New York ultra-Orthodox groups' secret fight for education

After New York Times expose on violation of children's right to education, Haredi activists say they have been fearing retribution while discreetly promoting inclusion of core subjects in religious schools

YNet Nws/December 11, 2022

By Tali Farkash

Fearing harm of being shunned, a discreet group of ultra-Orthodox and Hassidic activists in New York have began pushing against what has been described as miseducation of religious Jewish children.

A report by the New York Times's last September, found that students in some Hasidic schools were "being denied a basic education" and trapped in a "cycle of joblessness and dependency."

The investigative report lasting over a year, included interviews with hundreds of parents, even testing some of the children to ascertain their knowledge of core subjects.
Even though the schools received billions of dollars in state and government funding and are instructed to teach secular subjects, the kids often remain ignorant of them. This is considered a criminal offense in the U.S., where every child deserves an equal education by law.

Prof. Lotem Perry-Hazan - an expert in Haredi education from the at the Department of Leadership and Policy in Education at the University of Haifa, Shai Katzir - a lecturer of Education at the Neve Sha'anan Academic College, and a doctoral student who studies activism in education under the supervision of both experts, worked together to publish an article on the tactics adopted by the New York activist group.

Most prominent among the activist groups was Yaffed - Young Advocates for Fair Education, an advocacy group dedicated to improving secular education in Haredi Jewish schools, but not only them, Katzir said naming at least three organizations.
"I believe it is wrong to equate the measures taken in Israel to promote core subjects in Haredi schools, Katzir said. In New York, the efforts for change are still in their beginning stages."

We must differentiate between the activists who would be made to pay a personal price even after one appearance on television or after participating in legal action, and those who support the effort from behind the scenes," he said.
Katzir, in describing the difficulties of data collection, explained that the extent to which such activists must remain anonymous, and the fear that overshadows them.

"The fact of the matter is that there is a very great fear of the price these activists would have to pay. One of them explicitly told me that if I publish not even his name, but just a quote that may expose hints about his identity, his life would be in danger. He told me that he believes there is a big chance he would be murdered. He warned me again and again that he would be at huge risk," he said.

The Israeli academic emphasized that the activists from within the ultra-Orthodox community, do a lot for their cause, even though nobody knows who they are and while their goals contradict the ideology of the decision makers in their communities, they perceive their actions not as a protest, but as a way to help advance members.

"The Haredi activists we interviewed don't see themselves as anti-Haredi. They perceive themselves as promoting the Haredi people, and that's why they're fighting," he explained. "They also do home classes and conferences within the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods and manage to gather dozens of parents who want to hear, understand, and search for solutions for their kids.

Professor Perry-Hazan says one of the major issues is that there has been a lack of information over the years, regarding the educational content within the Haredi communities. "No one really knows what's being taught there," she said.
"That's part of the job of the media, like The New York Times, to demand answers," Perry-Hazan said. "To give a voice, a platform, and invest resources in research."

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