Rockland Haredi girls' school, haven for nonconformists and misfits, shutters suddenly

“Girls were crying. It was a chaos,” one parent said.

School buses in Rockland County. Credit: Shtetl

May 31, 2024 12:15 PM


Parents of girls in a recently shuttered Rockland school say they question whether the school their kids attended until last week would still be closed if it didn’t have what one father called a “bad rap” within the Hasidic community.

Until recently, Bnos Derech Yisroel, a girls’ school in New City, served over 300 students from pre-K through twelfth grade who are part of the greater Monsey Haredi community. Administrators sent a message to parents on May 21 saying “the school will not be operating as of Thursday, May 23,” according to a screenshot reviewed by Shtetl.

“Due to ongoing financial difficulties,” the email said, “the school staff has not received their salaries for the past three months.”

On what had suddenly become the girls’ last day of school, parents received yet another stress-inducing message telling them there would be no buses to bring their children home from school. “We regret to inform you that the school will not be able to provide transportation services today,” the message said.

The Jewish volunteer emergency services organization Chaverim “and the police department were there, just to coordinate all the cars that came,” said a parent who asked not to be named in this article. “It was hectic.”

“Girls were crying. It was a chaos,” said Nochem Vaynberg, a parent with children in the school who is also part of a board seeking to reopen the school, speaking about the school’s abrupt closure. “This trauma stays forever.”

What makes the shutdown even more vexing is that many families who send their kids to Bnos Derech Yisroel did so because they already faced a lack of other options.

The school, which is not affiliated with any particular Hasidic sect, prides itself on accepting students from a wider range of ethnic and religious backgrounds than other Hasidic schools in the area. It also has a more relaxed set of rules than most other schools. Unlike many other Hasidic schools, this school doesn’t reject children whose mothers drive cars, or whose fathers trim their beards, and social media use is not forbidden — except during school hours.

“BDY was founded on the simple principle that every child deserves a quality education regardless of their social or economic status or their religious affiliation in the Jewish Community,” the school’s website says.

“They’re welcoming everyone,” Vaynberg said. “Hasidic, Litvish, Modern Orthodox, baal teshuva, geirim,” he said, using the words for converts to Judaism and Jewish people who became Orthodox later in life.

The school also welcomes students from non-Ashkenazi backgrounds, the anonymous parent said. “In the Hasidic community there’s a lot of Yemen families, there’s a lot of Sephardic families, where all these families would have a hard time putting into normal schools,” he said.

For now, parents say that they are paying teachers in cash to host classes privately in someone’s house.

But it’s not a long-term solution. And as girls’ futures remain in limbo, parents are asking how the school could have managed its money better, and what role community leaders, called askanim in Hebrew, should have in working to re-open it.

Vaynberg criticized the askanim, saying that he thinks they should hold fundraisers, and that they might care more about the school if it were not so accepting. “In our community, it’s very easy to judge. ‘Why did you leave Satmar? Go back to Satmar,’” he said. “‘Why did you leave Bobov? Go back to Bobov.’ ‘Why did you leave Skver? Go back to Skver.’”

“Right now we must pressure every askan in the world: please come in to help us,” Vaynberg said. “We cannot take it anymore.”

Another parent said he also wished that rabbis and askanim would pay more attention to the school’s closure, instead of just some Haredi news outlets. 

“I didn’t expect them to pay off the debt of the school but at least to help the kids into other schools, or some statement of some sort,” the father said. “We haven’t heard a word from anyone nor a mention of anything besides an article from Yeshiva World News” and Rockland’s local Haredi media.

But a third parent, who also asked not to be named, said he believes the problem was the school’s financial management, not askanim. A few months ago, he pointed out, the school, combined with its boys’ equivalent, held a fundraiser and met its goal of raising $600,000. He questions what happened to the money, and why earlier financial warning signs were not heeded.

In other parts of the economy, employees get paid biweekly, so “if I wouldn’t get paid in the third week, I would say to my boss, ‘Ok, I’ll talk to you when you pay me,’” the parent said. “There just seems to be no accountability.”

Vaynberg said questions about financial mismanagement have a time and place — but that time is not now. “With the school closed, we cannot judge,” he said. “When the school opens and is running, then for sure, we need to look back and see what happened.”

For now, Vaynberg said, he’s not sure how to make the school reopen. 

“It’s a puzzle with a hundred pieces,” he said, “and whenever we try to bring two pieces of the puzzle together, we find out that the first two pieces of the puzzle do not match and we need to start again.”

Administrators at Bnos Derech Yisroel did not immediately respond to questions from Shtetl. The New York State Education Department and the East Ramapo Central School District did not immediately answer questions from Shtetl.

Read more in Shtetl:
‘Your son is not accepted’: Yiddish rap song explores struggles faced by students rejected from Haredi schools
What it takes to attend a Haredi school: 11 rules families must follow in the new school year