Photo Credit: Facebook
The Lerner School in Durham, North Carolina.

North Carolina is currently the site of one of the saddest public chapters of Jews and Jewish institutions turning on each other.

A family left a Jewish day school because the school is not pro-Israel and instead harbors wildly anti-Israel administrators and teachers. In turn, the school insists it is pro-Israel and that the parents, who departed before the school year began, should have paid the full year’s tuition for their two children, as they were required under the contract they signed.

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The school is suing the parents for breach of contract.

The parents, confident that they were justified, turned to the media to draw attention to what they see as a shanda: a Jewish school employing anti-Israel agitators. The school in turn has enlisted the other Jewish communal organizations in the area, as well as parents and parents of alumni, to publicly defend the school and criticize the defecting family.

Ugly does not begin to cover it.

The Lerner School (until very recently the Sandra E. Lerner Jewish Community Day School) brought its breach of contract claim against Dr. Guy and Sloan Rachmuth in North Carolina state district court, located in Durham.

Much has already been written about this battle, including at FrontPage and, more recently at JNS.

The motivating factor which led the Rathmuchs to withdraw their children from the school before the start of term in 2014 was their realization that the school is not, as they had been promised, pro-Israel.

Local Jewish communal leaders responded by claiming that from their personal experience, that claim is false, almost laughably so. But this is no laughing matter.

One of the strongest voices in this chorus of Lerner School support comes from Rabbi Larry Bach of Judea Reform Congregation, which is located on the same campus as the Lerner School. Bach explained that it has an “ongoing partnership with Lerner, which includes “sharing space and resources.”

On Feb. 17, Rabbi Bach wrote a letter to his Judea Reform congregants in support of the Lerner School position. That letter has been distributed beyond the congregation, as testament to the Lerner School’s pro-Israel bona fides. He wrote that he was “incredulous at the charges leveled against the school,” and that “nothing that I’ve seen of the school comports with the story being told by its detractors.”

He also wrote:

My brief experience is nothing compared to the connections many of you have. Judea Reform members are proud parents and former parents, founders, teachers and administrators, and benefactors. We at JRC are proud of our ongoing partnership with Lerner, which manifests in sharing space and resources, and in other ways, big and  small. I look forward to a deepening relationship with Lerner, both personally and between our two institutions, in the years ahead.

Just a reminder: the Rachmuths serious disagreement with the Lerner School was that it was not supportive of Israel, and that instead its position towards Israel, as evidenced by its hiring of anti-Israel faculty and members its own administration, made it an environment in which their children could not be educated. The basis of the family’s counterclaim against the school is for “unfair and deceptive trade practices,” based on promises made by the school specifically about its pro-Israel positions.

So it is relevant to consider what goes on in the Jewish congregation next door, which has a “partnership” with Lerner, including “sharing space and resources, and in other ways, big and small,” specifically regarding Israel.

A quick scan of the temple’s speakers and presentations brings one up short. The Judea Reform website reveals a particular orientation regarding Israel, but it isn’t close to what either Lerner is claiming or what the Rachmuths were allegedly promised by its school partner. In fact, every topic that has anything to do with Israel is one-sided against the Jewish State.

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Lori Lowenthal Marcus is a contributor to the JewishPress.com. A graduate of Harvard Law School, she previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools. You can reach her by email: Lori@JewishPressOnline.com

21 COMMENTS

  1. The odd thing is that this positioning of the Rabbi and his "temple", presumably with the agreement of his board, and in connivance with the school's staff. to a certain outlook on Israel and Zionism has been tried many times previously in history, most recently since Herzl's day in an attempt by them to force what are the genuine boundaries of Jewish nationalism and religious commitment to the obligations to the Land of Israel to fit their needs to be either liberal, progressive or just plain Americans of the Mosaic faith. Sir Montague, Stephen Wise, Martine Buber, Judah Magnes, and on to Peter Beinart and Tony Judt, they don't just disagree but seek to replace the "real thing" with something else and then declare that the truth. Israel isn't just niot that good but they are the hinest "pro-Israel" forces. Their education is on the mark. Their programs are the best. In the end, as you have pointed out, they promote totalitarian thought and programming content without pluralism.

  2. As a grandfather of four children, one who has graduated from this school. I assure you the facts are misleading and inaccurate. I am a veteran of the 6 day war who camped out in the dessert of the Sinai for months. I immigrated to Israel from Tunis in 1949 after my parents property was stolen from them. I know hatred, I have seen it. The problem with this article and many of the others is that it ignores everything that does not contribute to the narrative. They igore the children singing Hatikva, they ignore the many staff members who are also veterans of the IDF. They ignore statements of solidarity with those who die at the hands of terrorists. They ignore the celebration of the Jewish state.They ignore the school helping parents create a rally during the first Gaza war in 2008. They ignore countless other acts that show the school is nothing but pro-Israel giving the children nothing but love and admiration to the country I call home. No one at the school is pro-BDS, it violates the mission of the school. Just because people say things does not make it so. I don't have anything against people choosing to leave the school. I do have something against people choosing to leave and then attacking from the outside. What is the goal? What do they hope to achieve? If they wanted to make a change why wouldn't they stay and fight, why wouldn't they try to make the school better for all the children?

  3. So how to explain this cringe-worthy column written by the principal? She essentially says standing with Israel during the Gaza War was too controversial and easily misunderstood at Lerner, and then she also goes on to say that the range of opinions about Israel (which obviously includes BDS and worse) is "beautiful." Here's what she wrote: "Lerner is accused of not supporting Israel because a conscious decision was made to not send out communication regarding the conflict in Israel this past summer. In our community political opinions about Israel reach far and wide. This is a beautiful aspect of our community as it speaks to the diversity and strength of our area. With a major change in leadership this past summer, the decision to not send out communication was made so that my first communication on behalf of Lerner not be about Israel. Without members of the community knowing me or knowing my communication style, I did not want anyone reading into anything I wrote and drawing opinions without having greater context of who I am and what I stand for. “

  4. This article underscores the crucial need to support Torah-true kiruv organizations. There are many such organizations all along the Orthodox spectrum, including Aish haTorah, Chabad, community kollelim, and… well, lots of others that I can't think of off the top of my head. Pick your favorite(s) and make their support a priority in your giving. Also, check out some of the organizations that you and probably your parents have supported for years and make sure they're still kosher. Some are not.

    We must reach out with love and concern and reclaim our poor, benighted brothers and sisters before their odd forms of Judaism create a permanent split between us. It's not too late to reach at least some of them. Let's get to work!

  5. Those of you who read this article as factual are quite misled about the Lerner School. You are 100% wrong about Lerner. I have been involved since it s inception 20 years ago. You inaccuracies are damaging to a vibrant and growing Jewish Community I have lived here for 26 years benefiting from the compassionate support and rich life offered by this dynamic community. Sensationalizing this situation is irresponsible and shameful.

  6. This article's title has nothing to do with its contents. The title is about a school, the article about a congregation. The current rabbi, who began his tenure in July 2015, is condemned for a series that was planned before he was hired. The rabbi's, the congregation's, and the school's, consistant and decades of support for the State of Israel, of which there are many examples, are entirely ignored.

    Do not read this article as fact. Come meet the people on the ground and see this incredible, vibrant, congregation and school.

  7. Liberal Jews largely are assimilated fascists who have contributed enormously to the resurgence of anti-Semitism across the globe. Liberal values are not Jewish values. Liberals commit crimes, evade prosecution, lie to the public, and use political power for their own gain. You cannot be a liberal and a Jew, it is impossible. Supporting the genocidal cause of the arabs who call themselves palestinians makes you an anti-Israel liberal. Jews who support anti-Israel causes are the lowest form of life on earth b/c they benefit from Israel's existence but show no gratitude. When I see a liberal Jew I think to myself, what a piece of .

  8. Ms. Marcus has teed off on a very sad series of events without doing due diligence about the evolution of events in Durham. She is apparently unaware of the growth of very strong pro-Zionism in the community, which has been heavily influenced by close proximately to two large universities. These institutions are very like most other major Universities in this country, in their high jacked, confused opinions about Israel. And, yes, in the past, the Reform Synagogue has had issues and heavy influence by J Street. Beginning 9 years ago, a small group of us lead the fight against Duke hosting the PSM conference. This lead to a major article in Commentary Magazine authored by two Duke students, entitled “The Intifada Comes to Duke.” That was only the beginning. During the first Gaza War, hundreds of pro-Israeli people turned out to support Israel on the main street through the UNC Campus. We quickly became the “Voice for Israel” (http://www.voice4israel.com) with a monthly newsletter, sponsorship of talks and recognition by the local Federations of our important role in political influence. One of the Federations has grown a very substantial Israel Center. The very new Reform Rabbi has shown clear support for Israel and is now widely seen as moving in the direction of our community leadership. Things are moving very fast in this newly energized direction. We wish Ms. Marcus would come see for herself. The Voice for Israel has published very strong endorsement of the Pro-Israel activities of the Lerner Jewish Day School.

  9. Robert Gutman did you read the article? All of Judea Reform's anti-Israel events, which were all the Israel events posted, were from THIS calendar year, not in the past. My article was not focused on the Lerner School, per se, but on one strong endorsement of its pro Israel bona fides from the rabbi whose own shul hosted events that are totally unbalanced from the anti-Israel perspective. I have been following events at Duke and the surrounding year for years, and did a radio show on the PSM conference. It's great that you are working hard (and uphill, it seems) and kol haKavod to you for recognizing the need; much work remains to be done..

  10. As soon as I read that this school is affiliated with a Reform synagogue, I knew already what I was about to read. I'm sorry that this sounds so bigoted, but the worst leftist, self hating Jews are associated with the Reform Movement. They spend so much time demonizing Israel, they are convinced that they are "pro-Israel." It's a very sad state of affairs.

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