hebrew charter school? not for my child

Did you see this article in the NYTimes last week about the racially diverse Charter School in New York City that has an enrollment of almost 1/3 black children? Where Muslim and Christian children learn not just a love of another language, but a love of another country and another culture? Sounds like a great idea, right?

If only public money wasn’t being spent. If only the curriculum didn’t focus on a religious group. And if only the other country wasn’t Israel.

First, I don’t think public money should be used to finance a quasi-religious institution. The school’s site says it’s social studies curriculum “emphasizes the study of world Jewish communities and Israel.” Is Judaism a religion or a culture? Is Israel a purely democratic state or a religious state? There are no clear answers, and for that reason, the division between church and state should prevail. The article references learning “the pride” of Israel. What does that mean? If the pride of Israel has anything to do with the pride of Judaism, and if Judaism is a religion, then the line has most definitely been crossed. (I also disagree with the pledge of allegiance having “God” in it, BTW.) I would not support a Hebrew school masquarading as a school to learn the original language of the Bible, either Testament. I, even as a Jesus-loving Christian, don’t support ANY public money being spent on ANY religion.

Second, I know I’m going to be accused of being anti-Semitic for saying I wouldn’t send MY child to this school. And I know that had I substituted any other country above, it would sound wrong, most likely even to me. What if I’d said I wouldn’t send my child to a school that celebrated French culture, or Jamaican culture? It would be wrong to single out those countries, those cultures, as if something was wrong with them per se, just because.

But I do think Israel is a special case (although not the only special case), and I don’t think cloaking the school behind the guise of teaching a language makes me more comfortable. I don’t support anything short of a two-state solution, and as long as we aren’t there, I cannot understand supporting the creation of one state without the creation of the other. The recent and not-so-recent human right violations by Israel against the Palestinian people is something I cannot support. Our country’s way of only hand-slapping Israel for physically subjugating another people while we ass-kick (and threaten to do so to) other nations for similar offenses is similarly something I do not support. That being said, I wouldn’t support a China school, an Iran school, a North Korea school, or a Sudan school.

And together, I cannot understand putting public money toward teaching our (black) children to accept or support it. I understand that this might be the “best” education a child can receive. Many parents are excited that their child will be learning a second language. Many parents believe that going to school with Jewish kids will benefit their children because its a community in which “there’s no foolishness when it comes to education.” (I don’t have the space to debate this last assertion, but whatever, elite colleges do have high Jewish enrollments.)

But I hope the day will come that we being to realize that getting an education is also about being a citizen, a responsible person in the world, not just scoring high on the SAT.

14 thoughts on “hebrew charter school? not for my child

  1. I want to say at the outset that I’m Jewish and completely agree with your sentiments re separation of Church and State and that public schools should not build pride in another country (let’s work on pride for the USA first) .

    I don’t know about the school mentioned in the article, but I do know that at least one of the Hebrew Charters that exists today is actually not a Hebrew Language school at all, but a charter language school where Hebrew is one of the languages offered (in addition to Arabic, Chinese, French and Latin). Also, it is difficult to study a language without studying a culture. When I studied French, all the stories I had to read took place in France, so I absorbed information about France without even intending to.


  2. Tricky, tricky. The church-state separation can be a confusing one, with precedent on the separation in education difficult to work with. I appreciate your conclusion that based on nuances in the religion v. culture question re Israel, that maybe this should be a place where we adhere strictly to the separation.

    I don’t have much to say on the Israel question that has not already been hashed and re-hashed over and over again. I’m relieved that the world is finally starting to say, “ummmm, this is not okay,” and that the US is saying that, however anemically it says it. I do support a 2-state solution, and I think something very interesting is going on with Israel and the Jewish people that will determine the course of Israeli politics for a very long time. The country has operated under a siege mentality (and rightly so) for a long time, but that is just not Israel’s reality anymore; their leadership is lagging in coming to that conclusion. We have a new generation of liberal American Jews whose identification with Israel is not that of their parents or grandparents; they, too, are unhappy with Israel’s politics in the region, and are either vocally opposing those politics, or are checking out completely, and being labeled as “self-haters” in response. And many Israel citizens are also pushing back on their country’s leadership, marching with displaced Palestinians in areas that are being settled. Finally, there is an increasingly conservative movement in Israel and in the US that is completely intolerant of a Palestinian state, and completely unwilling to see Palestinian people as that–people, deserving of a home like every other human being. The future of Israel will depend on Israeli and American Jewish leadership to reconcile these divergent voices.


    1. Wow … what SHE said! Trust ORJ to always see an amazing level of nuance. Seriously, though, the Israel issue is so much more complex than I can often wrap my mind around. I’d like to throw in my two cents about the fact that many of the Arab nations in the region haven’t done right by the Palestinians either. They talk a lot of smack but, in the end, their actions diverge from their words. Anyone read Friedman’s From Beirut to Jerusalem? I remember being in a fog for months after I read that.


      1. Nazie, you are so right; it’s so, so complex. But aren’t all matters involving human beings and conflict??? Placing “From Beirut to Jerusalem” on the to-read book list immediately…


  3. No public funding should go to religious schools. Period.
    People should choose whether or not to send their kids to schools with religiuos instruction, but those schools should not be funded by public tax dollars. If we’re not funding houses of worship, why fund the schools?

    I wouldnt send my kid to a Hebrew School because he is not Hebrew. I wouldn’t send him to Catholic school because he is not catholic. I attended a private school with catholic leanings, but it wasnt an official parochial school. Just run by brothers and nuns lol

    I wont weigh in much on Israel because I view Israel as the spoiled step-child of the US.


  4. But that’s the issue, isn’t it? Is Judaism a religion, or a culture? The answer is ‘both.’ Moreover, it is very hard to separate one from the other. From LaToya’s description, the children aren’t preparing for a bat mitzvah; they’re learning another language, and about another country and culture. And we know that Jewish identity is not necessarily about religion. So, there’s a legitimate question as to whether the Establishment clause applies here. My conclusion is that if school officials are careful not to proselytize, then it probably doesn’t, although I respect LaToya’s conclusion that because the line is so blurry, we should err on the side of caution.

    As for Israel, I don’t know if it’s fair to relegate it to the status of a petulant step-child. Jewish people all over the world have been through a lot of s*%, something that people of color can certainly appreciate. And there might not have been a need for a Jewish state if the rest of the world hadn’t turned a blind eye to the slaughter of millions of Jews just for being Jewish. The issue is how long can this “post-traumatic stress syndrome” be justified? That is, although we understand the need for a Jewish state, and also recognize ongoing anti-Semitism throughout the world, it is probably time for Israel to realize that it is not a country under siege in the way it once was, and that Jewish people around the world are not persecuted the way they once were. Moreover, they’ve become their oppressors, engaging in human rights violations that a country with their history should be horrified to engage in.

    What Israel is doing isn’t right, but I do understand how they got here. All the same, it’s time for a change.


    1. ORJ, I appreciate your articulate responses, but I am curious as to why you think Israel no longer has any reason to have a “siege mentality”. Rockets are still raining down from Gaza to Ashdod on a frequent basis, killing and severely injuring countless Israelis and causing the whole community to live in a state of constant alarm and stress. And that was after Gaza was given away to the Palestinians and every single Israeli living there was literally torn from his/her home if they did not leave voluntarily. Israeli Arabs are free to live peacefully in the Jewish state, but there is no place for Jews in modern-day Gaza. Why? the nations surrounding Israel are not friendly. They still pose a real threat. Why should the siege mentality, as you put it, be summarily dropped when Israel is still being attacked?


  5. LaToya, I’m curious as to your thoughts regarding vouchers. SCOTUS has upheld the use of vouchers for private religious schools; does your opposition to spending public money on religious institutions extend to voucher programs like those affirmed in the decision?


    1. In theory, yes. Public money should not go toward religion. Although I haven’t read the opinions, I can imagine an argument that says that each student in the U.S. is entitled to $X to spend on their education however they choose, and religious education is one of those options. But my taxpayer money goes into funding that education, and as a democratic society, there is a certain education that we should promote, none of which should be religious in focus. To me, public education is about building a democratic citizenry. Our democracy is theoretically based on a separation of church and state. Therefore no public money should go toward any religious institutions.


      1. Yes, the argument was that the money wasn’t going to religious schools per se; it was going to parents who chose to use that money for private schools. Debatable whether there’s a difference.

        And this takes us back to your point about it being the “best” education available for children of color. The voucher movement made strange bedfellows of conservative religious parents, and black parents desperate for better schools for their children in urban centers. The Milwaukee voucher program, for example, serves mostly African American children. Those parents would tell you that if it takes blurring the separation between church and state to finally gives their kids a shot at a good education, than so be it.

        I’m not so much concerned about whether such programs undermine democracy. There is even research suggesting that Catholic schools in particular are better at fostering citizens ready to function in a democratic society: better awareness of how gov’t works and politics; more tolerance; more commitment to civic participation. My concern is more about the way in which it privatizes a function that I believe should completely public.


  6. The Catholic school thing – is that simply because of curriculum differences, or something inherent to Catholicism?

    And I’m curious – why do you think education should be completely public?

    Because I think I agree – I think I’m against private schools in general. I think that if education is the main pathway to social mobility, then everyone should have to take take the same path. It’s not fair that some people can pay for a better education than others – that undermines, to me, the democratic ideal and the foundation of the American Dream. Rich kids should have to go to school with poor kids, black with white, etc. The only way that can happen is if education is solely public, with no option of private schools. Private schools should be illegal. The state should be responsible for educating every single child.


  7. I am a 24 year old African- American woman, my 5 year old son will be attending a Hebrew Charter school in August. I feel my son will receive a great quality education while learning a new language. People in my family are skeptical that his cultural might be affected, but I feel confident in our religion and my ability to teach my son about our family’s beliefs. What do you ladies think ,Should we be thinking more outside the box?


    1. Lashawndra – I think that it depends on what environment your child is in. Do you live close to family? What kind of neighborhood do you live in? If your child receives a lot of influence about his religion and culture outside of school, then you will probably have a good balance. If not, however, then you will have to work extra hard at providing that balance. Also, check to make sure that the school does well in providing a quality education to all of its students. Schools boast of great test scores, but when those scores are broken down, often black and brown children are doing much worse than white children. Now, they are often doing better than they would have done at a majority black school, but again, think of the balance of being in a more culturally nurturing school environment.

      In sum, I think you can work it out either way. You just have to be really on top of things, and be very deliberate in creating a balanced environment for your child.


  8. Would a Latin-language charter school bother you? Latin is not spoken by anyone except Roman Catholic clergy.

    Hebrew Charter schools celebrate Purim or Hanukah, in exactly the same way that mainstream public schools celebrate Christmas or Easter (“spring break”), which are both ===religiously-sourced== holidays.

    Have you ever BEEN to Israel? Can you imagine that about 80% of native-Hebrew-speakers are non-religious in every way? Can you imagine that about 20% of the Israel’s Hebrew speakers are NOT Jews? Both are true facts.

    New York’s first language was Dutch. That changed to English. Can you prove to me that it can’t change again?

    to Lashawndra: about (don’t hold me to this exact number) 10% of Jewish Israelis are Ethiopians. Walking around Tel Aviv or Jerusalem or Haifa, you or your child would not feel non-ordinary.


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