New Jersey: Diversity Plan for Public Schools, Using Hebrew

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Thu Feb 26 17:28:24 UTC 2009

Diversity Plan for Public Schools, Using Hebrew


The surprise wasn’t that a meeting envisioned as an informal
conversation among about 10 people drew more than 300 from across
Bergen County. It was that something like Raphael Bachrach’s modest
proposal — and the fevered debate it has set off — didn’t happen
sooner here or someplace else like it. Mr. Bachrach is a Jewish parent
in a suburban school district where a majority of Jews are Orthodox
and send their children to Jewish day schools. A year ago, he proposed
a Hebrew-language charter school as an alternative. That was turned
down, but local school officials proposed an alternative. The district
has a highly regarded program where elementary school students learn
in both English and Spanish. Englewood’s interim superintendent,
Richard Segall, raised the possibility of a similar dual-language
program — strictly nonreligious — in Hebrew and English, that would
attract both Jews and non-Jews. It would be the first public school
Hebrew-English program of its kind in the country.

There is a Hebrew-language charter school in Florida, and one has been
approved for Brooklyn. But Englewood’s proposal would be in an
existing public school. The issue is particularly close to the surface
in suburbs where high local school taxes and expensive day schools
combine with the economic meltdown.“We are losing precious Jewish
souls because of financial birth control,” Amy Citron, a mother in
neighboring Teaneck, wrote in January in The New Jersey Jewish
Standard, a local weekly, arguing that children should be enrolled in
public schools and then afternoon religious programs. The proposal in
Englewood offered an alternative for Jewish families who either wanted
a public alternative to religious schools or no longer could afford
them. For the district, which is overwhelmingly black and Hispanic, it
offered a pathway toward its mandate of diversifying its schools and
the potential to heal some of the fractures in a community where
social divisions are mirrored in educational ones.

Mr. Bachrach, a father of five, said his motivation was not financial
but personal and cultural — he was unhappy with his older children’s
experiences in a religious school and uncomfortable with the cultural
division in town.“Englewood is a very divided kind of community,” he
said. “People don’t know people across town, and it goes both ways; we
don’t know them and they don’t know us.”   ON the other hand, Rabbi
Shmuel Goldin, of Englewood’s Congregation Ahavath Torah, said
religious day schools had become a bulwark against assimilation:
families send children there for both a religious education and a
Jewish experience strong enough to give them a Jewish identity they’ll
carry off to college and beyond. You can’t duplicate that in the
public schools, he said.

“We as a Jewish community try to strike a very fine balance between
being in the world and participating in society and at the same time
maintaining a very strong Jewish identity,” he said. “Until now, the
greatest success we’ve had in maintaining that balance has been
through the Jewish day school system. We need to be open to new ideas,
but I’d be very hesitant to do anything that would threaten the day
school process.” He said Jewish community leaders were looking at
various proposals, one of which would ask the entire Jewish community
to support the private day schools, not just Jewish parents — in
effect a voluntary school tax on top of the compulsory public school
tax. That’s probably a tough sell these days.

Agreeing on the concept would be far easier than the details of
keeping it an educational program, not a religious one — kosher school
kitchens? Paid use of school facilities for after-school religious
instruction? Private prayer supervised by rabbis or parents? — that
would go into making it work. Dr. Segall said it was clear that the
program would have to be secular and fashioned for both Jews and
non-Jews. “It’s definitely not a simple thing to work out,” he said.
In Teaneck, A. Spencer Denham, the acting superintendent, sounded
interested but skeptical.

“The district will certainly look at the concept, since there is
considerable public interest in it,” he wrote in an e-mail message.
“However, we have to ensure that the constitutional issue, of undue
entanglement of government and religion, must be in focus from the
start. That presents a very high hurdle for the concept to be

N.b.: Listing on the lgpolicy-list is merely intended as a service to
its members
and implies neither approval, confirmation nor agreement by the owner
or sponsor of
the list as to the veracity of a message's contents. Members who
disagree with a
message are encouraged to post a rebuttal. (H. Schiffman, Moderator)

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list