My yeshiva education opened my whole wide world – New York Daily News
It is not uncommon to come from a divorced family — it is shockingly regular — and can cause trauma in anyone’s life. I experienced the pain in childhood of family separation. My parents’ divorce and their differences over traditional Jewish values and religious practices triggered years of custody battles. The situation was not at all healthy for me and my siblings.
I survived and, eventually, thrived. A key elixir to my healing, on top of my mother’s determination and courage, has been the kindness and support of the Orthodox Jewish community and the yeshiva education I received. Without that support, I shudder to think where I’d be today. It was the collective care and intentionality of the community that helped me navigate adversity.
Members of the Orthodox community essentially saved my life. It deeply disturbs me these days that my community seems under siege — not only by antisemites — but from the media as well. Our educational system has been repeatedly misrepresented and maligned, with misinformation spread about children of divorce, like me.
I was born in the Midwest, where I attended a Jewish day school. After the divorce, when I turned 13, I begged my mother to send me away to school to be out of an educational situation that simply was not working. She agreed and became my greatest champion. She fought for me and convinced the local courts to let me move to Brooklyn, where we had a family friend. My host Orthodox Jewish family already had six children; regardless, they opened their doors, took me in, and allowed me to sleep on their couch for a year. They enrolled me at a nearby yeshiva, which provided the stability and support I desperately needed.
The public needs to know yeshivas are wonderful boons to stability for the children who attend them. Our school days are much longer than public school days, but that affords yeshiva students the opportunities to develop a sense of responsibility and excel in the critical thinking core to the yeshiva curricula. In addition to our religious studies, we had a full plate of secular learning. At my school, we took New York’s Regents exams, where I and many of my classmates passed all of them.
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Not all yeshivas, of course, are the same. The yeshivas I attended showed great agility in meeting the evolving needs of their student body. For example, the rabbis and teachers are always looking for ways to develop, improve, and evolve, because their goal is to benefit their students’ expanding minds. Many schools are now also teaching STEM.
My learning did not end when I graduated high school. I applied to, and was accepted by, John Jay College. Rather than attend that institution, I chose to continue my Jewish studies, and later received a master’s degree and a doctorate in a Jewish field and wrote four books about Jewish law.
I eventually moved to the Baltimore area, began a family, and now have many beautiful children, all of whom attend yeshivas. I also applied and was accepted into Loyola University’s master’s program in finance. Graduating with honors, I joined Alpha Sigma Nu honor society, graduated with a 3.89 GPA, and passed the Chartered Financial Analyst Level 1 exam (an exam that requires 300+ hours of studying and routinely has the highest failure rate among all the CFA tests). I attribute much of my ability to apply myself to my yeshiva years.
I currently work at an accounting firm, and along with my wife, who also attended yeshiva and is a medical professional, we are proud to have our children enrolled in religious schools. For me, yeshiva was a lifesaver, providing balance, stability, and purpose when I sorely needed it. That — along with the steadfast support of my mother and the Orthodox community — prepared me for success in life.
I know no two children are alike, much like no two divorces are the same, but my yeshiva experience opened doors to me and helped turn my life around. I am eternally grateful to my yeshiva, teachers, and friends, which became the chosen family I needed.
The news media should listen to stories like mine, because there are many. And if they are truly concerned with objectivity and accuracy, instead of maligning yeshivas, report to the public what a gift to society these schools are.
Bergmann, a rabbi, is a graduate of Yeshivat Rabbi Chaim Berlin High School in Brooklyn, and has a master’s degree and doctorate from Ner Israel Rabbinical College, as well as a master’s in finance from the Sellinger School of Business at Loyola University.