Thursday, December 17, 2009

Chapter 4: Raising Illiterates

This was going to be a "real" blog post. Because it's true. It happened last week, and I've been wanting to write about it ever since. And I do have an issue with Chareidi society raising illiterates. But I'm in novel-writing-mode, so this is what came out. There's no reason I can't make the same point in fiction, right?

"So how can I send a document?" Bracha asked.

Karen sighed. There was so much to explain. "You see the paper clip? And underneath it 'attach'? It's called attaching when you add a document to an email."

Michael, sitting over at the next desk, sniggered loudly. Karen swiveled around and glared at him. It wasn't Bracha's fault, that she knew none of this. She was a product of the system.

Bracha sat on a folding chair beside her, eyes glued to the computer screen. "What's an inbox?"

Bracha had called in a panic. "All the tourist sites want to send me emails. They won't mail the brochures. They won't even agree to fax the details. And the principal wants this trip organized by Friday! Listen Karen, I need your help"
And so, an hour later, here she was, sitting in the office, soaking in what a lifetime of education had denied her.

Karen couldn't really blame Michael for laughing at them. The conversation must sound funny. As she explained to Bracha how to open a Gmail account, as her words echoed in the room, they sounded ridiculous. As if she were teaching a child perhaps, or an 80 year old. No, not even that. Children were on Facebook nowadays, and grandparents on Twitter.

"But how will you use your account? You don't have internet access anywhere. You can’t come here every day." It was one thing teaching Bracha how to use email. Karen couldn't have her turning up repeatedly. The bosses would complain.

"Well the secretary has internet on her computer. She'll let me use it."

"So why couldn't she have dealt with this?" Karen was annoyed. The interruption was using up precious work hours. Hours she'd have to make up later.

"Oh she doesn't know how to use it either. I don't know why Rabbi Horowitz bothered to have it installed."

Bracha was a computer teacher at the local Bais Yaacov elementary school. She'd studied with Karen in Seminary. Together they'd been taught programming languages and office programs. They'd done homework, and given practice lessons. But one thing they'd never been allowed near was the World Wide Web. There was a ban on using the internet in the Chareidi world. It wasn't lifted even for those who were supposed to work in the field.

Karen still remembered her first job interview. The face of the man interviewing her, when she didn't know what MSDN was, hadn't heard of any of the popular programming websites. She hadn't gotten that job. She'd learned her lesson by the next one. Going to the local library, and browsing site after site, in preparation.

Nowadays Karen was pro. Despite her long skirts, and prim button down shirts, despite being automatically labeled as religious, and hence obviously backwards, she was "Tech savvy", she was part of the modern world. She would prove it. She could Google with the best of them. She wrote a technical blog. She was on all the online social networks.

She had joined a dating website too, but that was a secret. That was one thing nobody was allowed to know.

Her old friends, the girls she'd gone to school with, the girls she'd grown up with, none of them could understand this new language she was speaking, new universe she was spending time in. Except for the others who'd also rebelled against teaching, who'd also sought to join the secular work force. One by one they too joined her online. Together they formed networks, and chatted, and posted photos; forgetting the Rabbis' warnings, ignoring the bans.

But Bracha, good pious Bracha, never had. She'd listened to what she was taught, followed the instructions given by society's leaders. She'd managed fine in her teaching job, typing and printing and mailing, travelling to libraries in the center of the country when she needed to do research.

Yet now the school Bracha taught in, the Bais Yaacov school, wanted her to organize a trip for them. And for that she needed to use the sinful Internet. So here she was, coming to learn what she'd been told was wrong, having no choice. Sitting clueless and sounding ludicrous, which basically she was. Because she was this century's equivalent of illiterate. She 'd been purposely raised to be ignorant.


  1. This isnt a shocker. and noone should feel bad for them, you reap what you sow...

  2. So sad.. I really don't see why someone who is raised with good Jewish values should be afraid of the Internet. It's no more or less sinful than offline reality; the world is a big mishmash of good & bad influences and Torah is meant to equip us to deal with that, so why should the Internet be completely off-limits.. Then again, in Israel at least, these same people cloister themselves in sheltered bubbles in the real world too.. Sigh!

  3. Did you write "shulamit" by mistake?

  4. Thanks I fixed it.
    BTW Guys I didn't intend this to turn into a whole chareidi bashing thing. It's simply one issue.

  5. The reality is that we can't escape from the internet. Its damaging side can suck you in even with no previous exposure, but at that point you've gone to battle without any training. I recently heard R' Twerski say that if something pops up, you have 3/10's of a second to close it. Because at 4/10's, you might become addicted.

    The reality is that just like any of the dangers out there, we need to educate our children on how to use it for its good, and be prepared to defend ourselves from the bad. Which of course includes proper attitude to the internet - handle carefully with gloves on.

    I went to a shiur recently where the Rav steadfastly persisted to try to hammer into us that the first thing we will do when we go home is install a filter. He gave us all a sheet with a bunch of sites with available filters ( has a list of em) and told us to pass the sheet on when we were done installing ours. I didn't really think it a big deal, but then I read some stories on the filter sites. Peoples lives are literally destroyed. More so than anything else out there because its ANONYMOUS!

    Basically its all very dangerous and although on the one hand we could try to avoid the issue by banning it, the reality is that won't cut it. If someone wants it, they'll have it. It will sneak up on them and they'll be hooked (on the bad parts).

    The fact is that current filters just don't properly protect us. They're all easy to get around. A wifi card with a live cd is all it takes. Just like drugs, its available everywhere.

    I say, educate your kids about the usefulness verse the danger. If your kids have accepted the dangers, they WONT use the internet without a filter. If you don't educate them at all, they'll end up finding it with all its pitfalls on their own.... but by then the damage will have been done.... and it will be very hard to fix.

    The system needs to keep up with the 21st century. Old techniques do not work anymore. Technology drastically changes year by year; if we don't keep up, not only will we be illiterate, we'll also be worse off spiritually than before, simply because our defenses were outdated as well.

  6. i'm not frum. but i am Jewish, and i have been online since there was an online to be on. and only once in over 3 decades of computers and online, has porn 'popped up'. i have never installed a filter. i am not addicted, and my family has benefited from my ability to search out and find those things we need, including books and kosher items.

    the internet is what we make it, and if we make it dangerous, it will be so. if we keep it a tool, it shall be a tool.