YAFFED was founded by individuals raised within the ultra-Orthodox communities of New York City, and is committed to improving secular education in Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox schools.
Due to our own upbringing, we are familiar with--and have been affected by--the severe deficiency of the education systems in the ultra-Orthodox world, particularly within Chasidic boys' schools. From elementary school through high school, we were provided with a rigorous curriculum in Judaic studies, including Tanach, Mishna, Gemara, Halacha, mussar, and chasidus. Our general studies education, however, was limited to non-existent.
The cheders and yeshivas we attended often provided only the rudiments of English and mathematics, and, in some cases, not even that. In many of our schools, the brief period of “English” instruction was spent with utter neglect for classroom decorum and discipline, which led, naturally, to a poor learning environment. Teachers and educators, thereby, reinforced the message that general, non-Judaic studies were of little relevance to our lives, or worse, an outright nuisance. In most of our schools, secular education ended abruptly post-Bar Mitzvah, after which our academic curricula consisted of Judaic studies alone. Many of us, at that time, had only the English reading and math skills of third or fourth-graders.
The New York State Department of Education states that non-public schools must offer classes in English, mathematics, reading, writing, music, arts, history, geography, science, health education, and physical education. Many of our elementary schools offered only a miniscule fraction of these, and most of our high schools, none at all.
Furthermore, because of the strict exclusion of secular reading material in many of our communities—secular books and newspapers were often explicitly forbidden—we had few opportunities to encounter ideas not formally taught in our classrooms. As a result, our prospects have been hindered in profound and substantial ways. Many of us have struggled to achieve economic self-sufficiency, unable to join a workforce in which one's level of education practically dictates the individual's professional attainments and economic status. Some of us have aspired to academics at the college and graduate degree level, but our abilities to pursue those dreams lay beyond reach. Opportunities available to most citizens have been, for us, severely hampered by our educational handicap.
We, therefore, have come together to effect change. Our goal is to ensure that Yeshivas offer curricula that are rich in the subjects mandated by education laws while maintaining respect for the primacy of Judaic studies and the unique religious and cultural values within the ultra-Orthodox communities.
Our mission is to ensure that students receive the academic skills they need in order to pursue lives of economic self-sufficiency with a broad range of opportunities for personal choice and individual fulfillment.