Letter: Cookie-Cutter Schools

As a new arrival to the Lakewood area, and my daughter beginning soon in a new school and new environment, I am understandably anxious. It is difficult for parents to watch their children struggle through transition, and I am very hopeful that everything goes smoothly. 

However, there is one thing that is nagging at me, and it’s not regarding my daughter’s school specifically, but rather about all Lakewood schools – or at least so it seems to me.

What bothers me is that I grew up “out of town” and, due to job needs, lived in several Jewish communities across the US for the first ten years of marriage. What every community has, that I think is a tremendous asset, are boys and girls schools that cater to everyone. More yeshivish, less yeshivish, it doesn’t matter. If you are a frum Jewish boy or girl, you are as welcome as any other child.

And you know what? The children thrive because of this. They learn that not everyone is the same, and that it’s OK to be different. They learn how to not just tolerate, but be accepting of, other people, even if they don’t follow the same standards we do. They learn to appreciate why our standards are special, why what we are doing is right, but without judging others for not being the same. And that is a beautiful thing.

Lakewood, however, seems not to have that at all. If you wear your payos in front of your ears you need to go to “X” type of school; if you wear them behind your ears, you have to go to “Y” type of school. If you wear a certain style skirt you can only go to this school, but not that school because you’ll be labeled a “neb.” And so on and so forth, with so many little things (like what type of headbands the school my daughter is going to wear!) that I can’t keep up.

Honestly, I think Lakewood is suffering from being spoiled. There are so many options here that people can nitpick over every little thing to send their kids to schools that fit exactly to their interests, and where there isn’t any individuality at all.

But is no individuality a good thing? Is it really a positive thing that every kid in every school fits into the same cookie-cutter image as every other student in the school? Doesn’t that keep your child closed-minded, in a bad way? Of course, we want our kids to uphold our standards and our way of life, but why should they learn that only their way is acceptable, or that people who aren’t the same are somehow less? Even if we are not teaching that explicitly, they are learning it implicitly by being kept away from anyone not exactly like them. Our kids are not learning acceptance, they are only learning that we are right and everyone else is wrong.

What’s the solution? I don’t know if there is one for Lakewood, to be honest. There are so many schools and so much pressure at this point for every school to have a certain “name” that it might be too late to salvage anything. But what would theoretically make sense is for a new school to open that is accepting of everyone and teaches children what yiddishkeit is all about – avodas hashem, ehrlichkeit, and love of others, not just the ones who look and act exactly as you do.

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  1. What bothers me even more is that there is diversity in neighborhoods and day camps, why can’t there be in schools? And look around at what girls from the most yeshivish schools are wearing in the summer. Tights in the winter, short skirts in summer.

    • Where? Where have you seen schools that accept a variety of children, lechatchila, treat them all equally, and have the ‘stronger’ children suffer?
      I have searched for the evidence for years, and not found it.
      In most towns in the world, the ‘weaker’ are strengthened by the ‘stronger’ element, but the ‘stronger’ are not weakened. This is especially true if the people running the school are running it lechatchila, not as a kiruv school, but as the type they would send their own children to.

  2. I too am nervous as my twins will be starting school this year also. What I am doing is davening that all should go well and you should do that to rather then knock the school system!!! Hatzlacha!!

  3. Hold on one minute. You stated that you lived in many out-of-town communities. You liked the fact that out-of-town it was OK to be different. I’m just wondering why it is not ok for Lakewood to be different from out-of-town. Do you appreciate differences or not? I assume that you came to Lakewood because you like Lakewood and its differences. What right do you have to complain that Lakewood is not the same as out of town? This sounds somewhat like modern-day liberal propaganda which claims to appreciate diversity as long as they get to dictate what diversity is.

    • That’s a little much. Relax buddy. The author makes a very solid case against the obviously failing system that is Lakewood. As a lifetime out-of-towner and then living in EY for years, who went to the best yeshivishe yeshivos and has seen the spectrum of the yeshivishe world, Lakewood kids suffer from growing up that way. I mean, if JII on a motzei Shabbos isn’t enough of a raya, I don’t know what is. There’s a reason the kids in Lakewood fall so much harder, and its because there is no individualism whatsoever, from hairstyles to schools, loafers to personal expression. Wake up, you can’t use the so-open-minded-your-brains-are-falling-out line with anything and everything.

  4. Unfortunately, this problem is prevalent when you have a large population of very Yeshivish people who need to individuate themselves foe the sake of identity. You find this is very frum communities such as Yerushalayim, Bnei Brak and Boro Park. This creates a big pressure on the children to identify to that one specific Hashkafah. What happens is, that when you force a child to only be one specific way, instead of giving them the opportunity to individuate their own identity and develop their own character, they feel cornered and frustrated in their enclosed environment and many, many Jewish Neshamos just can’t handle the pressure and end up going to the opposite direction extreme to develop their own identity. The day parents wake up to their selfish ideals will be a great awakening for Klal Yisroel as a whole.

  5. So you just arrived! Wecome! How about first penning a letter describing all the good to be found in this town? You did decide to move here for a reason, right?
    Anyway this has nothing to do with Lakewood. It’s like this in all large cities. In Brooklyn for example- YOB is a type. BYA is a type. Prospect is a type. Etc. Maybe it’s good maybe not but it’s time to stop the Lakewood trashing.
    Anti Israel = Antisemitism Anti Lakewood= Anti Yeshivishe

  6. If the Lakewood system bothers you – you can move out of town. There are many communities that would happily accept you. If you choose to live in Lakewood you need to accept all that it comes along with and not try to change it. Lakewood has so many advantages. Enjoy them.

  7. There are definitely benefits to OOT and there are benefits to Lakewood. Without arguing the points, I would venture to say that if you are starting with this attitude, your children will sense it and will not be able to gain from the schools here that you disagree with, unless you are an awesome actor. If I were you, I would rethink my attitude or my choice of where to live.

  8. קריינא דאגרתא איהו דהוו ליה פרוונקא
    Get to work. Open a color-blind school, that accepts a child based on the child him/herself, and ignores the parents clothing choices or backgrounds.

    But remember, that a school needs more than a good accepting mechanism to survive. Make sure you have s quality staff, support staff, and a menahalim system that will stay on top of things. Don’t let the therapists run the school, but don’t ignore their opinions. Make sure that you have quality teachers until the top grades, don’t stop in fourth grade. And leave the yachsanim teachers to the yachanim schools, you take the quality ones.

  9. I hope nobody will just take this utopia you described out of town just based on this innocent quandary.
    I grew up up out of town and went to one of those schools and chose not to bring my family up like that. Let me explain.
    Yes, we were more accepting and somethings look better (at least on paper) and I’ll even give you the fact that most of us at THE END turned out O.K.. However, I’d never want my children to do some of the things other children and I from “yeshivish” families did at my friend’s house without our parents knowing. I knew it was wrong and “we didn’t do those things” but my friends were “good” people and enjoyed it so why not, what can be so bad.
    That was years ago, the exposer today is much more challenging.
    Thank ה’ a thousand times (maybe more) that he gave you the idea to move here. Challenge yourself to live up to the standards of the schools you want to send your children to and then you will understand it better.
    In the future you may want to discuss this with your Rov privately instead of having the responsibility of all the negativity toward bnei torah, that you surely knew this would bring forth, on your shoulders.

  10. This writer has a valid point. While Lakewood does have many positive attributes, this association with only “your type” is hard to understand for those who were not brought up this way. We were exposed to so many different levels of religiosity as well as different “sects”, and knew proudly who we were. Our homes were insular but our friendships with others were encouraged. However, in today’s culture, parenting has taken a back seat and parents rely on the school to impart or reinforce their values. The home is simply not as strong a fortress as it used to be. Choosing a school is a decision which should not be taken lightly, and this is one of the many factors that need to taken into consideration.

  11. You make a valid point not sure why people get all bent out of shape and defensive.

    A few helpful pointers:

    1)Nothing is perfect

    2)It is what it is.

    3)You need thick skin to survive in the big city

    4)Roll with it.

    5)Lakewood is a free and open society many regular people opened schools try your luck at fixing it no one will stop you

    Hatzlocha may you enjoy much nachas

  12. Actually we opened a school that accepts every girl who wants to attend a frum bais Yaakov, regardless of her family’s level of frumness. It’s a beautiful ahavas yisroel in the true sense of the words. We aim to be similar to Bais Yaakov Baltimore and other high standard out of town Bais Yaakov schools. Do some research. Or reach me through the Scoop.

  13. If such as school would open, I feel like yeshivish people would not choose to send there. If you have a choice to put your child among similar children who share your values more, why would you purposely choose not to? In fact, most of the ‘less yeshivish’ schools in lakewood probably fit what you’re looking for, bec they’re happy to have yeshivish kids too.

  14. “Every” community is becoming fewer because B’nai Torah who live in the out of town communities have started more insulated schools in some communities. It’s not the easy sending your kid to a school where your child is the only one who doesn’t have a tv or isn’t allowed to watch movies and where kids discuss movies at recess. You can instill pride in a child but when your kids is a normal kid he wants to fit in. This Utopia you are describing out of town barely exists. As a parent who deals with these challenges I can tell you that it isn’t easy. It’s wonderful that my children are more open minded and have friends who aren’t exactly the same as them but you should be counting your blessings that you have the opportunity to put your kids in Lakewood schools.

  15. I went to a community school but chose not to raise my children that way; I prefer to have them more sheltered than I was, growing up.
    If you prefer to raise your children that way, instead of blaming this town, choose a community that can cater to your needs. Many out-of-town communities would be glad to have you join them. Hatzlacha

  16. It seems to me that the writer of this letter, while saying the “Lakewood” is spoiled, I think You are the spoiled one. YOU think that just because YOU are used to a colorful school that’s why the whole Lakewood should cater to YOU and YOUR comfort level. WOW!! What nerve do you have as a newcomer to get here and just start throwing around opinions? Who do you think you are? Don’t you think that this town of Lakewood has its own share of Chashuvim that live the Chinuch of this town so far without your input ?
    I think that you have way too much Chutzpah and maybe you should go back to your comfort zone out of town somewhere.

  17. I grew up OOT and definitely enjoy the more wholesome atmosphere I grew up with. However, because of the competition in Lakewood, I believe most if not all schools in Lakewood are really great schools and give our kids a great education in both limudei kodesh and limudei chol. I’d also like to add that there is plenty of room to instill my own values in my family even if most other kids in my kids’ classes are similar in their frumkeit level, and my kids have a real pride in things we do/dont do, wear/dont wear, and focus/dont focus on…

  18. The critics of this writer do not recognize the true problems here:

    1- Children are not accepted based on a fathers “colored shirt” just as much as a mothers tznius level.

    2- Somehow, said risks to the ruchnius of the other children are nullified if the family or grandparents have money (you will look foolish if you try to claim that this is not true).

    3- Lakewood has the unique problem of “student dumping.” Every school is worried about ONE thing…reputation. who is accepted and who is not is heavily influenced by this. If a community school opens here, they will immediately be inundated with children who need extra help, families in difficult situations and of-course, those without financial means…all because all the other schools have a place to dump.

    There is a common line that’s used very often in Lakewood when voicing dismay at the run on gashmius (rightfully so): “Rav Ahron would have never wanted Lakewood to be this way.”

    Does anyone really have the gall to say that Rav Ahron would have wanted for the school system to be this way?

  19. I have a different issue. Within the same community, the same type and the same sets of values and lifestyles, there are children with diverse sets of talents. I feel that the schools only work well for those children with the particular talents to which they cater. The other children, who begin as equally ehrlich and with the same values, because they can’t keep up with the curriculum that doesn’t work for them, they nebach fall out of the system, and from Klal Yisroel to an extent. Al aileh ani bochia.

  20. The letter-writes makes some good point, for 1987 – when she grew up. For 2021, however, sadly, all her points are moot. The outside, “wordly” “open-minded”, And, especially, “woke” world, is completely nuts and their values are the antithesis of the values we try to instill in our holy Neshamos. You should be happy you’re in LAkewood where our schools are insular.
    Besides, I don’t know where you were the 1st 10 years of your marriage but I bet we have more eateries open after 10:00 PM then where you were.
    And, really, no one cares about the head bands.
    Welcome !!

  21. I think that the difference that there is today as opposed to when the letter writer was growing up is, that in OOT places the less Frum girls at worst had a TV that you knew you couldn’t watch. Today unfortunately a leas Frum child often means a family that has access to internet with all the pitfalls that comes with that and yes so much rather be in a closed minded school then compromise on that ch”v!

  22. Reading the writers’ letter and all the responses gave me a lot of food for thought.
    I work in both the school and camp system here in Lakewood.
    I agree that we have lots more schools than out of town. And yes, in out of town the schools host a bigger mix of girls. But as a teacher I do NOT have 25 cookie cutters. I don’t see them that way and neither do the students see it that way. I teach 25 Neshomos who are very different than the next. So yes, as an outsider looking in, it looks like 25 clones cut from the same cloth. But I invite you to come and step all the way in and see for yourself.
    And now on the flipside. I am privlidged to spend my summers working in a local camp here. People don’t want diversity. It scares them. They come to carpool and see a mother picking up her child in a short skirt and regardless to the fact that her child is having a great summer – she pulls out mid summer. Why? Because It’s a “modern” camp. Because it’s easier to pull out than to sit down and have an open talk about the many kinds of yidden in our midst.
    Am I pro Lakewood?
    I’m pro ahavas yisroel. I’m pro wanting mashiach and loving all yidden.

  23. Holy cow the amount of hate being expressed by everyone replying to this letter is ridiculous. This person moves in from an out of town place for their own reasons and points out a very obvious issue with many Lakewood schools and instead of listening to this person you deny this and tell them to leave and stay away.

  24. We actually have a gr8 school right here in Lakewood for your child. It has the diversity and they even teach thinks that are controversial for some. Why don’t you send these instead of claiming that Lakewood is this or that? If you don’t know what I’m referring to, that means your just trying to bash. Because the Lakewood public and middle schools have room and they have a pretty diverse crowd and teach many diverse topics. Besides if your child would go, it would be even more divers.
    I hope your children learn from your mistakes and don’t go places to bash them.

  25. the issue is a very basic one. its called sinas chinum. when a mosed of any type has cheshbonos other than educating the child it morphs into sinas chinum. there is a clip of Harav Shteineman ztl floating around where he is asked about not accepting a child because the mother comes.from a more.modern backround. he asked where sjould the father send the child to the moon?

  26. My children go to Lakewood Cheder / Bais Faiga
    Your premise is a myth
    We have plenty of
    Baal teshuvas
    Balei batim
    Kids from broken homes etc
    And even Gerim
    We all have the same goals and same Hashkafas

    But your premise that the schools are cookie cutters is just a myth !
    It’s not like that at all

    Maybe you are getting thrown off cause the uniforms look the same

    If you just moved here and are nervous
    Don’t be
    Lakewood has some of the finest schools in the world !

  27. Every time such a school opens up in Lakewood, it quickly closes. The reason is simple: Since it accepts everyone, it is a grade-C school. Who wants to send their children to the school with no standards and open-door policies? Parents only want the best-name schools for their kids. And many people who complain about the status quo here, such as this letter writer, would also never send to such a school.

  28. I think the fact he moved his family and life there is adequate expression of his appreciation of the good things. Relax. Anti Lakewood is not anti yeshivish, are you aware there are lots of actual yeshivishe people not in lakewood? And this author isn’t even anti-lakewood, again, as he just moved there. He’s expressing a valid frustration that has him worried, that manifests most clearly in schools, and the school year is beginning.

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