Do you have a Sephardi minyan? Do you have Wifi? A study in the Yeshiva experience.

We just returned from Israel night. It is that magical time when my son is looking at Yeshivot to study at in Israel for his upcoming gap year before going off to University. It is especially nostalgic for me as I see that the schools he is seriously considering are the same as those that I looked at when researching my post-high school year in Israel.

My son has a very unique plan when attending an Israel school presentation and asking follow-up questions. (I am revealing this WITH my son's permission.) He asks every school the same two questions: "Do you have a Sephardi minyan?" and "Do you have Wifi?"

On the surface, these seem to be two very strange and almost diametrically opposite questions. I must admit I squirmed a bit tonight when he asked one school these two questions and some in the room chuckled. But my son has a very specific reason for asking these questions. On one level, he wants to ask the unexpected and see how the representatives of various Yeshivot respond when faced with something a bit off the script. However, I also think there is something much deeper at work here which I later discussed with my son and he confirmed.

Do you have a Sephardi minyan? Note, my son has blond hair and blue eyes. He is a mix of Polish, German, and Ukrainian, Yeki, Litvak, and Chasidish, with nary a Sephardi ancestor for as far on our family tree as we can go. But he decided this year to start davening every morning in the Sephardi minyan at school and is now a proud member of the "Sephardi party". He began this practice to emulate an older Ashkenazi classmate, who is now a recent graduate of our Yeshiva, who followed this same practice in previous years. He has continued because he genuinely appreciates the atmosphere, the camaraderie, the difference of the Sephardi prayers.

The first question, do you have a Sephardi minyan, is asking what is your attitude towards difference? Do you celebrate diversity, Shivim Panim LeTorah, 70 Faces to the Torah? Do you want all of their students to become the best religiously committed Jewish individuals they can be with an emphasis on keeping their individuality, what makes each of them special? Do you celebrate the Dignity of Difference as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks calls it? Or do you aspire to create an ideal model for a religious Jew? Do you want every student to ultimately follow that same mold?

The second question, do you have Wifi, asks what is your attitude towards the outside world? And what do you view is the role of the Yeshiva in preparing students for this world? Do you view your Yeshiva as a citadel, a fortress to defend against the insidious forces which are unfortunately all too prevalent in our outside world, especially in the dark corners of the world wide web? Is the Internet something to be tolerated at best, perhaps even feared? Something you want to protect your students from? Or, do you view your Yeshiva not as a citadel or fortress but as a lighthouse, a city on a hill, bringing light to the world outside the confines of the academy? Do you view the role of the Yeshiva as one to prepare your students to become thoughtful adults who engage with the world with the Internet as a powerful tool for this engagement?

This is a topic that I have thought a great deal about in my role as a parent and as teacher and that I have blogged about in the past. Thanks to my son and his quirky questioning strategy, I am contemplating it once again.