web analytics
September 2, 2015 / 18 Elul, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Golden Ticket To Oblivion


On its face, it is the quintessential story of the success of American Jewish life: a public school where the teaching of Hebrew will be at the center of its core curriculum. But behind this facade, the founding of the Ben Gamla School in Broward County, Florida, has generated controversy and criticism.

As reported in a recent dispatch by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and a front-page story in The New York Times, the opening of the Ben Gamla School has sent civil libertarians into a tizzy.

The problem is that Ben Gamla, which was founded by former Florida Democratic congressman Peter Deutsch, is a charter, not a private or parochial school. As such, it operates in the no-man’s land in which all such institutions live, as it is run privately but funded publicly, and therefore must abide by the rules of all government-run schools.

Strict separationists who oppose anything that smacks of government-funded Jewish schools think charters might be a way around the logjam that has heretofore doomed any efforts to advance school choice or voucher plans.

In fact, the American Civil Liberties Union and public-school advocates are up in arms about what they feel is the certainty that Ben Gamla’s Hebrew orientation will inevitably wind up preaching religion on the government’s dime. With these concerns in mind, three proposed courses of Hebrew instruction have already been canned because they contained texts or statements that related to Jewish observance.

But for all the huffing and puffing, such concerns are misplaced. While knowledge of Hebrew is absolutely essential to a meaningful Jewish education, it is entirely possible to teach the language without inculcating anyone with Jewish values of any sort, as some observers of many Israeli schools can attest. Teaching modern Hebrew by itself is no more an unconstitutional establishment of Judaism than the teaching of Latin is of Catholicism, or Arabic of Islam.

The real problem is that the school will ill serve its primary market: Jewish parents who are unable or unwilling to afford a private Jewish school. Interestingly, 37 percent of Ben Gamla students say Hebrew is their first language, which means that more than a third of the school is probably composed of expatriate Israelis.

No doubt, most of these people are, like most Israelis, largely secular. Many former Israelis living here have mentioned their desire to retain some sense of their “Israeli” identity rather than become Diaspora Jews. They aren’t interested in religious instruction, but do worry about their kids not retaining the language. Thus, a tuition-free school where Hebrew is taught – yet Judaism avoided like the plague – is bound to appeal to them.

But the problem is that Hebrew alone isn’t something that can sustain an identity. In fact, the sole focus on Hebrew is as viable a formula for the Jewish future as the old Bundist belief in secular Yiddish culture. Devoid of faith and a connection to a living civilization, its heritage and values, neither Yiddish nor Hebrew alone is what sociologists term a transmissible value.

So, if what American Jews are actually interested in is an education for our children that will give them Jewish literacy in all of the aspects of our complex religious and ethnic identity, charters like Ben Gamla remain a dead end.

In fact, they are more than that since, as Deutsch openly admits, religious day schools are his scheme’s competition. Lamentably, Deutsch intends to duplicate his formula elsewhere in the country, with plans to create 100 similar schools around the nation.

Ben Gamla therefore must not be viewed as a mere curiosity, but as a direct threat to the one institution proven to be our best investment in our future – though even that is not a magic formula for continuity. Despite their proven success, day-schools have suffered stalled enrollment in the last decade.

One problem is that a large proportion of American Jews are so averse to Jewish particularity that a specifically Jewish school is abhorrent to them. There may not be much we can do to market day schools to such people, though it must be said that no one has given such an effort a real try.

But the other crippling drawback for day schools is that a large number of those who would send their children to them can’t do so because tuition is so high that it has become virtually prohibitive for middle-class families, especially those with more than one school-age child. Unless we support the sector of the population that actively wishes to affiliate, American Jewry will be effectively shooting itself in the foot.

In response, some have proposed campaigns to fund across-the-board lowering of tuitions, a measure bound to increase enrollment. But even in those areas where communal leaders appear to have recognized that day schools must be our priority, such campaigns have yet to materialize because there is no indication that the large amount of money needed for such a project is available.

Ironically, funds have apparently been available for other Jewish causes, such as the $100 million raised for the building of an expanded National Museum of American Jewish History that will soon rise in Philadelphia’s Independence Mall.

While the appeal of Jewish museums, which have sprouted up in North America like “opera houses” in the 19th-century American West, speaks volumes about the desire of American Jews to create monuments to our own colossal communal vanity, it can at least be said that the host of new Jewish history and Holocaust museums on these shores are contributions to education.

But talk of funding education via museums is as much of a dodge as the notion that a Hebrew charter school can accomplish what a full-time comprehensive Jewish day school can.

If we’d rather fund monuments to our past than the schools that are a platform for our future, perhaps we might as well just slip inside a high-tech diorama and smile for the curious visitors who will one day have to visit museums to see what a Jewish community looked like.

Like Hebrew charters and any other attempt to change the subject, the failure to create a Jewish education safety net will be our golden ticket to oblivion.

About the Author: Jonathan S. Tobin is senior online editor of Commentary magazine and chief political blogger at www.commentarymagazine.com. He can be reached via e-mail at jtobin@commentarymagazine.com.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Golden Ticket To Oblivion”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Jewish blood libel cartoon posted on Facebook sometime in 2014 by an UNRWA teacher in Jordan.
UNRWA Teacher in Jordan Promotes Hatred of Jews on Facebook
Latest Indepth Stories

So it is critical that readers in the districts indicated come out to vote.

We urge readers to seek out upcoming rallies scheduled for times and places that work for them.

To be sure, the worst of what was directed at Mr. Nadler by some random hotheads with no real power or influence (calling him a “kapo,” for example) was over the top.

We can readily understand that it would be an embarrassment to the president were Congress to reject the deal he struck, even if that rejection would be vetoed and go nowhere.

As the First Zionist Congress was indisputably one of the seminal events in modern Jewish history, it is not surprising that it became the subject of some of the most beloved, beautiful, and rare Rosh Hashanah cards ever created.

Many in the media impart bias in place of truth; convey personal prejudice over objective facts.

Nahal Haredi is the ultimate solution, according to Branski, serving haredim from a wide variety of backgrounds – chassidish and yeshivish, Sephardi and Askenazi.

A recent study found that 54% of Jewish college students experienced/witnessed anti-Semitism in 2014

The purpose of an attack on Joseph’s Tomb is to murder Jews at prayer and destroy a Jewish holy site

A nuclear Khomenist Tehran will be a threat to Western democracies and to Jerusalem in particular

The MONSTERS of Nebi Saleh know well the damning, visceral impact of powerful, deceitful imagery.

Jewish Voice for Peace openly supports BDS movement against ALL of Israel & ending the Jewish State.

In recent years, there has been a big push to grow and develop American Football here in Israel.

Unlike Judaism & Christianity which honors “truth,” Islam pursues “Taqiyya,” strategic lying

More Articles from Jonathan S. Tobin
Tobin-073115

Hillary should THANK Trump; By dominating the news he’s overshadowed the implosion of her campaign

President Barack Obama

Obama thought he could replace the Saudis with Iran as the new ME lynchpin without paying a price

The abuse following publication proved a cautionary tale: no one followed in Peters’s footsteps

Anti-Semitism has returned to the mainstream of European society and Israel has become its focus.

One of the key talking points by apologists for Hamas in the current conflict is that it isn’t fair that Israelis under fire have bomb shelters while Palestinians in Gaza don’t have any. Among other factors, the lack of shelters accounts in part for the differences in casualty figures between the two peoples. But somehow […]

How will all this end? Hamas seems to think it will be Netanyahu who will blink first.

Nothing short of a stroke that will decapitate the leadership of this group will convince the Arabs that Hamas has made a mistake.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/golden-ticket-to-oblivion/2007/09/05/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: