‘Your son is not accepted’: Yiddish rap song explores struggles faced by students rejected from Haredi schools

With over 14,000 views on YouTube in just a week, the subject seems to have struck a chord

Sep 3, 2023 10:15 AM


David Herskovic knows how to turn pain into a catchy tune. His new Yiddish-language rap song “Loy Niskabel,” and the accompanying music video, is only the latest example in which he uses art to mock the extravagances of Haredi leaders who cloak personal agendas in the language of religion.

“Loy Niskabel” – “not accepted” – addresses the deep sadness that can accompany being kicked out of a yeshiva, or not accepted in the first place, in a community where religious education is so highly prized. As a simple rap beat undergirds a classic clarinet, Herskovic narrates three characters: the working-class dad so devoted he even prays at rest stops, a finger-pointing yeshiva dean with a proclivity toward authoritarianism, and the teenage boy whose fate turns upside down when he’s kicked out of school and left to wander around his neighborhood. Rather than focusing on behavioral issues, the principal complains to the father that “your wife is far too pretty,” and to the son: “Your dad never sends a donation,” according to the video’s English subtitles.

With over 14,000 views on Youtube in just one week, the subject seems to have struck a chord. In an interview with Shtetl, Herskovic, who works as a lawyer in Stamford Hill, London by day and uses the name If You Tickle Us online, talked about what made him create the video and what the reaction to it has been like. “When you do art, you want to say you’re doing it because of the cause, but the truth is that you’re also motivated by the art,” Herskovic said.

A former Hasidic yeshiva student himself, Herskovic said being rejected from yeshiva doesn't mean that someone is weak; rather, he opined, it’s the smart and creative kids – those who push the boundaries – that get kicked out and land in yeshivas for mediocre students.

“There are certain yeshivas for these kinds of kids, and they’re known in Yiddish as yeshivas for shvache bochurim, for weak boys,” he said. “The joke is that the weak boys are in the regular yeshivas. They’re the ones who are not creative, who are not energetic, who are not willing to challenge, therefore they fit into the framework of the yeshiva.”

In the song, the boy who gets kicked out of yeshiva, deeply distraught, experiences suicidal ideation. “I’m a stranger in my own backyard,” he says. “I often wonder if my death might not be the better option.”

The issue of school rejection afflicts Haredi communities in New York and New Jersey, too.

In 2018, then-Assemblymember Dov Hikind, who represented Boro Park in the state legislature, released a video raising awareness of children struggling to be accepted into yeshiva. “We are in mid-March and sadly there are hundreds of families whose children are still not in yeshiva,” Hikind said in the video. “I have listened to the pain of fathers who have shared with me how they go into a room and cry.” He added, “Most of the time, that child who was refused turns out to be one of the great kids in that yeshiva.”

Before that, in 2012, the Chabad-Lubavitch news site COLlive published an anonymous op-ed talking about the emotional damage done to children kicked out of Haredi schools, and urging parents to be strict with their children so as to prevent them from getting kicked out. “Keep the shmutz out,” the author advised, referring to secular content that students are punished for bringing to school.

Herskovic said one line in the song stems from a visit to New York. When Herskovic came to Boro Park, he saw teenagers eating breakfast in cafés, instead of at school – inspiring the line, “I eat breakfast in a bar.” 

Across the Hudson, Haredi news outlets have also addressed the issue. “The Torah sees every neshama as infinitely precious, worthy of saving, and entitled to a Torah education,” a 2022 three-part op-ed in the Lakewood Scoop argues, using the Hebrew word for “soul.” “No school, Yeshiva, or Seminary should reject a student.”

Herskovic’s blog rose to popularity in 2012, when he criticized London Haredi leaders who allegedly covered up sexual abuse committed by one of its prominent rabbis, Chaim Halpern.

Because of that work, Herskovic’s previously anonymous identity was revealed in the media. Looking back, that doesn’t bother him as much as he imagined it would.

“My family were very upset,” he said. “I was outed and I paid a price, but that price also bought me a certain amount of freedom, so I feel no animosity toward the people who outed me.”

“The fear was holding me back,” he said.

Now, with nothing left to hold him back, Herskovic can criticize sex abusers and yeshiva leaders alike. After all, he said, “you only live once.”