Out There: School days

When you send your kid to an environmental yeshiva, you should figure he'll come out like some Jewish Grizzly Adams.

Cartoon (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
With the school year fast upon us, it is time to contemplate one of life’s simpler truths: The schools you pick for your kids actually have an influence on how those kids “turn out.”
While that may not sound like a particularly deep observation, it is a truth not universally internalized, yet well worth keeping in mind as the school year begins anew on September 1.
For how many of us are not acquainted with people who sent their kids to religious schools, only to be astounded years later when those same kids ended up “very religious” – a euphemism for “more religious than their parents.”
“Gosh, honey, how did Yonkel turn out so frum,” goes the refrain in many a home after a child, sent to a religious school his entire life, comes home one day wearing a black hat and kapota, and starts rekashering the family kitchen.
“I don’t know, maybe he paid attention in class,” could very well come the reply.
Or who abroad doesn’t know people who have sent their kids to schools with a distinctly Zionist bent and with names like Herzl and Yavne, or who watched with pride and teary eyes as their children tacked Israeli flags on the walls of their rooms and every year proudly attended the community’s March for Israel parade, only to be sorely disappointed when those same children opted to make aliya instead of going to the local law school.
“Gladys, could you tell junior I don’t care what Ben-Gurion did, he’s not joining the IDF,” a typical argument runs in homes where a determined Zionist college-aged kid informs heartbroken parents he’s moving to Israel and joining the army.
Or who in the US hasn’t met parents who sent their children to public schools to be a part of that great American melting pot, only to wonder why in the world their kids can’t date anyone Jewish.
“Geez, dad, all the good looking girls in my class are gentile,” some kid at some city in the US surely explained recently to exasperated parents wondering why their son took Muffy McLaughlin to the senior prom instead of Linda Epstein.
SO, TOO, The Wife and I should not have been startled when Skippy, our 16-year-old third child, came home from his environmental yeshiva this summer, let his hair grow down below his knees and had only two things in mind – going on tiyulim (hikes) and swimming in every ma’ayan (spring) in the country.
A yeshiva with an emphasis on “environmental” education is, on its own, a singular beast, some would say even oxymoronic.
Think yeshiva and the first thing that pops into mind isn’t exactly the environment, Al Gore or recycling. The great talmudic academies of Europe were not known for turning out bocherim determined to save the Polish or Lithuanian forests.
When you send your kid to an environmental yeshiva, a distinctly Israeli combination where every week they go on study hikes – where touring the country is an educational value nearly as important as learning Gemara, and more important than learning geometry – then you ought to figure he’s going to come out like some Jewish Grizzly Adams.
Still, The Wife and I were not prepared for the degree to which our son internalized what he was learning and was influenced by his environment. We expected he’d come home for the summer, hang around, watch television, fight with his siblings and spend our money – the regular summer vacation stuff.
He had other ideas. He arrived home at the beginning of the summer carrying the 15-volume set Madrich Yisrael Hahadash, a veritable encyclopedia of tours around the country, and began setting up his trekking itinerary.
And every itinerary included some remote ma’ayan.
“Why don’t you just go to the beach,” I pleaded, as he talked about setting off with a friend up north for a couple days, in search of that perfect, pristine spring.
“The beach is easier to get to and has lifeguards. Look at it as one big salty spring.”
But Skippy wouldn’t hear of it.
The sea is nice, but there are jellyfish. He wanted a freshwater spring, his own little watering hole.
The boy is enamored of springs, and his young heart is set on visiting every one in the land.
One of the problems with searching for springs, however, is how to get there. I never imagined the emotional energy The Wife and I would expend trying to convince our child of something that for us was so simple, clear and axiomatic: One does not hitchhike.
While our first two children came of spring-looking age during the height of the second intifada, at a time when they were lucky if we let them go around the block, the younger two – thank God – are coming of age in a freer time when the terrorism on the streets has waned. Their problem is that we still remember the previous period, and continue to be traumatized by it.
“Never take a ride with someone you don’t recognize,” I preach to my son, knowing full well he not is taking my words to heart.
“Not everyone out there is bad,” he replies, in his the-world–is-fullof- good-people naïveté. “Lighten up. You know, even when you sleep, you look nervous.”
“Sure I’m nervous,” I reply. “I’ve got a kid who all he wants to do is hitchhike around the country looking for shallow springs to dive into.”
And it’s not only the springs.
Skippy volunteered to work at a ranch in the Galilee for a few days during summer vacation, overjoyed at his luck at actually finding someone who would let him come to his ranch, work for free, milk the goats, clean out the sheep pens and sleep outside on the gravel.
Wow, What luck.
“Where did this come from,” I ask The Wife, after squeezing my boy’s calloused hands and putting my arms around his muscle-rippled shoulders. “Whose kid is this?” “Ours,” she said. “And that environmental yeshiva’s.”