Are We The Village?

As the chicken soup is served, the conversation around the table has gone from polite pleasantries to passionate discussions about what is wrong in our community. Top of the list? The Chinuch system. At Shabbos tables throughout the community, people are sharing their horror stories, their deep-rooted anger, or about how much they wish their children were finished with it.

I know, because I’ve been there.

Time, and time again. I’ve participated. I’ve been the one sharing, I’ve been the one listening, I’ve been the one saying yes! Enough is enough!

Every time I look at a child at the start of their educational experience, I feel my heart sink, knowing that most of them will face challenges that will destroy their love for education, rather than enhance it. I have yelled, I have gotten red-faced, I have stamped my feet.

I have sought out conversation, I have had meetings, I have talked, and talked, and talked.

And then I got tired.

Because I noticed something. People loved to talk. As someone who has put her name out there, loud and proud, as someone who believes that our education system falls far, far too short of it’s potential, I’ve been an address for so many people’s complaints and stories. I’ve been greeted with “let’s talk about how bad the education system is!”

In the beginning, I was excited about that. People knew that I was serious about correcting the system, and they wanted to be a part of it!

But slowly, I began to realize that wasn’t the case. People wanted me to correct the system. They didn’t want to be a part of the process, the work, and the struggles that would include.

This is the honest truth: the system is already being corrected.

Yes, there are lots of things wrong with our already existing system. I know really well how deep those issues are. I’ve been personally hurt by the system, by the lack of respect given to students. I’ve seen others hurt far more than I have. I’ve watched students fly through school, not even noticing how bad it is because of the band-aid of a wonderful social life and extra-curricular. But I’m not here to talk about all of these things, because we all know these things all too well.

I’m here to talk about something else.

Yes. There are lots of no good things going on in our Chinuch system. But…

There are also incredible things happening for Chinuch.

Namely, the Menachem Education Foundation, that tirelessly works to train teachers and principals is one. Their objective is to is take the word education and transform it into something truly magical. I’ve been involved in some of their incredible projects, and I know that there are other amazing things happening that I haven’t yet had the opportunity to explore, and I’m sure there are yet more that I don’t even know about.

But in my opinion, I believe they have one major struggle:

The lack of support from the community.

I’m not writing this to create an angry stampede of people feeling defensive and hurt.

I’m writing this because this is not a one-man job. It’s not a ten woman, fifteen man job. It’s our job. As a community, we must support those who are doing the work that we are not doing.

Enough complaining. Enough endless conversations that all end the same way. Let’s start the real conversation. Don’t stop talking, let’s keep talking – but while we talk, let’s keep our hands busy, let’s follow through with what we’re saying.

Today, the Menachem Education Foundation is running a Charidy campaign. Donate if you can. Spread the good word. Find out if they need something that perhaps you can provide. Find out if there’s any way that you can make a difference towards their tireless efforts.  When you say you can’t wait until your daughter graduates – think for a moment about what that means.

It takes a village to raise a child, but the village is slacking off, closing their eyes and wishing for it to go away. It’s not going to happen, my friends. It takes blood, sweat and tears to create change.

Shabbos table conversations are good, they’re great, and they’re the crucial first step.

But that’s all they are – a first step. And when the dishes are dried and put away, and the last of the leftovers are eaten, the issues are put to rest. And that – that is the precise moment the issue deepens.

We can’t afford to not support our change-makers. We can’t afford to keep allowing things to remain the same.

We can’t even afford to act on our own – we need to work together.

Let’s not just start another conversation about Chinuch.

Let’s start a different kind of conversation:

Somebody is already making the change. Now, how are we going to help?

Here’s how you can. Today. Trust me when I say this is a worthy cause:

I Spammed Your Feed, and I’m Not Sorry.


I have a love-hate relationship with the word and all that it holds.
I had a wild ride through my 12 years of schooling, to say the least. I attended a brick and mortar until the end of first grade.
Then I was home-schooled.
I spent the grades fourth through eighth in front of a computer, attending a virtual school.
I went to two high schools, two years each.
I’ve met every kind of teacher, so many administrations.
I thought I hated learning when I was in twelfth grade. It was my last year of traditional schooling, and my brain never showed up for class.
I had no notes, other than for history.
I got good grades by cramming information from my friends notes before tests.
I worked – just enough.
Authority rubbed me the wrong way.
Let’s just say that the whole “good education” thing didn’t work for me. I grew a dislike for so many subjects, for the classroom, for teachers in general.
I remember, distinctly, telling a friend “If in two years, I am a teacher, I will know that I have failed at life.”
That’s how little I respected teachers. That’s how little I thought of their capabilities.
I attended a year long seminary, opting for a program that wasn’t overseas, allowing me an escape from dorm life and a chance at some independence.
That year changed my perspective, big time.
I suddenly discovered, at the age of 18 years old, that I love learning.
I love discovering, arguing, reading, researching and knowing.
I always thought I might enjoy learning if only I was smarter.
I discovered that year that I was perfectly smart enough. In fact, it didn’t matter how smart I was.
Of course, although my seminary was full of great teachers, I still couldn’t escape the bad ones, and there were some classes that reminded me dreadfully of high school. But the good ones were their saving grace by continuously reminding me what a beautiful world it can be if you keep learning.
It was that year that I began to grow more and more passionate about the world of education.
I realized how much was being held back from every child who was bored to tears in a classroom that isn’t working with him. I realized what a devastating tragedy it was every time a fourth or fifth grader complained about school.
I realized what school could be, and how miserably heartbreaking it was that it fell so short of it’s potential.
Subjects that held a wealth of fascinating information were being watered down to a point of insufferably uninteresting, losing students who in a different sort of classroom would drink it in.
It was around this time that I discovered an organization called the Menachem Education Foundation.
This week, I took part of my very first high-tension, 24 hour fundraising campaign.
It was a life changing experience, and as life goes, I learned a lot of things in the process.
If I have your number, or we are friends on Facebook, you were harassed by me for donations.
Sorry not sorry.
I’m sorry because I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of those texts and calls. It sucks. It’s annoying. We’d all like to have a never ending pool of money so that we could give to everyone who asks. Because there are so many causes worth giving to.
But now I know what it’s like to be on the other end. The asking end. The begging end.
I’m not sorry because you gave me a chance to yell in your face, to remove all social barriers and scream about a cause that I am passionate about.
You gave me the chance to find out just how much I care.
As I scrolled through my list of Facebook friends and phone contacts, I chose people who I know would understand why this cause is important. I chose people that will be effected by the results of this campaign. I chose people who it should matter to.
I didn’t just beg for money from those who will not benefit from the work of this organization. That would feel wrong.
But by going through everyone I’ve ever met, I discovered just how many people will and can benefit from this organization.
I had to put all my passion into words, into short texts, into phone calls. I had to make it clear to people what this was and why they had to give.
The line “It takes a village” never meant more to me than these two days.
It takes a village, my G-d. It takes a village to educate our children, to not waste their precious hearts and minds, to give them the priceless gift of a good education.
I’ve seen friends ripped apart by the Chabad school system. I’ve seen tears, anger, rebellion taken to new levels because of a teacher or member of administration.
Imagine, for a moment, if all those actions, all those emotions, were channeled into positive feelings because of a teacher or member of administration.
Imagine the passion those students would feel towards Judaism, towards learning, towards growth.
I care because my little brother, who is only in fifth grade, who is obsessed with science and encyclopedias, doesn’t like going to school.
I care because I never want to see the light go out of my children’s eyes because they don’t want to go to school because it’s boring, or frustrating, or not using all of their potential.
I care because my nephew is four years old, and everything he learns is so exciting to him. And I want it to stay that way forever.
I care because I believe that education can be far more than it is, and the time for it to change is now.
Being a part of the Charidy campaign forced me to recognize this, forced me to shout it from the rooftops, forced me to do embarrassing things for the sake of something much much greater than I was.
I stood alongside other incredibly passionate people who are doing so much for education, and I watched the campaign begin, and I watched it conclude, both with feelings of excitement and trepidation.
The future of education is in our hands.
It takes a village to educate our children, and today I discovered that the village is ready to work.

Dear Old Me.

I have written a lot. I have an enormous collection of terrible writing. When you write something almost every day of your life, it starts to really build up. Recently, I sifted through my writings from twelfth grade. That year was one of the most transformative years of my life. I had the lowest of lows, and the highest of highs. As a result, the writings swing from seemingly depressed teenager, to exhilarated young adult.

It’s almost my birthday, which means I’m turning a new age. Every time I turn a new age, it’s only my responsibility to look back at my past and pat myself on the back. Or slap myself across the face. Depending if I have gotten further up the mountain or slipped back down from laziness. Not kidding though, the climb is hard.

Why wait until the day I turn 19 to look back though? My twelfth grade writings gave me an idea. There are plenty of people out there who are twelfth grade me. People going through a myriad of emotions. So, why not pull out some of the oldies and respond to them? Below is a poem I wrote when I found out I was rejected from a school that a lot of my friends were going to. At the time I convinced myself and everyone else that I didn’t care. That it was okay. Obviously, it was all meant to be.

But, and as I have grown this has become even more clear to me, pretending just hurts you and everyone else around you. It makes you feel guilty for feeling angry, and it makes others feel like they are doing something wrong when they feel upset about it happening to them. I wrote this poem at the time, and in it you can see the sheer fear I felt.

The day I was born
I had two arms around me
A crib
A carriage
Mothers arms
A baby seat
They all protected me
Held me close
Then my desk kept me
For 12 years.
I knew it would be there
It knew I was coming
And it never let me down.
There were always arms
A secure embrace
A place to be safe
My happy place.
Until today.
The net was pulled away
But I already jumped
Where will I fall?
Is this failure?
Or will I fly?

Dear Rejected Etti,

It hurts. Let it hurt. You tried your best, you went to that interview and please, you totally aced it. I know everyone is telling you this right now, and you want to punch them all in the face, but I need you to know that it’s true. This rejection is not about your qualifications.  But be angry at them. Please. They actually weren’t that nice to you at that interview, and you were anxious. You should have been accepted. You should have been one of the people who are celebrating today. You should have been. Because you deserve it, and the fact that you even applied to that school is a testament to your growth this year.

But, I need to tell you a secret. I’m future you. I know what happens next. I know what happens after you put that pen down. You won’t believe me, but I can promise you that it got so so much better. Because, a few weeks after this rejection, you chose a different school. A school that would allow you the freedom that you craved all four years of high school, but also a school that had incredible teachers who fed the desperate hunger of your soul.

The net was pulled away with that rejection, and yes, you already had jumped. You already had seen yourself on that plane across the ocean, heading to that school with all your friends. But I can promise you this- you flew. Well. First, you landed. You landed safely. With all the parachutes. But then, you ran fast and took off again. I can tell you with certainty that it was a bigger challenge and ultimate accomplishment to get yourself up and flying again than to free-fall and consider it flying.

I can’t share the whole story with you right now. You don’t need to know the whole story. You’ll learn it as you live it.

I just wanted to tell you that it turned out to be the best rejection you have ever received.

You won’t regret not getting the chance to go there. You will be grateful for the experience you had instead.

You will grow more than you could have ever imagined growing.

Sometimes the thing you need in life is to be terrified for a few minutes. To not be sure of where to go. To be forced to grab on to a lifeline. That lifeline might just be your way to the top.

I’m sorry for your pain that  you feel right now, Rejected Etti. It will hurt, and please let it hurt. But don’t lose belief in yourself. Because you are stronger than you think, and capable of more than you ever could have hoped.


Your Future.


Why Am I Still Talking About This?

My voice is hoarse from yelling. My voice is overheard and overused.

My voice is not traveling, my voice is not loud enough on its own.
I know that your voices are out there.
You have all told me once or twice that you agree. That you feel the same way.
But when I look up, I still see this enormous wall that won’t come down.
It’s chipped in all the right places, but it’s still standing too strong.
All over my facebook, I see people bringing others down. Others opinions, others choices, others beliefs. I began to realize that a lot of people see change as raising their voices and hurting someone.
When I realized that, I backed down. I didn’t want to be that person. I didn’t want to be someone that rips apart another human to achieve change. There had to be a different way to do it. How could it be a good change if you take someone down in the process?
So I resorted myself to a quieter voice. A voice that planned and dreamed.
But it is not enough.
I have had conversations with  people who are currently in the school system.
It is breaking my heart.
It is pulling apart my resolve to remain kind and calm.
It fills me with a desire to declare war on those who are ruining people in the classroom.
When people ask me why I say I want to home-school my currently non-existent kids, I want to tell them that it’s not really my choice.
But I don’t. I can not explain why as an eighteen year old, I am constantly thinking about my childrens education. I can not explain that yes, I know life takes you on wild rides, and home-schooling can very possibly not be an option for my family, but I like to hope.
Because if I don’t get to home-school my children, where will I send them?
I know people who are afraid of their teachers.
This is not about respect, this is about pure fear. This is about developing anxiety in the classroom, because you are scared of your teacher mocking you in front of your classmates.  This is about learning to hate school, not because it gives you added responsibilities, but because there is no way for you not to fail, and you are taught that failure is wrong.
This is about report cards that do not reflect a students excitement about science experiments, it only shows their struggle in English class.
This is about children who used to enjoy learning new things, and school has stolen that feeling for them.
This is about too many tears shed, too many panic attacks, too many students in bathrooms cutting class, because they are afraid.
This is about homework assignments that last all night, after school independent study because the teacher could not fit that information into the period, testing that does not accurately measure more than half of the students understanding of a lesson.
This is about the fact that my principals would not let me graduate High School because of their own mistake, and created so many problems for me continuously throughout the summer.
This is about the fact that I lost trust in authority to help me because when they should have been there for me, they waged a war against me.
This is about the fact that a few months ago I wrote something miserably honest about high school, but things are still the same.
This is about the fact that corn tortillas still make me cry.
This is about the fact that I enjoyed high school because I made friends and we had a good time, but as that was happening, I was also growing to hate learning.
This is about the fact that a good social life is used as a band aid for the fact that nobody is actually learning anything.
This is about the fact that I can’t watch things continue like this.
Someone once told me that instead of bringing already established people and programs down, the way to make change is to start something new.
I agreed. It made sense with my ideology of being kind and promoting positive change.
But by the time I can do something about this, hundreds of students will have gone through the damaging school system.
I was hurt in high school.
I have developed into a person, who granted, would be different if I had not had those experiences.
But those experiences are not necessary for a person to grow into a strong, secure person.
Those experiences brought me down. They made me fearful and doubtful. They made me angry and sad.
Nobody deserves that.
My children deserve better. My children deserve to see learning in a positive light, to see growth as a desired goal, to see authority as figures to be respected and learned from.
Your children do too.
Your siblings.
Your nephews and nieces.
Your cousins and grandchildren.
Please, help me.
Do we have to bring down an established organization? I don’t want to. Why can’t we work with them though? Why can’t we demand change, demand that they open their eyes and think about the students for once?
When the next person asks me why I want to home-school, I want to be able to tell them that turns out, I don’t need to. Because there are so many better options out there.


This #happychallenge has been interesting for me.

I’ve been home for the past few days, which means I didn’t get out and around as much as I do when I am in NYC. The past few days were great, but great because I was home. Normal days. Sleeping late, eating good food, spending time with family.

It’s hard to pin-point at the end of the day what in particular made me happy without being too cliche.

I could have said “Family” every single day this week, and it would have been completely true. But I didn’t want to be cliche.

What I did notice over the past few days is how very much I have and how easy it is for me to forget.

When something goes wrong, it’s so easy to be angry. To feel as if nothing ever goes your way. As if  everything is slipping away, and it will never come together.

Over the past few days, my eyes have been peeled for something happy. And I discovered a lot. Mostly tiny things.

Things like:

Waking up in the morning, healthy.

Warm water to wash my face and plumbing so that I can use the bathroom in the comfort of my home, down the hall from my bedroom.

Enough clothing for me to have to decide what to wear.

Having enough food in the house that it’s a challenge for me to choose what I’d like to eat for breakfast.

Car’s at our disposal, so that I can go somewhere with my sisters.

I have not been forced to flee my home. When I leave tomorrow, it will not be against my will (although I’d love to stay home a little longer!), and I will not be heading to a shelter with thousands of other people, where there are crying children and adults having nightmares.

I do not wake up in the morning, wondering where my next meal will come from.

I have sweaters and scarves to keep me warm when the weather outside dips below 50 degrees.

I have parents who try their best to support my dreams.

I am not afraid to express myself. I am free to practice my religion. I have friends that I am so grateful for. I am going on a trip across the country next week. I have a good job. I have hobbies and so many interests.

I have so, so much.

And it’s so easy to take all these things for granted.

The moment dinner doesn’t work out, or it rains when I had a big day planned, it all seems to crumble, and all these things become barely a priority.

This #happychallenge opened up my eyes to all of these things. Bubby opened up my eyes to all these things.

It is so much easier to focus on the bad. And I will be the last one to say that the bad should be ignored. No. The bad in the world must be transformed into good. But instead of focusing on the bad, why don’t we just push it away by bringing more good?

A teacher once taught me that the way to get rid of a bad habit is not to abstain from the habit, but to start a good habit and eventually it will push the bad habit away.

If I have a problem with the education system, it will do no one good to listen to me putting down the administrations and curriculum’s. It will do good if I network with those who can make a difference, and we just make change.

I don’t want this #happychallenge to end. But it’s not that helpful for me to just keep posting about the happy in my life. I do need to keep seeing it though. But I need to do more. More for my Bubby, and more for me.

I don’t have any great plans just yet.

But thank G-d, I was given a brain and a heart, and by putting the two together, and combining them with the rest of all of yours..I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to do something pretty awesome.