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Op-Ed: The Consequences of Rejection

by D.J. Granovetter

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.

25 Comments

  • 1. it is a tragic story wrote:

    while this is a tragic story and not to place blame on the mom, but she has to be held to her small part of it. maybe if she wanted her daughter in that school, she should have dressed the part at least during the interview. and maybe, expressed, that she was trying to opt for a frumer life for her daughter, while its not always 50/50 sometimes it can be 80/20 or even 95/5 we still have to accept our small part.
    and as obnoxious as it is to say, not to mention that people go by that, presentation, usually plays a major part of how people perceive you. a boy can go daven 3 x a day and a shiur 3 x a week but if he wears jeans people will turn him down for a shidduch on the flip side if a guy wears a white shirt and sits in 770 a whole day (looking like he is learning) but goes clubbing at night. he is more likely to get that yes. its a total shame the way these things go. and I am not agreeing with that principle did, but there also has to be a line and i can’t say i don’t understand what was going through his mind.

  • 2. not understanding wrote:

    Firstly, Chabad in Israel has a lot of community schools where all children are accepted.
    Secondly, if she would have been frum and had children you would have said nebach the poor children has no mother….
    Thirdly, why the jump from chabad to conservative there is a lot of denominations in between.

    Good job putting down the school system under anonymous!

  • 3. Non Crown Heightser wrote:

    I am not sure of the point of this article. If Chabad schools should recognize the particular circumstances of parents who are on their way up in yiddishkeit and accept the child on condition that the child follow the policies, then there should be acceptance. I believe there was a video here where Rav Steinman told the menahal to accept the child of a more modern family.

    However, this article strangely seems to imply that perhaps if the Chabad school accepted the girl, maybe today should would alive. I hope that I am not drawing the proper inference because if I am mistaken, the conclusions here are ludicrous.

    • 4. Teacher wrote:

      No, I think the point is that she would have made more appropriate choices had she not been turned off by the inflexibility of the principal. Frum is as frum does – wearing the garb doesn’t make a person frum or a chasid …. or a mentsch.

  • 6. Larry wrote:

    I like when the schools say they have standards ha ha ha ha look around see what’s going on they make rules for some they don’t have to keep it for others its enforced the whole system is corrupt. All I can say from this sad story they lost one Holy soul

  • 7. Anonymous wrote:

    This scenario is all too familiar. But it isn’t just because of “frumkeit” issues – what about the sweet, good girl with decent midot who is not very academic or who has a learning disability? Or the girl who needs a bit more TLC or a smaller, more relaxed environment?

    I have seen such girls, from nice families, who have been just as summarily rejected. One of my own former students had the same issue- her mother begged me to get her daughter into this “super-chassidish school”, even though she was academically challenged. Against my better judgment I tried. It didn’t matter that this girl is one of the most Chassidish and refined students I ever taught: the principal told me she would not accept her because of her grades.

    I don’t know whether that principal is reading this and remembers the case; probably not, I’m sure this girl was just another reject and not worth remembering.

    Well, guess what? Today, that same “reject” is married, raising an amazing Chassidish family, and she is an asset to her community. But I would never, ever, encourage anyone to apply to this school: their “high standards” continue to ruin girls’ lives.
    If Machon Menucha existed back then, I would have told my student to apply there.

    The Rebbe Rayatz, when he started Tomchei Temimim, had his Chassidim go door to door begging parents to send their children to Yeshiva. Most parents were not frum, but those who sent their sons were zocheh to see fine, frum young men emerge from the Yeshiva, who went on to raise Chassidishe families and who today, are some of the most respected Chabad families around.

    We want to help every child, but we can’t. We are changing our students’ lives, eliminating rejection, slowly but surely. We are not a therapeutic school so not every girl fits and we don’t fit every girl either. But we have not and will not reject a student whose father comes to the interview in shorts (yes, it happened.) This article hurt me very much – the worst thing is, things have not changed very much over the years. The only difference is, there are more “reasons” for destroying a child’s life.

    • 8. DJ wrote:

      That was very good. This could be an article in and of itself. IY”H, all is resolved by those who care.

  • 9. oy wrote:

    You can’t really think this poor woman died because she wasn’t admitted into a Chabad school, right? The school was completely in the wrong, but I’m sure that her rejection — as horrible as it was — wasn’t the catalyst for her untimely death.

    • 10. Anonymous wrote:

      The article did not say that she died because of that.. however the point is that she is not frum and married a non jew most probably because she dint go to jewish school

  • 11. The writer is correct...for those who are in the know. wrote:

    There is a certain “chabad” school in Israel which are known to have a “Chreidi” Mentality, and not a “Lubavitch” mentality, and so it is not the first time that I have heard this type of story. I wonder if it is the same school.

    I too know of an entire family of Balei Teshuva through Chabad, whose kids don’t like Lubavitch anymore because of this type of incident. When you rebuke a girl who is not from a typical Lubavitch family for wanting to go to college, or for attending an Israel independent day event, don’t expect them to want to be a Lubavitcher Chosid.

    When I say “Chreidi”, I don’t mean how frum or chassidish they are, but rather excluding, banishing or rebuking a girl who does not come from a frum family, or have a little more Zionistic Hashkofos.

    If this is the same school, it is about time the leadership of Lubavitch in Israel (and they know which school it is), should replace those who run it. This is not what the Rebbe taught us, and these type of stories will continue, unless something is done about it.

    ..and please don’t give the “It is an Israeli mentality” and an american Baal Teshuva will find it anywhere in Israel”. It is not true, there are plenty of frum Jews in Israel who are understanding, like the Rebbe’s Shluchim and Mosdos are, in other parts of the world.

    the proof is in the pudding, because the family I speak about did send there kids elsewhere and they felt very welcomed.

  • 12. A Crown Heights Chosid wrote:

    The school should lay out their rules, If the mother feels that she can abide by the rules then the school should accept the child, If there are problems later she can always be expelled, However, never to give the chance to the girl to be more frum than her parents is also wrong.

  • 13. Citizen Berel wrote:

    Well how about advocating to the mother that she dress herself and her daughter appropriately for the school interview. Just like people what dress appropriately for any kind of interview in every other context.

    Cause you aren’t advocating that there be no standard mode of dress in the school (or are you?) and if a parent (who has an advocate!) cant be bothered to dress up to standard for the interview, that says what precisely about the likelihood of compliance after the fact.

    Yes her life might have been drastically different had she been accepted –though not everyone accepted makes it out okay and and not everyone going “mamlachti dati” ends as sadly as this one ended — but so too might have the lives of every or any single one of her classmates.

    The hanhalo absolutely needs to think about welfare of the general student body as well (indeed its the circumstance where you can expel a student, which is worse than not accepting him/her in the first place).

    So the answer is simple: dress up for the interview.

    Show the school that you respect their standard, just as you would respect the standard of any institution into which you were seeking acceptance.

    When the school refuses to accept this type of student, you will likely find more sympathy.

  • 14. Severe systemic inconsistencies wrote:

    Although the aforementioned story took place in Israel, which in general, is more radicalized than the USA, in areas of religion, that tone has certainly spread “here”, since that time; and Chabad has seemingly just paralleled the rightward trend of Charedi Judaism in general. The only good news is, that because the pendulum has swung too severely to the right, it will probably become more centrist soon, as many of the people (hint: look at the young adults in our communities) are completely fed up with the nonsensical severity, and inconsistency, it has become today. Smart people can only be led by faulty and/or self-serving leadership for so long.

  • 15. shame on u wrote:

    these mosdos can have their policies but should npt call themselves chabad as they do not follow our Rebbes ways

  • 16. Ezra wrote:

    Meanwhile, in an alternate universe…

    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….

    Another family I knew were 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. Their 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, and told the mother that they’d be able to accept Miriam.

    The mother was absolutely thrilled, took her daughter’s hand and they left to start purchasing school supplies. My mother, who had accompanied them, asked the principal, “Surely the school has standards?”

    “Yes,” said the principal warmly. “But we’re not overly worried about girls from non-frum families coming here and having a bad influence on the other girls.”

    So, Miriam’s mother placed her in the school. True to my mother’s concerns, though, other girls saw the way she (and her mother) dressed, and began to follow suit.

    One of these girls — let’s call her Rachel — when she reached high school age, her mother decided to move back to the States. There Rachel 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 Rachel’s life might have been completely different had the principal of the Chabad school stuck to her principals. Rachel may very well have 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 allow anyone and everyone in, without considering the effect on other children?

    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 an undiluted Jewish education.

  • 17. Anonymous wrote:

    80% of Chabad girls and their families are not dressed Tzniusdik these days. Not to mention the way they carry and project themselves. So much for standards.

  • 19. Do not point fingers at others wrote:

    Your mother accompanied this girl and her mother to
    the interview. Why didn’t your mother prepare the
    girl and her mother to dress appropriately for the interview? When we help people who are trying to
    become frum we need to teach them how to “fit in”
    to a frum society so that they won’t become social
    outcasts.

  • 20. dw wrote:

    I hear your side, but we don’t know the full story. there may be more details. It could happen to kids who go to chabad schools to, and unfortunately has happened (the marrying a goy). Its complicated. You raise a good question; however it really is too complicated to give a straight answer. There are many more details which we don’t know.

  • 21. Shocked wrote:

    I am appalled that the majority of comments are so callous and judgmental. What happened to Ahavat Yisrael? Id it only for yenem? Or for people “like us”? I thought Chabad was so welcoming. If the outside world knew the truth…

    I pray all you pompous people who are so quick to reject people who EXTERNALLY are less frum than you never have to deal with your kids going OTD. But from what I see, too many of them are.

  • 22. with the old breed wrote:

    so if you can not go to a chabad school you have to go to the conservadox? There are no other schools in the Holy Land? Did your parents think about other non chabad schools? There is something that does not add up….

  • 23. chanie wrote:

    This does not sound at all like a typical chabad school. I went to Bais Rivkah in Crown Heights and we always had girls in all grades that came from homes that were less frum or not frum at all. This never had a bad infuence on the school environment. We were always accepting and understood where the girls were coming from.

  • 24. Hayom Yom wrote:

    Tuesday Adar Sheini 23 5703
    My father once said to a Rav,1 who labored in avoda and was an especially diligent scholar: A Rav must remember at all times and at every moment that he always stands on the threshold between being one of those who bring merit to the public and, G-d forbid, one of those who cause the public to sin – the threshold between the loftiest of heights and the most abysmal depth. All issues must touch him at the innermost core of his soul, literally, because his very soul is at stake.

    (יום שלישי כג אדר שני (תש”ג

    אאמו”ר [אדוני אבי מורי ורבי] אמר לרב אחד – בעל עבודה ומתמיד בלימודו: א רב בעדארף בכל עת ובכל רגע געדיינקען, אז תמיד שטייט ער אויף דעם שוועל וואס צווישען מזכי הרבים און ח”ו [חס ושלום] מחטיאי הרבים, אויף דעם שוועל פון עומק רום און עומק תחת, און אלע ענינים בעדארף נוגע זיין אין פנימית נקודת הנפש ממש, ווייל בנפשו הוא.

  • 25. Shame on chabad schools wrote:

    Many religious schools out there dont accept non frum families and back in the day chabad was always known to accept pretty much anyone.. but now they changed and judge the family.. instead of thinking lets help the girl. and if u believe you are an awesome school than you would accept and not be afraid they will influence the others, on the contrary you should believe that you the school will influence her and everyone else!!
    The Rebbe would disagree with the way the schools are handling it.

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