Decisions for a Lifetime, Part 1
My youngest daughter phoned me last week from London and informed me in a very solemn tone of voice that she needed to discuss a very serious matter with me.
You can imagine the various scenarios that immediately flashed through my mind; amongst the more ''melodramatic'' ones was that someone in her family was seriously ill or that they were in serious financial trouble (with a husband in kollel it's a struggle to tread water financially at the best of times, and even more so in today's difficult financial climate). Or perhaps there were serious sholom bayis problems between her and her mother-in-law, (who by the way is my niece and one of the sweetest people that I know).
After a thirty second silence in which I mulled over the above scenarios (and a few less dramatic ones) I told my daughter in a restrained tone of voice that as I had no clue as to what she was referring to could she please tell me what she wanted to discuss with me as I couldn't stand the suspense.
After apologizing profusely that she had not meant to frighten me, my daughter proceeded to elaborate. The time has come according to her, to address an issue of great importance …… which school to enroll her ''big'' daughter in (big daughter as in all of 2½ years old)!
First I let out a big sigh of relief, that boruch Hashem
all those dreadful scenarios were for naught. On the other hand, I thought to myself, my daughter is right; the education of a child is a serious decision….. a decision for life.
So we settled down to a prolonged discussion on the pros and cons of the various schools in Stamford Hill, London where my daughter lives. Predictably (to me that is) my daughter wants to send her daughter to the same school that she attended.
And of course that sent me back down memory lane to the time that I too wrestled with this "important issue", and the decision that I made at that time.
Twenty years ago, (when my daughter herself was about 2½ years old) there weren't as many schools to choose from as there are today. There were "altogether" five schools at the time; two of them were what we call "mainstream" or "middle of the road" schools, the equivalent of Beis Ya'akov schools the world over, two were chassidishe schools for the followers of those chassidus, and B'nos Yerusholayim. B'nos Yerusholayim was known as a school with very ''extreme'' views akin to those of Satmar. It was understood that I would send my daughter to one of the mainstream schools that I had attended.
At the time I was considering this "momentous decision" I held a series of private knitting classes which was attended by girls from all the schools, and I always noticed a certain consistency. The girls that attended B'nos Yerusholayim were the most well-mannered and best behaved girls of all the schools; you could tell a mile off who was a B'nos girl. This piqued my interest and I decided to find out what type of school B'nos Yerusholayim actually was.
When I began to make enquires about the school, lo and behold, it wasn't as extreme as it had been painted; and what was more – the school's policy on chinuch – "education" - was precisely what I wanted for my daughter. And what type of chinuch did I want? No more and no less than the chinuch that was taught, where the emphasis was not wholly on book-learning but also on hands-on learning, learning all the many lessons that go into making…… a Jewish wife and mother!
The school had a full Kodesh (religious) and Chol (secular) curriculum but the emphasis in the Kodesh lessons was on the importance of middos tovos (good character traits) and the home. The girls learnt that building a Jewish home is what they were born for and the most important task in their lives. They learnt that the husband is a king and the wife a queen who understands that her home is her kingdom, and her children are royal children who need to be raised accordingly.
The girls were taught the practicalities of running a home – including kashrus and hilchos Shabbos in the home; they learnt how to cook and sew, and many of the lessons were geared to the pride and beauty of their role.
After much soul-searching and consultation I did send my daughter to B'nos Yerusholayim and I have never been sorry. The education she received there fulfilled all my expectations; the school consistently emphasised and taught the importance and greatness of a woman's role in life. I really have nachas (gratification) from the way she has grown up and now raises her (growing) family.
So what does the word chinuch actually mean? Chinuch is usually translated as education, but it is not "education" only in the book-learning sense – chinuch is the all-encompassing education of our children both at home and in school which teaches them how to live their lives as upright human beings - and this type of "education" is a full-time job. Everything that you say or do is an act of chinuch that is teaching your children what is right and what is wrong; it is an education FOR LIFE.
To be continued, G-d willing.