Ten years ago, I embarked on a journey that I never thought would bring me to where I am today. Struggling to secure a decent job and succeed in college due to the near complete lack of secular education in my Hasidic Yeshiva growing up, I decided to do something that so many before me chose not to do. I began advocating for Yeshivas to follow the law and for education agencies to enforce it.
It started as a passion project: a letter to the New York State Regents Chancellor; a handful of meetings with yeshiva administrators and local rabbis; a fax to a civil rights attorney; a meeting with a school superintendent. I had no advocacy skills or community organizing experience going into this work. I had no government relations experience, no media, budgeting, legal or education policy experience. I was just a young adult who was seriously handicapped by my lack of education.
With the help of our many supporters and generous donors I was able to grow Yaffed from a volunteer-based startup into a non-profit with a near 1 million dollar budget employing multiple full-time staff and additional contractors. In that time I went from being a nameless yeshiva bochur to a public figure.
It has been an incredible journey and a great adventure.
Over the years I have had the privilege of engaging with Yeshiva graduates, parents, and even Hasidic rabbis and prominent community members, some right in my own living room, some who never told me their real names out of fear it would leak and they would suffer reprisals. Their message has been clear: most Hasidim want change. They want to see improvements in their education system but they are afraid to speak up.
That knowledge kept me going all this time, even in the face of obstacles, harassment, threats and ostracism; in the face of stonewalling by Yeshiva leaders, by the New York City Department of Education, and by the state; and in the face of apathy from mainstream Jewish leaders and organizations. Working at Yaffed has been at once highly rewarding and extremely challenging. And it has come at a tremendous cost to me and my family.
I have often been asked by critics and supporters alike: Why you? Why does Naftuli Moster need to take on this issue? Why don’t you just go and get your education, find a job, and leave it all behind?
The answer is simple.
As I schlepped boxes across a warehouse in Newark, New Jersey – the only job I could secure with my limited education – I made a promise to myself and to the tens of thousands of children who attend Yeshivas like the one I attended. I promised that I would advocate for these children so that they do not suffer from the disadvantages that I and countless others needlessly suffered.
After ten years leading Yaffed, and with new regulations poised to be adopted soon, I am ready to move on.
I want to thank those of you who have supported me throughout this journey and those who have put their trust in me. My early co-organizers, board members, volunteers, staff, Yeshiva graduates, parents, and the many Hasidic individuals who provided valuable information which allowed us to more effectively advocate for change.
In my years at Yaffed, I have learned that there’s a real desire for reform, on many fronts, in the Haredi world. I hope to continue playing a role in this effort in my post-Yaffed life.
I am extremely grateful for all of you who have shared in these efforts and followed my journey.
Please continue to stay in touch.
Click here to read Yaffed’s official announcement from its board of directors.