Navigating The Mesivta Maze
Shimmy Blum | Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Sruli Feinstein* and his parents are facing a dilemma. Sruli is in eighth grade, on the verge of entering mesivta high school. His three older brothers all attended a local yeshivah, with varying levels of success in their learning. Sruli is dead-set against attending that yeshivah, because none of his friends are going there. Besides, he knows he’s not as scholastically inclined as his brothers, and he’s worried that the rebbeim will expect him to follow in their footsteps.

Similar dilemmas are under discussion in frum houses across the globe these days, in some form or another. Whether the bochur is a bechor (firstborn) without family precedent to consider, or has siblings who have already graduated mesivta, choosing a school is never easy. Just a few decades ago, there was only a handful of options, and the choice was a relatively easy one. Now there is a veritable forest of mesivtas out there, but the dizzying rows of trees aren’t nearly as identical as they look. The mesivta application process has gone from being a blip on the screen of a child’s development, to a daunting ordeal that can be as lengthy — and consequential — as choosing the right shidduch.

Mishpacha turned to a team of mechanchim and mesivta-placement experts to learn how to navigate the confounding maze.

No Child Left Behind

The high-pressure race among parents and eighth-grade boys to get accepted into the “best” mesivtos leads to fear that if a bochur doesn’t ultimately get accepted to his first choice, he’ll either end up receiving an inferior chinuch, or he’ll wind up “on the streets.” Observers say that those fears are unfounded — precisely the fact that there are so many mesivtas on varying levels means that boys need not necessarily aim to attend the same mesivtas as their peers.

Rabbi Moshe Schmelczer, menahel of the Telshe Yeshiva–Chicago, which has a “two-track” system in part of its mechina/high school, explains: “The principle of ‘chanoch l’naar al pi darko’ [educate each child according to his path] can be easily applied under the current system. Boys who can learn on a higher level get to learn in a more stimulating environment, and those who are not as motivated get a curriculum and environment geared to their needs.”

Remediation and placement expert Rabbi Shmuel Gluck is the founder and director of Monsey’s Areivim organization, which helps boys who find the yeshivah system challenging and critiques the yeshivah placement scene, maintains that, in the broader picture, the system works.

“The system has its flaws, but it works well for everyone overall. Practically every bochur, at any level, can find a reasonably suitable yeshivah that is ready to accept him.”

According to Rabbi Gluck, the emotionally-charged contention that bochurim are left out in the cold is generally not due to anything the yeshivos can control.

“We’re often dealing with parents and bachurim who are unrealistic of the boy’s level and won’t consider the options that truly fit their needs. Many are looking to get into a yeshivah that is at somewhat of a higher level than them, or at least one in which no boys are at a lower level. Their expectations are unrealistic, of course, and foster disappointment when they cannot get accepted into the mesivta of their choice.”

Disappointment that is, for the most part, unwarranted.

Rabbi Yinon Ben-Mashiach, who taught upper elementary and lower high-school grades in Edmonton, Alberta, and is  an eighth-grade rebbi in the Lakewood Cheder for nearly a decade, relates that the selection of mesivtos works particularly well for less-motivated bochurim. “Mesivtos geared towards bochurim who are at a lower level do a fabulous job turning their talmidim around by the time they leave yeshivah.”

 

 

* Name changed

 

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