- Posted January 10, 2013 by
Brooklyn, New York
College Education: A Growing Trend in the Charedi Community
(thejfile.com) Graduating Yeshiva students going on to pursue a college education is apparently the latest trend emerging in the orthodox Jewish community.
Despite the fact that college attendance has been stigmatized by orthodox Jewish leaders in the United States for decades, in recent years, there has there been a significant increase in Yeshiva students attending university.
Rabbis, by and large, decry immersing oneself in a secular, mixed gendered environment. In orthodox Jewish circles, the fear of assimilation, whether or not a misconception, dictates strong rabbinic opposition. While many young religious men and women do attend university, there remains a lack of infrastructure in the yeshiva system to support these goals. Without college counselors, navigating the complex application process can be overwhelming for those who choose to pursue a higher education.
Comes “Unzera Consulting” a newly established organization dedicated to helping orthodox men and women apply to college. Founded by DovBer Schwartz, who maneuvered the college applications process on his own and managed to score a scholarship for his respective university.
“The world of college applications is a different language for young people coming out of the yeshiva system”, says DovBer Schwartz, in an interview with theJfile “even if they were to successfully apply to college, they have no competitive edge over kids who have been prepped for years with college counselors and courses”.
The name Unzera, “our” in Yiddish, was carefully chosen. “We aren’t coming from the outside. We wanted to be heimish but professional and thorough at the same time” explains Schwartz.
Unzera Consulting packages range from helping with financial aid and scholarship application to transferring yeshiva credits, interview preparations and resume structuring. But unlike other organizations that help support young men and women who have left mainstream orthodoxy, Unzera’s goal is to help students living within their respective orthodox communities. The company works primarily with people from Williamsburg, Flatbush, and Crown Heights.
Although there are growing efforts to create a support structure for young men and women post-yeshiva, the focus is not on helping them attend college. The program “Footsteps” offers support and college counseling for those who leave the faith, and a newly formed group, Crown Heights Young Entrepreneurs, provides support for orthodox men and women trying to start their own companies. “However”, Schwartz notes, “most people can’t handle starting their own company,” which leaves few options for earning a decent income.
According to researchers at Georgetown University in 2010, “the median earnings of male and female college graduates and more working full-time was about double their high school diploma-only peers”. The statistics are clear- having a degree translates into finding a better profession and earning more money.
Schwartz tries to steer away from debating with perspective clients on whether or not college is appropriate. In Crown Heights, where Schwartz resides and headquarters to the largest Chabad community in the world, some educators discourage college attendance arguing that the Lubavitcher Rebbe opposed Yeshiva students pursuing a college education.
“Ultimately getting a degree is a highly individualized choice that can be good for some and negative for others. If someone has consulted with their spiritual mentors or rabbis, factored in all the relevant issues and has come to the resolution that attending college is the right choice for them, any further discussion is none of my business” Schwartz said.
Schwartz notes that although, at times, the Lubavitcher Rebbe spoke publicly about the dangers of college, he specifically advised others to go to college.
Besides, Schwartz argues that getting a college degree can be accomplished without setting foot on a college campus. “There is no reason to subject yourself to that culture if you feel uncomfortable”.
“But in today’s world, with the countless options for university, I am confident that even a deeply religious Jew can pursue a college degree and remain wholeheartedly committed to living a Torah observant life” He said.