If recent media images of the international Hasidic community are any indication, the ultra-Orthodox are in dire need of an image makeover. On May 10th, pictures of Hasidic protestors clashing with Israeli police during the Women Of The Wall’s first prayer service, following the recent landmark ruling by the Jerusalem District Court allowing women to wear prayer shawls at the Western Wall, were blanketed across news sites and social media. Ironically, the night before, thousands of Hasidic men filled a baseball stadium in Rockland County at a rally to protest the evils of the Internet, photos of which instantly saturated cyberspace along with a deluge of tweets, Facebook comments and blog posts, urging the Hasidim to step out of the Dark Ages. A recent New York Magazine piece raised an uproar in the Hasidic community of Ramapo after divulging how the ultra-Orthodox there took over the public schools and proceeded to gut them, despite the fact that virtually all Orthodox children in the district attend private yeshivas.
If an image consultant isn’t exactly what the Hasidic community wants, or thinks it needs, Bramson ORT College is providing that service gratis, as it educates members of the Hasidic community, so that they can contribute positively to society, while maintaining their core religious beliefs.
Founded over 130 years ago to provide training and vocational skills to Jews all over the world, ORT gave rise to Bramson ORT College in the 1940s to assist Holocaust survivors and refugees acculturate into American society. In 2011, the college launched the B’derech program, a unique initiative catering to the Hasidic communities of Boro Park, Williamsburg, Monsey and Flatbush. Hasidic men, many of whom are in Kollel or work during the day, are provided the opportunity to earn a GED and an Associate Degree in either business, accounting, computer programming, networking or graphic design.
In order to accommodate yeshiva, work and family schedules, these students attend male only classes with male teachers three nights a week and on Sunday afternoons. As part of the program, students earn their GED by taking college level courses, which NY State recognizes as fulfilling their GED requirements. At the end of 16 months, these students complete the program with both their Associate Degree and GED in hand. Perhaps most importantly, though, they leave the program with newly developed confidence and maturity, which allow them to shed some of the limiting beliefs about themselves and the world outside their intensely insular communities – beliefs that continue to hinder so many of their brethren.
“Many came in with a very low academic acumen, but with a strong desire to make something of themselves. Most are leaving with greater self assurance and confidence, as well as a drive to conquer the world,” said Yair Rosenrauch, Director of Bramson ORT’s Brooklyn Extension Center.
M.S., who recently completed his yeshiva education, said at a recent meeting with ORT supporters, “I want to study here because I can receive an education and not change who I am. I want to study in general because one day I may lose my job, but they can never take away my education.” B.P., 56, a torah teacher for many years, came to Bramson in order to earn his accounting degree. “If I can do it, anyone can,” he said.
The first class of twenty, ranging in age from 18 to 56, is scheduled to graduate in June. B’derech’s new semester begins on June 16th.