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August 16, 2015 12:03 pm

We Must Seek Common Ground in Fight for Oversight of Yeshiva Curriculums

avatar by Naftuli Moster

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A yeshiva student. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

A yeshiva student. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

It has come to our attention that Mr. Ezra Friedlander, of the public relations firm The Friedlander Group, is circulating an article that attempts to negatively brand Yaffed and its efforts.

Several times in his piece, Mr. Friedlander accuses Yaffed of not caring about community youth or the quality of the yeshiva education system. It is unfortunate that Mr. Friedlander resorts to such inflammatory rhetoric, because beneath his bluster there is potential common ground.

Mr. Friedlander essentially agrees with Yaffed’s mission. He concedes that our “proposal seems fair” and that we “raise points about our system that do indeed need to be addressed.” But he objects to “the messenger,” asserting that change must come from the parents themselves.

In fact, like Mr. Friedlander, a majority of parents do support improved education within yeshivas. But they do not speak up because they feel hopeless about the prospects of meaningful change. Yaffed is currently working with dozens of parents, trying to figure out a way to break this cycle of despair. So when Mr. Friedlander writes that parents should bind together to create an improved curriculum, we are in full agreement and are actually taking steps to create that reality.

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Mr. Friedlander claims he wants change, but by attempting to stamp out any such efforts, he is perpetuating the problem. He serves as a perfect example of why Yaffed is taking up its case with the government for failing to enforce education standards.

Community elites like Mr. Friedlander have simply been unwilling to take up the cause. By condemning Yaffed and its efforts, Mr. Friedlander demonstrates just how out of touch he is with the average struggling members of our community. He couldn’t be more misguided when he accuses Yaffed of intending to “besmirch our community’s reputation.” In the latest letter campaign, Yaffed withstood significant pressure from the mainstream media in choosing not to reveal the names of the yeshivas listed. This utterly discredits his claim that our goal is to malign the community’s reputation.

The reality is that Mr. Friedlander could be an important voice in the fight for better general education and Yaffed welcomes him to join the coalition. Every movement encounters resistance at first and it takes courageous leaders to speak up. On public radio, I recently invited Mr. Friedlander to have a conversation about this issue, and I am hopeful that he will return my request. Mr. Friedlander must choose between dialogue and monologue; he can continue defending the unjust status-quo or he can join the grassroots coalition that is demanding a better future. In short, he can either choose to be part of the solution or part of the problem. We hope he makes the right choice.

Naftuli is the founder and executive director of Yaffed, an advocacy group dedicated to improving general education in ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic Yeshivas. He holds a BA in psychology and a Master’s degree in social work.

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