By Leib Halberstam
My father, Rabbi Yechiel Halberstam, survived the Holocaust as a young boy. He spent his first five years of life all around Eastern Europe to avoid persecution from the Nazis, and eventually found refuge in Israel. At the age of twelve, he and his family immigrated to the United States in pursuit of the cultural and religious diversity he had heard our great country offered. As a student at Yeshiva Beth David in Monsey, I thrived. The religious education taught me to think in a remarkably analytical way; to approach life like a puzzle to be solved through critical thinking. I attended Mercy College while working fulltime, my success at which I can attribute to the rigorous and challenging course load I balanced during my years at Beth David.
Because of my yeshiva education, I became interested in safety engineering and risk management, a career track where I could work daily to solve problems and protect my clients. This profession requires me to mitigate risk exposure by thinking critically, breaking things down to rebuild them in a safer way. My yeshiva education taught me how to do this through the demanding logical aspects of its curriculum. Like reading the Talmud or learning a language—I speak three—my career requires me to look at a chain of problems, identify a pattern, and determine how to fix it. In the daily course of business, I interact with insurance executives, government regulators, attorneys, actuaries and insureds of all walks of life.
My father sought the freedoms of the United States. He sought a place to raise his family; to freely practice his religion and embrace his heritage, just as I do every day. My children all attended yeshivas—and are now architects, social workers, educators and RNs—and my grandchildren attend today. Like my father before me, I utilized my yeshiva education to enter the professional world with a perspective and skillset unique to students of yeshivas. Yeshiva education adapts and improves every single day, just as it teaches its pupils to do. For the New York Education Department to stymie this development is the exact opposite of the religious freedom that my father immigrated here to find.