From a Struggling Student to a School Principal
Touro Gave Rabbi Aron Fried a Chance to Change Lives in the Chasidic Community
As a child, Rabbi Aron Fried struggled with dyslexia in his Williamsburg school. “There wasn’t anything available for me as a child,” he recalled. Almost twenty years later, Rabbi Fried wanted to ensure that no child had an experience like his and Touro’s School for Lifelong Education gave him the tools to make that possible.
At the age of 13, Rabbi Fried was sent to a school in Israel where he spent the next seven years. While his schooling there was better, his return to America was complicated. “I completely lost my grasp of the English language,” Fried admitted.
Thinking about a career that could make a difference, Rabbi Fried called the number for Touro’s School for Lifelong Education (SLE). “I called them up and asked, ‘Is this Touro?’” he laughed. “I told them my English was bad and I could barely speak or write. They told me to come in. As soon as I walked in, I felt that this place was geared for Chasidic people like me, with no prior knowledge of the secular world, who want to become professionals.”
SLE was a pioneer. SLE was the first school to realize how great of a need there was for this type of program, and they laid the groundwork for everything else.
Rabbi Fried initially chose psychology as a major before switching to education. He put what he learned into practice as a special education teacher for a local yeshiva.
“Touro changed my entire mindset of how I look at individuals with disabilities and the world at large,” said Rabbi Fried.
After he earned a bachelor’s, Rabbi Fried continued in the school for a master’s in education. He spent a total of five years in SLE studying in classes ranging from art to history to psychology. “I knew I wanted to be in education so I wanted to learn everything I could,” he said.
During this time Rabbi Fried understood that the problems in special needs education in the Jewish community went deeper than just standard special education programs.
“I was already teaching kids who were struggling,” said Fried. “But I felt there was a much bigger need for kids who have special needs that the yeshiva system didn’t offer. A lot of these children weren’t learning how to fit in to society.”
Together with SLE fellow alumnus Mordechai Miesels, he launched Yeshivas Hadran in 2016, a yeshiva that caters exclusively to Chasidic children on the Autism spectrum. “There were special educational programs and programs for children with learning disabilities, but no program offered training in social skills and how to be a functional person in the Jewish community.”
The school began with five students and now has 50. Each day begins with davening (prayers) and then Judaic studies; afternoons are spent in vocational simulated labs, social skills training, and in a well-regarded general studies program. Rabbi Fried said that the school places an extensive focus on the social skills curriculum and teaching students how to properly respond to social cues and to adapt in social situations.
Graduates have gone onto positions in computer coding, low voltage work, and even teaching. Rabbi Fried employs several Touro graduates including alumni from the School of Health Sciences Occupational Therapy program and Speech and Language Pathology program.
“I would never have been able to get where I am now without Touro,” said Rabbi Fried. “I am profoundly grateful to the entire SLE staff and Touro.”
While there are now several programs for Chasidim to earn secular degrees, Rabbi Fried believes that none of them would exist if not for SLE. “SLE was a pioneer,” he explained. “SLE was the first school to realize how great of a need there was for this type of program, and they laid the groundwork for everything else.”