I, like many others in Lakewood, learned for several years in Kollel before entering the workforce in order to support my growing family. During my years in Kollel, my wife worked hard to support me in learning, and I understood that in order for that to happen, certain sacrifices to my Sidrei Limmud were inevitable. My wife couldn’t take off from work for every child’s doctor’s visit, so I happily filled that role. I often had to come late to Seder and leave early to do dropoffs and pickups, but I understood that there wasn’t much of a choice. I had to leave early on fast days, and stay home on vacation days, but I had no better option. I couldn’t change the schedule, and knew our devoted Mechanchim and Mechanchos deserve breaks as well, not to mention the chance for our children to recharge their batteries. The school year didn’t begin until a while after camp, and as frustrating as it was, especially when the beginning of Elul Zman coincided with the children’s extended summer vacation and my learning would inevitably suffer as a result, I knew I had no choice. Sacrifices were inevitable in order to remain among the ranks of our cherished Adirei Hatorah.
And then, after several years of learning and a growing family and its additional expenses, I joined the workforce. With two working parents, the dynamics changed. The doctor’s visits and other responsibilities would mostly need to be filled by my wife, with my attempting to help whenever possible, but considering the fact we would be thrown off of many programs which helped me remain in Kollel in the first place, we couldn’t afford to take off so much time from work. Hours would need to be made up at nights and weekends, often at the expense of the family, in order to make ends meet. But we understood that certain situations, such as our children’s health and wellbeing, called for it.
That said, the amount of vacation the children had throughout the year and summer, was very high, and caused us much distress in terms of lost hours, arrangements to be made, and added expenses, whether in terms of activities for the children to be kept busy while we attempted to balance work, or the need to find a “camp after camp” and other venues. I always had the highest regard for our dedicated Mechanchim and Mechanchos, and understood their need to recharge their batteries, even if I personally felt the amount given was a bit over the top, since I knew I wasn’t in their position and could only extrapolate from my own situation, which didn’t necessitate late night phone calls and worksheets and all the other work our teachers do outside “working hours”.
There was another angle which bothered me as well, and that was the babysitting and playgroup schedules. For the most part, they were centered around “school schedules”, which frustrating as it was at times, made sense since the babysitters and morahs had their own children to care for on vacation days, and couldn’t be expected to balance caring for their own children as well as their group. Once again, it’s hard for working parents like us to understand the dynamics, since we would be expected to work and care at the same time, but that is the career we (and they) chose, and if it was a choice between our children receiving less attention at babysitting/playgroup or receiving whatever we could offer at home, the latter would prevail. What I couldn’t understand was morahs and babysitters who had no children in school, either because they were too young or old, or because they didn’t have children at all, taking off on all those vacation and in-between school and camp days. There was no reason they couldn’t give our children the full attention they deserved (and we were paying quite nicely for) on those days. I understand the need for a schedule, and the need for those morahs too to recharge, but that many days off? Something didn’t seem right, but that was the situation and there wasn’t much to be done about it.
But what I can’t understand, no matter how much I try, is this invention (I say invention since I don’t think it existed when I was a child) called “in-service day”. Yes, there are businesses that have meetings where employees are expected to attend meetings aimed at strengthening the strategic apparatus of the company, even at the expense of their daily work. Yes, Mosdos need to have meetings with their employees aimed at strengthening the modus operandi of the Chinich system in the school as we evolve into an ever-changing world with ever-increasing changes to the status quo. I get that, and in fact, support it. I think everyone gains from them. But why does it have to be during school hours? Why does it have to be at the expense of Adirei Hatorah who wish to learn uninterrupted, or Kollel wives who make the ultimate sacrifice for their husbands’ learning? Why does it have to be at the expense of parents who are trying so hard to make ends meet and pay their bills (including tuition to those same institutions!)? There’s a ripple effect as well. Babysitters and playgroup morahs will take off that day as well, including those who have no children at home they need to watch, causing parents much distress once again. This year, there are many schools which have an “in-service day” on Thanksgiving. In other words, working parents who have the day off from work will spend it watching their children instead of spending the day learning, spending quality time with their spouses, or just taking a much-needed rest. Forgive me, but when will this insanity end? When will our schools, and by extension, babysitters and morahs, have a schedule which at least attempts to take parents’ schedules into account?
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