Avraham Avinu Goes to Public School

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21 Sep 2011

-“Rabbi, I know we are not religious in our house, but my son is really interested in religion, and we were wondering if we could enroll him in your school.”

-“Will you commit to changing your house over, to keep shabbos and mitzvos?”

-“I am not sure. At this time, we would like our son to be exposed to everything and we can take it from there.”

-“Well, here is the problem. Your son is coming from a background very unlike the children in his class. I think the other parents may be uncomfortable with him playing with their children; after all, what he eats, how he dresses are all so foreign to them. We wouldn’t want that to ‘rub off’ on the other kids.”

-“But he is so sincere; he truly wants to grow in Torah and Mitzvos.”

-“I’m very sorry Mr. Terach. Little Avraham would just not be welcome in our school.”


-“Yes, Mr. Besuel, I do see from her profile that your daughter Rivka is clearly a girl with wonderful character traits. But her house is one of idol worship, and the children in her class might be influenced by this. I regret we just cannot accept her in our school.


-“The twins seem like lovely young ladies, but I think they just would not fit in with the class as a whole. Perhaps another school would be a better fit?”


Is this what might happen if Avraham, Rivka, Rochel or Leah were to try and enter a Day School in today’s day and age? Have we become so elitist that a ba’al teshuva trying to enter the mainstream finds rejection?

The world of kiruv has exploded in recent years. Forty years ago when my husband and I were first beginning our chinuch careers, kiruv was extending ourselves to kids in afternoon Hebrew School and having them over for shabbos; encouraging their spiritual growth, nurturing them, sending them off to NCSY, summer camp, and hopefully at some point getting their parents to enroll them in a Day School. There were many successes over the years. Children who went on to yeshiva, married Observant spouses, have frum children and themselves have often turned around their whole families because the spark was lit when they were younger.

Recently I was sitting next to a friend at a wedding. She remarked that in her grandchildren’s school, several children were being accepted from non-religious homes. These children had attended a ‘kiruv camp’ over the summer, and the spark had been lit. What is most amazing is their parents, themselves not observant in any way, are willing to send these children at great expense to Day School. My friend went on to tell me how upset her daughter and other parents were by these new children coming into the school. They upset the balance; they were different; they might expose the other children to ‘bad influences’

I was appalled and could not be silent. I told her a story about Todd, a boy who attended Hebrew School many years ago. One night recently he called and said he was in town visiting and asked if he could stop by to give us a present. . Todd always had that “spark” and desire to know more. As the years went on and he grew in mind and heart he became more interested in what his Judaism was all about. He went to all the Shabbatonim, spent shabbos at his teachers’ homes, and was always questioning. He graduated from the Hebrew School, went on to a Jewish high school. From there we lost track for a while though we did hear that he had gone on to learn in a Yeshiva in New York.

The night he called it was a special treat to hear from him again and we of course invited him over. When he came we sat and talked and he filled us in on the past twenty years.

He had gone on to get smicha, marry, build a family, live in Israel for a few years, and then come back to America to be a rebbe in a Day School.

Towards the end of the evening we got around to the special present he wanted to give us. He took out his camera and showed us a picture of his wife, his six children, their spouses and his grandchildren. Every one of the people in the picture was frum. ‘Rebbe, ‘he said,’ these are YOUR grandchildren. I am what I am today because of the road you started me on in Hebrew school so many years ago. My children and my grandchildren are frum because of a spark that was lit so many years ago. ‘

I turned to my friend with tears in my eyes. You want to turn these kids away from Day school because you are afraid of the influence they might have on your frum kids? Shame on you! These children would be lost souls if someone had not lit the spark. Now they have the chance to have that flame grow throughout their lives. Have we gone from caring about our fellow Jew to caring only about those who are just like us?

Is there a place for Avraham Avinu in your school?

Susan Schwartz is a wife, mother and grandmother. Her work has appeared in a variety of Jewish periodicals and websites. She lives in Chicago, where she is President of the Davka Corporation.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.