Orthodox judge blames religious school system for overdose – the forward
The Orthodox community was rocked last month when Malky Klein, 20, daughter of Avrohom and Rifka Klein of Boro Park, died of a heroin overdose.
Social networks inundated with tearful thinking. A podcast interview with Klein’s dad went viral. A tribute video to the young woman got 28,000 views in one week. More than $ 250,000 was raised online in Malky’s memory for an Israeli organization working on early intervention in the Orthodox community.
But what stands out most is the reaction of Ruchie Freier, the only female Hasidic judge in Brooklyn.
In an essay for the Haredi site VosIzNeis riddled with religious terms and quotes from sacred texts, Freier implored his community to consider the much deeper root of the problem that killed Klein – far deeper than any drug epidemic. Instead, she blamed the school system for Malky’s death.
In far too many Orthodox schools, children with learning disabilities are ruthlessly discriminated against, often expelled from schools for their academic performance alone. Not a single religious girls’ high school would accept Malky Klein, writes Freier, no matter how hard the girl tried:
âMalky has personally written letters to other principals and begged for the chance, to no avail. Alas, despite her best efforts, she cried out to her parents, “What girls in my class need in seconds to learn takes me hours.” If that’s what it means to be a good girl, it’s not for me! ‘ And that was the beginning of the tragic end for Malky. A sweet girl, who was so misunderstood and hurt, despite the unconditional love of her wonderful parents. As we reject more and more children, the death rate increases. The Chazon Ish said a decision to deport a child is Dinei Nefoshos [a judgment of life and death] and halakhically requires a Bais Din [religious court] of 23 members.
But Malky’s situation is far from unique. Freier describes a problem that has tragically become common in the community. In a world ruled by paranoia, where social status is paramount – slightly above divine Torah or the law – parents will do whatever is necessary to keep their child in as elitist an environment as possible, for the good for a family’s reputation and of course their marriage prospects. . And if that means pushing another child, so be it.
Freier describes how she herself went to a director to advocate for Malky’s acceptance, despite her challenges. Principle was reluctant to accept Malky, “because there was negative information,” Freier writes:
âThe principal quietly told me that several mothers were calling her, exclaiming that if Malky Klein is accepted, they will take their daughters out of school. In fact, the director said that one of the mothers explained that she was related to the Kleins and therefore had first-hand information about what was going on in their house and strongly urged the Rabbetzin not to accept. Malky. This necessitated my investigation, which revealed that such a cousin did not exist. This is just one example of the exaggerated and / or false reports that were made by the mothers in the class.
Vicious rumors and the inability to accept someone slightly different have deadly consequences.
Freier notes that this has not always been the case. âI had classmates from a variety of backgrounds, and some girls had parents who weren’t frum. [Orthodox] from birth, âshe writes. âWe all got along, our teachers appreciated each student and encouraged us to reach greater heights in our connection to Hashem. Some girls in my class had learning disabilities, but during those years we didn’t know it, we just knew they were failing most of their tests. No one thought these girls had no placeâ¦ .no one’s parents called the school to complain or have them kicked out.
But a change has occurred since then, and Freier notes its source.
“We thought we knew better than our parents and that we were going to take Torah to an unparalleled level of excellence – we announced the advent of Mitzuyanim [âexcellersâ] – yeshivot and schools with higher standards, and disenfranchised many students who could not attend. So began the Churban [âdestructionâ] of our generationâ¦ .the rejection of so many innocent children left behind, hurt and destroyed.
Freier is courageous in speaking out – few can, not least because those who do are often forced to fall silent. In January 2016, Los Angeles-based Orthodox philanthropist Shlomo Rechnitz gave a scathing speech at a charity dinner in Lakewood, accusing religious schools of “bloodshed”, describing the plight of rejected children as a “mahalah “, a disease that infected the Orthodox. society in general.
“Many of us have created a new Torah, a new Yiddishkeit [Jewishness], it makes us feel good about ourselves, but has little to do with the Torah he gave us 3,300 years ago, âsaid Rechnitz. “We transformed our frumkeit [Orthodoxy] into an idol, and we forgot some of the basics of Yiddishkeit.
Rechnitz lambasted the “elitism” of the community and the “ugly superiority complex” that was adopted. But he was forced to retract and eventually agreed to “withdraw from the conversation.”
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Forward.