For the last seven years, I have woken up each morning determined to bring attention to a crisis in plain sight: tens of thousands of children in New York attend Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox yeshivas that provide little or no general education – that is, instruction in English, math, science and social studies.

My initial motivation for this work was personal: I am a Hasidic yeshiva graduate. I grew up in a Belz Hasidic family in Borough Park, the middle of 17 children. After I completed yeshiva and began to explore other possibilities for my future, I found myself woefully unprepared to pursue anything beyond menial work. I was 20-years old, barely literate in English or competent in math. A permanent fixture of my stump speech is recalling the time I learned the word “molecule” in the third decade of my life. There are still times I come across a seemingly simple word or concept for the first time that my two-year-old son has already been exposed to.

It was in my determined efforts to put myself through college and graduate school that I realized I lacked the basic educational foundations to succeed. While working my way through school, I decided to dedicate myself full time to the cause of ensuring that every child in the schools such as the ones I attended as a child received a minimum standard of education. In 2012, I started Young Advocates for Fair Education (Yaffed,) to bring an end to the educational neglect in the communities in which I was raised.

In my time working in this space, I have witnessed the unbelievable courage of yeshiva graduates, parents and activists speaking up on a difficult issue that not only touches their own lives, but often complicates or severs their ties to community, family and even spirituality.

Education advocacy is not as uncontroversial as it sounds, especially when it touches on sensitive matters like religious practice and the role of the state in education. On the more extreme end of the spectrum, there are those like Malala Yousafzai and others who risk their lives advocating for education against violent and oppressive systems that seek to quash their aspirations by all means necessary. Fortunately, Yaffed’s friends and allies have not faced deadly violence and they have demonstrated courage in the face of unrelenting demonization from forces committed to the status quo.

One recent and painful episode demonstrates the inner strength and courage of our movement. After a brutal antisemitic attack at a rabbi’s home in Monsey that shocked the country, some of Yaffed’s opponents used the opportunity to drive a wedge between us and our supporters in the Jewish community who were understandably horrified by this violent attack on the Hasidic community. While we did not want to give libelous accusations legitimacy, we also felt that it was important to show solidarity; after all, our cause is about helping children attending Hasidic yeshivas receive a full education that will prepare them to support their families and communities.

We made the decision to join hundreds of Jewish community organizations in co-sponsoring the No Hate, No Fear march across the Brooklyn Bridge on January 5th. The Yaffed team and network of supporters came to the conclusion that it was our obligation to demonstrate solidarity with the community. The march’s organizers faced a backlash for allowing us to co-sponsor, but they did not waver in their commitment to including all Jews who wanted to participate.

It has been some time since Yaffed was an organization of one and I carried all the burden and credit for the work. Today I am blessed to have a professional staff, board, network of volunteers and a rabbinical council. I’m thankful every day for their public voices, guidance, support and, yes, courage.

Yaffed would not be where it is today without the unsung heroes of our struggle, some of the most courageous people I know: parents who reach out to us by phone, email, WhatsApp and sometimes even on street corners; graduates who have every reason to move on with their lives but are instead working to improve the situation for their younger siblings and neighbors.

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WFF Naftuli Moster (Class 3) is the founding executive director of Young Advocates for Fair Education (Yaffed), the first and only organization in America to address the lack of secular education in hundreds of Yeshivas across New York State and beyond.