Last week, a young Jewish lady I knew from long ago, when she was a child, passed away at the age of twenty-six. She had been ill on and off for the past decade – but for the most part had been healthy until her sudden untimely death.
When I heard the tragic news, for the first time in years I recalled an incident related to me from years ago….
The family was ba’alei t’shuvah, and they were modern Orthodox. Or maybe a little less than modern Orthodox. They moved to Israel five years after my family did. The young girl, who we’ll call Miriam, was nine years old. Her mother wanted her to have a wholesome Jewish education, which she had not been getting in America.
My mother helped to arrange an interview for Miriam at the local Chabad girls’ school. The interview lasted barely a minute. The principal took one good look at the mother, who was wearing a hat with some hair showing and a skirt that didn’t reach all the way down, and also at the little girl who wore a similar skirt, before coolly telling the mother that the school could not accept Miriam.
The mother, absolutely humiliated, took her daughter’s hand and they left right away. My mother, who had accompanied them, pulled herself together and asked the principal, “Why can’t you accept her?”
“We have standards here,” said the principal curtly. “We can’t have girls from non-frum families coming here and having a bad influence on the other girls.”
“She’s nine years old!” said my mother.
“Sorry,” said the principal, not sounding sorry at all. “But we have our policies, and that’s that.”
My parents tried to advocate on Miriam’s behalf, reaching out to influential Lubavitchers to get the school to accept her. But most of the Lubavitchers agreed with the school. “Yeah yeah… they have their standards… nothing you can do about it.”
Well, to make a long story short, the mother ended up putting Miriam in a “mamlachti dati” school. (Basically, a Conservatox kind of Israeli school.)
When Miriam reached high school age, her mother decided to move back to the States. There Miram went to public school, quickly becoming secular. She grew up and married a non-Jewish African-American man. She passed away childless.
With her passing, I wonder if Miriam’s life might have been completely different had she been accepted at the Chabad school. She may very well have turned out a fine young Lubavitch woman, gotten married to a Jew, had children….
Is it right that a Chabad girls’ school should have this kind of policy – to judge a young girl by her family’s frumkeit, and deny her a Lubavitch education?
This does not seem like the way of the Rebbe. The Rebbe loves every Jew. The Rebbe has spoken time and again on the sublime values of chinuch, how every child is precious and deserves a Jewish education.