Rockland County, NY – Journal News Profile: Higher Education Becoming More Mainstream in Chasidic Communities


    Mendel TaubRockland County, NY – The quality of the education provided at Chasidic schools has come under the microscope in recent years as critics charge that many institutions fail to provide pupils with even a basic secular curriculum.

    Some students, however, have taken matters into their own hands, venturing out on their own to supplement the rudimentary teachings they received by taking advantage of a variety of educational opportunities.

    A recent Journal News article profiles several Chasidic students who chose to continue their studies in the hopes of creating better lives for themselves. While there are those who have chosen to leave their Chasidic roots behind, others found a way to expand their educational horizons without compromising their practice of Orthodox Judaism.

    Mendel Taub thought that he was the first member of his family to enhance his studies with courses at the Rockland County Board of Cooperative Educational Services. By age 15, the New Square resident had dropped out of school and quickly realized that unable to read, write or even speak English and with just basic math skills, he was qualified only for low paying, dead end jobs.

    Purchasing a radio on the sly to prevent being ostracized by community members, Taub tuned in daily to Rush Limbaugh’s radio program hoping to gain a better command of the English language.

    Realizing that he needed a proper education, Taub turned to the East Ramapo School District where an administrator advised him to wait until he was 17 so that he could enroll in a local BOCES program without parental consent.

    “All I wanted to do was learn English,” said Taub, “I didn’t think I’d be able to master math, science or social studies. I was clueless. I didn’t know anything about anything.”

    Just before he began his classes, Taub confided in his older brother Abraham, who shared that he had earned his GED at BOCES and was currently enrolled at Rockland Community College.

    Mendel Taub, who is now 21, volunteers as an EMT for the Ramapo Valley Ambulance Corps. An undergraduate student who received a full scholarship to Pace University, Taub hopes to go to law school. While he is no longer religiously observant, he still lives in his parents’ home and harbors no resentment towards the Chasidic community. He describes his experience at BOCES as “a tunnel to success.”

    Abraham Taub earned a SUNY Chancellor’s Award for academic excellence while he was at Rockland Community College. He remains part of the New Square community where he lives with his wife and three children, all of whom attend village yeshivos.

    Taub operates a business selling booths to parking attendants and security guards while continuing his schooling at the NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine and hopes to become an emergency room physician.

    Entertainer Lipa Schmeltzer is another member of the Chasidic community who was honored by Rockland Community College with the Chancellor’s Award at the age of 36.

    Schmeltzer moved out of New Square and worked his way up through the educational ranks, hiring a private tutor to get him through his BOCES coursework and ultimately graduating from RCC in May 2014 with honors with a dual major in liberal arts and performing arts.

    Now a student at Columbia University, Schmeltzer is earning a degree in creative writing and visual arts and he considers his synagogue in Airmont, New York to be a refuge for those who feel confined by the insular restrictions of the Chasidic community, offering acceptance and a safe haven for those who don’t fit the mold.

    The number of students from the Chasidic community registered at BOCES has grown over the years from just a scattered few to approximately 40.

    Albert Moschetti, adult education director at BOCES when Mendel Taub enrolled, said that his staff goes the extra mile to ensure that students of all backgrounds feel at home in the program.

    “In the last eight years we began to see that some of our outreach to the Jewish community was showing a result,” said Moschetti.

    Enrollment from the Orthodox and Chasidic community is also up at Rockland Community College, according to college spokesperson Tzipora Reitman.

    “Word is out that RCC offers a comfortable environment for Jewish students, both academically and socially,” said Mrs. Reitman.

    Monsey resident Chaya Wagschal is the rare Chasidic young woman who attends college full time. She noted that since girls’ schools typically offer a fuller secular education, she was able to start in RCC without having to go to BOCES first.

    “It’s hard for the boys but it can be done,” said Miss Wagschal, noting that she wished that Chasidic yeshivos designated a larger time slot to general and secular studies for their male students.

    Miss Wagschal, who is 20 years old, said that most of her high school classmates went on to seminary and then either took an entry level job or did an accelerated college program that enabled them to pursue a career in nursing or graphic design. She is enrolled in a math and science honors track in RCC and is planning a career in computer science and electrical engineering. A member of the Chasidic community, Miss Wagschal said that both her parents and her community have been supportive of her educational choices.

    Former Kiryas Joel resident Eli Wagschal is another member of the Chasidic community who ventured into the halls of academia, traveling daily to Yeshiva University in Washington Heights, as previously reported on VIN News. Wagschal graduated in May 2014 with a degree in business management and a GPA over 3.5. He is currently pursuing a degree in law at Pace University.

    30 year old Pinchas Dirnfeld was one of the first New Square teens to enroll at BOCES a decade ago. Now working on a doctorate in mathematics at the University of Utah, Dirnfeld went from BOCES to RCC and earned a masters from Columbia University.

    “Overall, there are a lot more kids who go nowadays than 10 years ago,” said Dirnfeld.

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    1. This article is misleading. It implies that someone who comes from a chassidic background and pursues higher education will or must abandon their heritage. That is simply untrue. There is a significant number of Rabbonim and Roshei Yeshivos who have pursued higher education. A visit to some of the bastions of our frum organizations (such as Agudas Yisroel, Torah Umesorah, etc.) will reveal many more who are Klei Kodesh while having successfully included secular higher education. Yiddishkeit and college are not opposites.

      I am a college graduate, and one of Klei Kodesh, to boot. Quite honestly, the college environment has its nisyonos for the frum student. If the backdrop for going to school is a lifestyle that is wholesome regarding Torah and Mitzvos, it can and does work. No, college is not for everyone, and some cannot withstand the pressures. Banning it is as silly as requiring it. Each individual needs to have a personal Torah guide that can advise him (or her) whether the college challenge is manageable for that individual. No one size fits all.

      One can have advanced education and be respectably frum, chassidish, and honorable.

      • I agree with #2 wholeheartedly. It is unfortunate that articles such as this with a slanted and negative agenda get such a wide viewership due to the internet. The articles’ presumption is totally false. I myself went to one of the famous chasidish yeshivas where I sent my children as well. I got the same education as hundreds of others and was completely satisfied with my education. “After I got married” I went on to earn several undergraduate degrees and several graduate degrees! I thank G-d that I was able to stay strong and resist the need to compromise my chasidishkeit and yidishkeit. Perhaps the reason is that I studied when I was older. With my vast experience as a professional I can assure all readers that one can become a professional and still not have to compromise one iota of one’s yiddishkeit (at least in NY it is so). Rabbonim are correct in resisting allowing young impressionable boys and girls to go to college. The proof is in this article and its accompanying pictures. It is sad to see the urge to shed what is of the highest importance in a vain effort to try and fit in somewhere else. One does not have to compromise the other.

        • So why not allow yound boys and girls to attend separate colleges like COPe and Touro?

          Also the reason these boys go off is because they are considered such “oisvorfs” who don’t listen to rabbonim. If it was the norm they wouldn’t go off as much.

      • Couldn’t have said it better!! There are many frum doctors, lawyers, etc. The OTD community likes to imply that one cannot get a proper education and have a career being a shomer torah umitzvos. Just another easy target for their misguided views. Lipa Schmeltzer is a huge (bad) influence in that community.

        • Of course, you do realize that every one of those frum doctors and lawyers you mention DID go to college and graduate (law/medical) school. There is no way to become a doctor or lawyer without lots and lots of formal post-high-school study.

          Also, you are presenting a strawman of the argument. It’s not that you can’t be successful while being frum. The argument is that it is much, much harder (no one ever said it was impossible) to achieve financial success and independence without at least a baseline (i.e. high school) level of competence in secular studies. Without that basic education, the job seeker has a handicap that is very difficult to overcome and puts him/her at a severe competitive disadvantage in the job market.

          The Wolf

        • Many frum doctors lawyers etc…? Really in the chasidish community???? I don’t see to many young doctors and even lawyers are a rareity although it does exist.

      • You are reminiscing the past. You speak of elder leaders. Nowdays, noone would look at you if you went to college. the world became so much more chniukt and moved to the right

      • The reason many of these guys attending college are going off the derceh is that it became such an extreme and we became such outcasts if we go to college. And so once you feel not part of a community you leave them. if the schools were to say that its OK to get some sort of secular education then it would differ.
        Furthermore, if high schools provided secular education it would be easier to matriculate into college and we wouldn’t resent the past.
        One more discussion not mentioned what are the chasidish 14 yr old boys doing all day? Can they really sit and learn all day? At 14????????? Lest you argue so why is sitting in secular education easier? It is. Its a change of pace often not as deep as gemara. Facts are kids are less liedgayers if they have structured days. And those with secular education in High school seem to be less liedagayers.

    2. A lot of things to note, first, It is an amazing thing, but it has to be done under the guidence of a qualified morah derech, because there is a lot of issues that arise while being in a secular enviroment, and we should really command RCC for working on making the enviroment comfterable for the frum community.

      Secondly, as we all know, the notion that college is a tunnel to success is a myth, you can graduate college, and look for a job for years, the only diffrence you have between someone who went to college and someone who did not go and is looking for a job is a bruised ego and a mountain of debt.

    3. A BIG problem – lack of secular education. I grew up in a very frum home. My brothers went to Chassidish Yeshivahs, – and they can’t get a good job. As a woman,I had a great secular education – learned great skills in my school. I think a lot of people are going off the derech because of lack of secular education and skills to be able to get a good job. Is it better for people to go off the derech then to learn in Yeshiva and get a better secular education? If they are strong in their Yiddishkeit, they will continue to be strong in their Yiddishkeit if they are given a better secular education – if more hours are devoted to reading, writing, arithmatic and computer skills .are taught. On most jobs one needs to know how to type and use a computer.

    4. Nebach on these poor people they give up their Torah and mitzvahs to become secular,when in the same time you can have education and being religious and not being smarter then our Medora avos

      • Your statement is a generalization. Please provide the exact percentage of shomrei TOrah u’Mitzvos who enter the professional world via a college education and wind up secular in the end. Also provide the source of your data.

        You will be shocked and awed.

    5. This is all nonsense already. You have at least two generation already of yeshivalite, who learned by Gedolei Yisroel, who are doctors, lawyers, accountants, actuaries, systems analysts, dentists and engineers who are talmidei chachomim, kovea ittim, raised holy families with children in kolel, and who support Torah. What more proof do you need?

    6. Its interesting that the Lohud article says that Wagshall didn’t have a high school diploma but according to VIN, Wagshalls classmates pursued accelerated college degrees in nursing and graphic design so how did they not have any trouble doing that if they didn’t have a high school diploma?

      Additionally, Wagshall says that she got a good Hebrew education and that most of her classmates went to seminary after high school, so she is obviously not a satmar graduate (since there are no hebrew studies in Satmar and girls don’t go to seminary/college after high school) so what kind of chasidishe school did she go to that girls go to seminary and get college degrees after high school?

    7. Recently in a local grocery. Chassidish Yid in the customer service area (very nice person) could not spell some very basic words. I do not blame him one bit. I do not even blame the parents. 100% the Rebbas who instructed the Cheder to not teach basic English. I could tell he was very embarrassed. This needs to be fixed.

      • I work at a high end fortune 100 job and company. Spell check is the norm. i don’t need to know how to spell. I just need to know how to use spell check. By the way grammar is totally out the door in corporate america. To quote my boss noone wants long winded grammatically correct e-mails. The higher ups get 1,000 emials a day. They want one sentence text like style e-mails


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