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An Open Letter to Congressman Pascrell on School Choice and Vouchers

Monday, July 9th, 2012

Dear Bill,

At the Juneteenth celebrations in Englewood, I was speaking to African-American parents who were decrying the state of the public school system in our town. We spend approximately $23k per child per year, but still have a failure rate of about one third. I was amazed at how many parents were telling me they preferred to send their children to private school but could not afford it. I asked them if they would support school vouchers that would empower them to do just that: take their own hard-earned money and use it to send their children to the school of their choice. Overwhelmingly, they said yes. They were adamant that they had the right to override the public school system if they so chose.

You and I, Bill, have the capacity to do something unique. We can join together, as candidates for Congress from opposing parties, to endorse school choice. Just think about the implications. Rather than seeing towns in our district jack up real estate taxes more and more just to afford out-of-control education costs – and in Englewood property taxes have gone up 70 percent in the last decade – we could jointly advocate school vouchers that would cost about half the public school bill per child, and arguably give kids a better education.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating that we harm the public school system. On the contrary: I believe that school choice will make the public school system far better by creating competition. Why are so many parents dissatisfied with public schools? Because they are a monopoly. And monopolies have a hard time sustaining quality.

In my own community, the absence of a voucher system is actually making the community grow smaller. Jewish parents whose only crime is to want their children to learn who Abraham, Moses, and David were cannot afford both the astronomical property taxes of North Jersey, and the high school tuition. So they are having fewer children.

This is outrageous and utterly unfair. We pay insane property taxes in Bergen Country when not one dollar can finance even the secular education of our parochial schools. We all believe in separation of Church and State. But could there really be an honest objection to government subsidizing secular subjects like mathematics and geography, even if it occurs in a parochial school?

Parents who seek a values education for their children should not be penalized for wanting to expose them to a tradition that will make them into more moral, ethical, and responsible citizens.

America is alone among leading industrialized nations in not providing any funding for parochial schools, even for their secular departments. In my community of Englewood, New Jersey, we have approximately 700 Modern Orthodox Jewish families, the overwhelming majority of which send their children to Jewish day schools. Were we to send our children to the public school system, it would collapse in a day, Bill. Still, we have never summoned the political will to organize and demand that even a fraction of the highest property taxes in the nation be applied toward offsetting the high costs of school tuition.

Many of my Islamic brothers and sisters in Paterson, where you were once mayor, Bill, feel the same way. They love their religion and want their children to be raised in it. They want to send them to a religious, Islamic school. Should America penalize them for simply loving their faith? And what about all the Catholic parents in our district who want to send their kids to a Catholic school? Who is the government to tell them that they can’t? After all, it’s the not the government’s money, but the parents. The government has no money. It takes it from us.

In my area, private Jewish school tuition costs somewhere between $10,000 and $13,000 per child, and for that sum – which is significantly lower than what the public schools in the same areas are spending per child – children get a comprehensive and quality education. I suspect the Catholic and Islamic schools cost about the same. Were we to grant parents a voucher to send their children to any of these parochial schools, the local government expenditure per child would immediately decrease by about 40 percent.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach: Congressman Pascrell, Repudiate the Gaza 54 Letter

Monday, June 18th, 2012

Dear Bill,

It was a pleasure speaking to you on the phone last week. I thank you for your time and your friendly manner, and especially for agreeing to join me for a Friday night Shabbat dinner. I believe the residents of New Jersey’s Ninth District will benefit from us keeping our race positive and issues-focused.

Thank you also for your offer to introduce me to Imam Mohammad Qatanani, the subject of much controversy in our district. Indeed, in your race against Congressman Rothman, much was made of your friendship with the Imam and your efforts to assist him in remaining in this country. This despite INS attempts to deport him over an earlier arrest by the Israeli authorities for membership in Hamas, which the imam concealed. Should the imam publicly repudiate those ties and condemn Hamas for its murderous intent against innocent Israelis, a meeting between us would be welcome.

Bill, I will not repeat the earlier error made by some members of our community in labeling you an “enemy” of Israel. My religion commands me to speak truth and show gratitude, and you have voted in favor of foreign aid to Israel on numerous occasions. To perpetuate the myth, started in the Democratic primary, that you are a foe of Israel would contravene my value system, which obligates me to thank you for votes in favor of the Jewish state. By assisting in the continunity of American aid to Israel, you have made the Middle East safer, not just for Jews, but for the hundreds of millions of Arabs whose freedom under their own tyrannical regimes is largely predicated on Israel setting an example of a viable democracy in a region which Arab dictators claim can never be democratized.

My objection to your stance on Israel lies, rather, in other actions with which you have been associated that are extremely troubling to the pro-Israel community. Most notably, you signed the infamous Gaza 54 letter, condemning Israel for “collective punishment” against Palestinians in the Gaza blockade. While this may not have been your intention, your participation in this cruel attack on Israel is highly injurious to the Jewish State’s ability to defend itself.

As you know, Bill, Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza in 2005. I can tell you personally how painful that withdrawal was, since I visited the flourishing Jewish communities of Gush Katif in Gaza many times. Brave Jewish residents – nearly all of whom had family members or close friends killed by terrorists in Gaza – made the desert bloom, growing fruits and vegetables of the highest quality out of the desert sands, literally. They offered the hope that Gaza might be turned into a land of agricultural excellence, exporting produce to the entire world and benefiting Jew and Arab alike. I contrast this civilized landscape with the unspeakable poverty and misery that I witnessed in Palestinian-controlled Gaza City. Not long after the 9/11 attacks, Reverend Al Sharpton came to Israel for a trip of reconciliation with the Jewish community, jointly hosted by me and Shimon Peres, Israel’s then foreign minister, to whom President Obama has just given the Presidential Medal of Freedom. While in Israel, Rev. Sharpton insisted on visiting Yasser Arafat, and though I refused to meet the man who had the blood of my people on his hands and who had stolen billions of dollars from impoverished Palestinians, I did accompany Rev. Sharpton to Gaza and witnessed the squalor that reigned in the Palestinian Authority-controlled cities, despite billions of dollars in foreign aid. The New York Times reported in 2004 that “the Palestinians are already the world’s largest per capita recipients of international aid.” But I did not witness this trickeling down to average citizens.

Regardless, Israel uprooted the Jewish communities of Gaza – including my wife’s cousins who years later are still confined to a trailer – and evacuated from Gaza completely. Their reward? Thousands of rockets from Hamas on Israeli nurseries, homes for the elderly, and buses.

Hamas, as you well know, Bill, is sworn to Israel’s destruction and to attacking Jews wherever they may be found. Its covenant is deeply racist and contains vicious genocidal aspirations, such as the following: “Our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious. It needs all sincere efforts. It is a step that inevitably should be followed by other steps. The Movement is but one squadron that should be supported by more and more squadrons from this vast Arab and Islamic world, until the enemy is vanquished and Allah’s victory is realized.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/america-rabbi-shmuley-boteach/rabbi-shmuley-boteach-congressman-pascrell-repudiate-the-gaza-54-letter/2012/06/18/

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