My great-great-uncle, Rabbi Levi Yitchok Gruenwald, fled Vienna after the Anschluss in 1938 and came to New York City with my grandparents where he started his own congregation. His Williamsburg-based synagogue included a yeshiva with dual curriculum within its education system, focusing on the faith as well as skills to live in New York. Rabbi Gruenwald was able to form his congregation and its educational extension because of the religious freedom that America prides itself on.
The yeshiva system is the best of both worlds—it allows for a cultivated religious education coupled with academic skills to help its students become productive members of society. It prioritizes the philosophy and values of Jewish heritage and religion to play a major role in our children’s educational experience and personal development by relying on rigorous Talmudic study to continue to be the primary source of guidance and inspiration of the Jewish people. Yet the New York State Education Department is trying to sanction yeshivas because their curriculum is different.
The yeshiva system requires students to read, speak and learn in multiple languages, a skill that is proven to improve memory and concentration in young people. This allows students to develop an analytical brain to really grasp a wide variety of information. All of my children are currently in yeshiva schools and they are becoming intelligent, valuable members of society through an education rooted in their faith.
I attended the yeshiva Belz Elementary and High School in Brooklyn, New York—the same school as a critic of yeshivas—and then went on to receive my degree in speech pathology from Touro College. My experience with yeshiva education guided me on this path and allowed me to become the successful professional that I am today. It put me in a position to create a practice focused on multiculturalism, helping children of all backgrounds improve their speech, reading, writing and overall educational experience. My yeshiva education taught me to give back to the community which has provided me with so much.
Freedom of religion and cultural diversity are cornerstones of the American experience. That is why my great-uncle fled to New York: he knew he would be able to live as who he was and practice what he believed in. The NYS Education Department stepping in and taking away our rights to lawfully teach our pupils ethnic, religious and moral values beneficial to their personal development and their communities is nothing other than wholly un-American.