An Unorthodox Education is a 40-minute documentary that exposes a shocking truth -- that tens of thousands of Jewish schoolchildren graduate from ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn “yeshiva” high schools without knowing who George Washington was or that the Earth moves around the Sun.
We'll hear graduates of these schools explain how they were denied the legally-mandated education they need to become independent adults. Some were never taught how to speak English. Today, many boys get at most an hour or two of secular education at the end of a long day of studying religious topics.
We'll meet Naftuli Moster, a graduate of a Hasidic yeshiva, who's leading the fight to force educational authorities to obey the law. We'll meet Beatrice Weber, a mother of 10, the Rosa Parks of the movement, who sued the city to force her son's school to meet state standards. And we'll see Mayor Bill de Blasio and other education officials claim year after year that they're trying to address the problem -- even after the city investigators concluded that the Mayor delayed efforts for years in return for political favors from the ultra-Orthodox community.
In the coming decade, more than one third of all Brooklyn schoolchildren are likely to be Hasidic. It’s not just their problem, it’s ours.
My grandfather, Shalom Harari, graduated from a yeshiva early in the 20th century. A photograph taken in Tel Aviv in 1935 shows him looking like many of the ultra-Orthodox Jews you'd find in Brooklyn today, with a beard and a large family. Although he was the chief rabbi of the Yemenite community in Holon, Israel, he believed in giving my mother and her siblings a good religious and secular education. I'm the direct beneficiary of his beliefs.
So, when I learned a few years ago that many of the ultra-Orthodox (or "Haredi") Jews of Brooklyn refuse to teach their children the basics of English, math, science, and history, I was horrified. I heard the details firsthand from a young woman who grew up in Hasidic Borough Park and struggled for years to make up for the secular education that she never received.
You can call it child neglect -- or child abuse.
Defenders of these Hasidic yeshivas argue -- correctly -- that some schools do give their students an adequate education in state-mandated subjects such as English, math, history and science. But most do not. And anybody who says otherwise denies the facts we demonstrate vividly in this film.