in Lubavitch“. Success in their eyes is having a roster full of mitzuyanim – excellent students, model bochurim who excel in the hallmark Chassidishe traits and are easy to build up, with the end game resulting in the Yeshiva having a top name. Where does this craziness come from, I ask!?
Yeshiva is a Shlichus, and the concept is that you’re supposed to inspire the kid and help him/her change for the better. Imagine a Shliach saying, ”I have no one to work with in this city; 90% of the Jews here are not Lubavitcher Chassidim!“ Everyone would tell the shliach, ”You’re an idiot, your job is to work with your Jewish demographic and get them to increase in their Yidishkeit!“
Yeshiva is very much the same; your goal is to help each student achieve his or her personal potential. True success is not being the Yeshiva with the most Chassidisheh bochurim in Lubavitch, rather, it’s being a Yeshiva that caters to its crowd of students, and brings out in each precious individual their greatest potential.
I went through three Yeshivas in the past; I saw this defective attitude in all three of them, and the negative effects that came along with it. Be it Farbrengens which were mostly addressing struggles relating to bochurim of the ‘50s, outlandish rules, or chucking bochurim out like flies (which the Rebbe discouraged and only allowed in certain cases. Students from the days when the Rebbe was alive said it was very rare that a bochur got kicked out of Yeshiva. These days, every fine upstanding Yeshiva feels a need to make a selection of at least 10-20 bochurim a year to throw out – or not accept back the following year, which does enormous damage to the bochur, and leaves a bad impression to others in yeshiva of the cold businesslike manner in which their supposed role models conduct their yeshiva.)
I understand that the Yeshivas need to set a higher bar, have certain standards, and enforce rules, but they need to be done in a realistic manner, set to the majority of the bochurem they’re dealing with. Yeshivas have to wake up to the reality that the times have drastically changed and the students have changed; running a Yeshiva as if it were yesteryear will continue this rampant problem in the system. I believe that if you creatively adapt your program to fit your students, (obviously within the guidelines,) the students and staff will be much happier, and in the long run the students will have gained far more.
So this Yud Tes Kislev, may I suggest to every Hanhala out there that you have a meeting and discuss if you currently have the correct goals and priorities. Check and see that you are catering to your current crowd – with your shuirim, schedule, farbrengens, creative and healthy outlets, and rules. Take a deep look and evaluate if you are doing the utmost to achieve the greatest success for each individual student, and find additional ways to positively inspire and have greater effect. If every Hanhalah would focus solely on catering to their current crowd of bochurim, I suspect this widespread problem of ”the system” wouldn’t be on the tip of everyone’s tongue.
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