Last week’s Jewish Link included very strongly worded commentaries by Jeffrey Rubin (“Regarding School Closing This Fall,” July 23, 2020) and Rabbi Wallace Greene (“The Ethics of Opening Schools,” July 23, 2020) arguing that no child should go back to school in the fall. While one can understand the sentiment that no risk to human life should be taken whatsoever, I don’t think my 6-year-old, surrounded by masked teachers and plexiglass, is a threat to anyone’s life.

In the same issue of The Jewish Link, Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim, in his article “Tisha B’Av: Successfully Battling the Yetzer Hara,” very aptly quoted the famous midrash about the fish requiring water to live. As in the midrash, when have Jews said anything other than that education of our children is also paramount to life itself?

Rabbi Greene, arguing that all schools must categorically remain closed, says “are we willing to play Russian roulette with our children… it is an exponential hazard.” In the game of Russian roulette, one out of every six people die. I doubt Rabbi Greene literally means that in every class of 24 preschoolers, four of them will die. In fact, the death rate of healthy 6-year-olds from COVID-19 is zero. It is very easy to let our fears get the better of us, but we must not let hyperbolic comparisons be a reason to tell others they have to be machmir on isolation and meykel on education.

Building out the argument against sending children to school, Rabbi Greene then asks, “Will every school hew a fixed set of guidelines?” Yes, of course! This is state-mandated. My children’s elementary school has a very long list of guidelines made with health experts and rebbeim that require temperature checks, plexiglass at every seat, staggered drop-offs, separate recess times, and so on. Every yeshiva can and should look to Yeshiva Bais Hillel’s model to educate our children fully every single day of the school year without compromising the education or health of anyone. The school will be safer from the spread of disease, in my opinion, than it ever was not withstanding the high financial cost of doing so.

Rubin makes comparisons to the 1918 influenza pandemic, arguing that “schools are less prepared” because in 1918 it was “in the middle of the Progressive Era” aimed to help “working-class families become healthier and wealthier,” including putting school nurses into schools. I frankly do not understand an argument that a time period referred to by Gertrude Stein as “The Lost Generation” was better off because attempts started to be made to improve the situation. What is the comparison? In 2020, New Jersey requires licensed school nurses by state mandate, life expectancy is more thirty (30!) years longer than in 1917 (the year before the flu breakout), and neither Remdesivir or even antibiotics were known yet. No one is starving today, and access to healthy nutrition, housing and even direct monetary payments for the poor have been available since 1968. The FDA was only formed in 1908, while snake oil and cocaine were literally still considered medicines of general applicability, root beer was poison, and asbestos and lead paint were the norm. Please add me to the list of people for whom the prior article arguing to the contrary states “I have yet to find anyone who agrees with me.”

Rubin further appears to argue that unless you are a “learning and behavioral specialist” you are not allowed to decide what is best for your children. Schools did an excellent job with “distance learning” and the tools at their disposal on short notice. Can we seriously argue that they learned as much or as well and that the minds of young children developed as well as they could have if they were in school rather than have an hour here or there by video?

Should the above not be considered self-evident, my children do, in fact, have an expert at being a mother who also doubles as an expert in trauma and anxiety, among other specialities. Heather Feigin, LCSW’s article published in The Jewish Link on June 18, 2020, “The Forgotten Children of the Pandemic,” is rife with examples of what she has seen in her practice with children and parents during their time away from school. (Read the article here.) We can also look to medical authorities who, when asked by CNBC if they were sending their own children back to school, answered in the affirmative. This includes Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, Dr. John Brownstein, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Boston Children’s hospital, and Dr. Dan Buckland, an emergency medicine doctor at Duke University.

While there are certainly learned people who will disagree about the safety of sending their own children back to school, it is not only permissible under New Jersey law, it is encouraged by the same governor who imposed the restrictions in the first place, and even more encouraged by the mara d’atra of many yeshivot including that of my children. Editorialists can editorialize, but this is not 1918 and these are my children. My children will go to school.

Guest Post by Heather Feigin, LCSW.

Populations all over the world have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. We are all well aware of the toll that it has taken on essential workers, the newly unemployed, teachers and families.

The population that has been suffering in silence, however, are our children.

As a parent of six children ages 6 to 16, and a therapist serving Passaic and surrounding counties, I have witnessed firsthand the devastation that homeschooling is causing our children.

In the span of a week’s time, our children went from having the structure, routine and stability of school to being thrust into a world of “quarantining,” “social distancing,” “homeschooling” and “Zooming.” Parents were put to the task of “loosening” the internet blocks they so carefully constructed so that their children could have access to essential online learning tools. Let’s be honest. With each child requiring their own device, access to, at best, inappropriate content and at worst, pornography, became rampant.

Time spent on electronic devices has skyrocketed while physical activity and in-person socialization became almost nonexistent. Many harried parents who have to balance working full time with homeschooling are at the end of their rope or have given up completely. They are simply not available to effectively homeschool their children and/or monitor and moderate their children’s internet activities.

Children spend their days “attending” Zoom classes, muted and off camera, while they whittle away the time chatting with friends, surfing the internet, playing games or watching YouTube. Despite the heroic efforts of our teachers and rabbeim, our children are being taught a fraction of what they were taught in the classroom, and even less is being absorbed. Additionally, students aren’t being provided with effective preparation for the Regents exams, AP exams or the SAT. If this continues, students will fall further behind and it will be more difficult for them to catch up.

Students who were not “school kids” to begin with, are suffering exponentially. If paying attention was hard in a classroom, it became almost impossible on an online platform. In addition, for the kids who looked forward to school for the socialization and extra curriculars, homeschooling is misery. For these kids, opportunities to excel and build esteem has been all but eliminated, causing significant decreases in motivation and significant increases in depression.

Pathologies and behavioral issues that were being monitored and controlled by school special services, are now germinating and expanding in the absence of those hands-on programs and support.

The longer homeschooling persists, the more milestones are being conducted over Zoom. While our Hanhalah has done, and continues to do, an exemplary job of making our children feel special, nothing can replace the beautiful and meaningful programs our yeshivot provide to demonstrate to our students the significance and importance of milestones such as receiving their siddurim, chumashim, beginning to learn gemara and bar and bat mitzvah celebrations. What these children are missing out on simply cannot be replaced.

Children who come from homes with marital discourse are also suffering tremendously. Marriages not thriving to begin with are now being stretched even further by the pressures of having to work and homeschool. Children now quarantined at home are at the mercy of every fight and argument because there is nowhere to go to escape. Sibling rivalry has increased as well because kids have no social outlets or changes of scenery.

Teens have a lot less class time and a lot more free time with nothing to do. “At-risk kids,” who were on the brink before, are now finding ample aimless hours to get involved in all sorts of trouble including, but certainly not limited to, drugs, alcohol and pornograpy. The longer homeschooling continues, the more time these kids have to develop and cultivate bad habits that can cause lasting damage and take years to undo.

Post bar-and bat-mitzvah teens have an additional set of challenges. Being a frum teen is hard enough. Without the infrastructure, support and routine the yeshiva community provides, our sons and daughters are floundering. Their connection to Torah, still fragile and in need of nurturing and strengthening, has declined, as has their mitzvah observance.

Homeschooling for the 2020-2021 school year as a response to COVID-19 is simply not a viable or sustainable option for our youth. Again, I implore our leaders to very carefully weigh, measure and weigh again the risks and the benefits to our children, and make every effort to ensure that school opens in its full capacity, come September 2020.


Heather Feigin LCSW is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Passaic, NJ. For appointments call 973-348-5279. Got a question for Heather? E-mail heather.feigin@gmail.com.

Introduction to Israel’s Separate Beaches

Kinar – on the Kinneret

In the Untied States, we go to the beach before Memorial Day, after Labor Day, on a weekday morning, or a weekday evening and one can usually find a beach to themselves.  In Israel, you have some better options for any day of the year – separate beaches for men and women.  Most split the hours or days when the beach is open to men and when the beach is open to women.  This is not an exhaustive list – rather these are the ones I’ve been to or know enough about to comment in detail.

In no particular order . . .

Ashdod Separate Beach

Beautiful Ashdod beach – click to enlarge

The Ashdod beach is beautiful.  There are large golden sand dunes and plenty of parking.  As an American, I very much appreciate the parking lot.  There is a fence on both sides of the separate beach and at the entrance in the rear are changing rooms, bathrooms, and water fountains.  Outdoor showers and water are also on much of the beach.  Due to currents / riptides this beach often has restrictions as to how far out you can go.  When there are no restrictions, we actually found that just to the left of the separate area no one really walked because they’d reach the wall of the separate area and we were able to swim together as a family.

The mechitzah at Ashdod beach

Men’s hours are Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday morning (until 1:30pm); Women’s hours are Monday, Wednesday, Friday mornings with the afternoons being the opposite.  The beach is free.  Kosher restaurants are about a mile’s drive away with Piscado being one of the best fish restaurants I’ve been to in my life.

Tel Aviv Separate Beach

Tel Aviv separate beach – click to enlarge

Tel Aviv has a long stretch of beach and boardwalk with exercise equipment, large hotels, and some restaurants.  Surrounded by jetties on both sides, and unfortunately not one of the nicest Tel Aviv beaches … but still plenty nice … is the separate swimming area in front of the Sheraton hotel.  It’s right in the center of things in Tel Aviv which means for the frum community there’s not all that much to offer with seemingly a collection of yeshivish people around this beach area which is in front of a small park and not much else of interest.  When I was there, due to rip tides one could only go out about three feet (one meter)!  It seems rather excessive.

Hours are by day with men having Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; women having Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday.  The beach is free.

Netanya Separate Beach

Netanya has the Kiryat Sanz beach near the Kiryat Sanz community.  I intended to make it here but it didn’t quite happen.  Hours mirror those of the Ashdod beach above.

Kinneret – Hof Kinar

Kinar – Kinneret beach – click to enlarge

Behind a private hotel (where you can get a room and kosher l’mehadrin food if you so desire) is a free and separate all hours beach with a mechitzah right down the middle on the north east part of the Kinneret, across the lake from Tiveria.  This beach is a favorite with my kids – it’s fresh water, the entire family (men and women) can go in at once, and the water is calm and cool.  It was 104 F outside when I was there but it was great in the Kinneret. (Sorry – Celsius is inferior for measuring air temperature – it’s designed around water’s freezing and boiling point but we live in air, not boiling water.)

The beach is free, open all hours, has plenty of parking, is across from a gas station should you need … and is bounded by large rocks on both sides.  A mechitzah of rocks runs down the middle with a life guard stationed above.  You can see from the men’s side to the women’s side when you’re in the water and vice versa though you’re separated so women still need to be tznious here.  It’s half hour drive to Tiveria and a plethora of kosher restaurants or about 45 minutes to Tzvat.

Other beaches

Caesaria beach with Roman aqueduct

Caesarea is of note because it’s not far from the highway and has the remains of a Roman aqueduct which is about 2,000 years old.  There isn’t much to speak of in terms of showers and it’s not a separate beach, but it’s not a busy beach.  If you’re looking for a spot in the water away from others, you can probably find it here especially during down hours.  Plus, if you’re traveling along the coast, anywhere between Ashdod and Neharriya, it’s an easy stop along the way.  Plus, you can see some ruins, etc.

Mishpacha magazine published a list a few years back with many more beaches – here’s the picture (until they ask me to take it down) – click for larger image:

 

Medusa – Israel Jellyfish

Medusa (jellyfish) on the shore in Ashdod

You pick up some interesting Hebrew vocabulary depending on what you do in Israel.  One you learn at the beach: Medusa.  It’s their name for these really scary jellyfish that bite and hurt.  You have to be wary of them in the early summer months … until after Tish B’av when every local will tell you they disappear as if they know it’s Tish B’Av and after that, no more pain.

Israeli beaches are wonderful!  Being able to go any day of the year with separate beaches all over Israel is even better!  Under the news headlines which are largely only about when people fight, you can find in so many Israeli communities beaches set aside for separate swimming for the Torah observant community.  It’s really nice of these communities, some of which are otherwise very secular, to make accommodations so everyone can enjoy the beach and live and play next to each other.

The mechitzah at Ashdod beach