I grew up peripherally aware of parochial schools. But most of what I knew concerned Catholic schools, land of the wealthy or otherwise unfit for public school. The Yeshiva system? That was an exotic new world I discovered post-conversion, along with gefilte-fish and dreidels. It is still largely mysterious to me, largely because it seems like the stuff more Orthodox Jews are made of. It is, unquestionably, training ground for a strong Jewish identity. In the mission statements of any yeshiva you pull up, you will find a reference to Torah, to heritage, often to Israel. Whether or not you feel like the educational standards are up to snuff, you can count on your kid identifying as a Jew upon graduation. But what goes into this machine? And what of those who don’t take this path? There is in fact, a small and growing contingent of Jewish families who have chosen to step outside of formal education.
As I mentioned in my last post, I have chosen to homeschool my son. But this is a minor rebellion on my part; I’m not really going against the community grain. For a Jewish family living in Orthodox Brooklyn, homeschooling represents a clear departure from the very orthodoxy they have been raised to respect. How can they make this choice and still balance their obligations to community and culture?