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Naftuli Moster, 29

Naftuli Moster, 29

Advocating for Equitable Education

Growing up a Belzer chasid in Brooklyn’s Borough Park section, Moster thought of becoming a psychologist. With little secular knowledge, he didn’t know exactly what a psychologist does or how one is trained, but he was “interested in the human mind.”

No longer part of the chasidic community, Moster is working to improve the level of secular education offered in chasidic boys’ schools; the girls, not expected to study Torah in depth, receive superior secular training.

Moster serves as executive director of Yaffed (Young Advocates for Fair Education), an independent organization he founded in 2012. Its goal: prod the state Department of Education to enforce its own regulations that require non-public schools to provide a curriculum “substantially equivalent” to that of public schools. That isn’t happening, he says; many boys emerge almost functionally illiterate in English, unable to make a decent living, doomed to depend on public assistance.

Moster is an advocate, fundraiser and bookkeeper at Yaffed, terms he’d never heard in the chasidic world. He’s threatened lawsuits, worked with public officials to draft legislation, and designed billboards that stress the importance of a good secular education.

“People refer to me as an outsider,” says Moster, who lives in Rockland County, works in Midtown, and received a master’s in social work last year from Hunter College.

If Yaffed succeeds, he says, he may still become a psychologist. Or he may take up the cause of chasidic parents who lose visitation rights following a divorce. It’s painful and it’s unfair to the parent on the losing side, he says. “What I hate is unfairness.”

Moster’s favorite book is “Man’s Search for Meaning,” by Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor. The book describes his life in a series of Nazi concentration camps, and the development of his “logotherapy” form of analysis, which stresses the role that meaning and a sense of hope play in one’s mental well-being. “I loved his view of people being imprisoned in their mind.” Moster read the book — actually he mostly listened to an audio version — as part of his psychology studies in college.

TV consultant: Moster has served as script adviser to the producers of a television program and a movie that depict chasidic life. “I can give them an authentic character.”


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