Bintel Blog

Hasidic-Controlled School Board Roils Rockland County

By Nathaniel Popper

Things have gone from bad to worse for the Hasidic Jews living in New Square and a few other Hasidic enclaves near the Catskills.

A few weeks ago, we told you about the battle in Rockland County over a proposed kosher slaughterhouse that would be built less than a hundred feet from a residential neighborhood — a proposal that has not endeared the ultra-Orthodox Jews of New Square to their neighbors.

Now, though, the slaughterhouse issue is being overshadowed by anger over the way in which the ultra-Orthodox communities control the local school board. It turns out that the people who send their kids to public school are not happy about the school board being controlled by people who send their kids to private religious schools and who seem to be primarily interested in lowering their own taxes and increasing the amount of money going to special education programs.

Read more


Madonna at Auschwitz

By Jay Michaelson

The Jewish blogosphere is abuzz with reports that Madonna has plans to take her children, Lourdes (12) and Rocco (9) to Auschwitz, when the singer visits Poland as part of an upcoming tour. According to a report initially published in the British Daily Mirror, but circulated widely in the Jewish community by Ynetnews, a source close to the signer says that “It won’t be an easy trip but it is an ultimate life affirming experience, and one Madonna — because of her strong Kaballah [sic] beliefs [sic] – does not want to ignore.”

It’s easy to criticize Madonna’s choice. Is nine too young to understand the gravity of the holocaust? (Not according to my grade school teachers.) Is anything connected with Madonna and/or Judaism and/or Kabbalah to be treated with derision? Personally, though, having just returned from a trip to Auschwitz myself (see related ‘Polymath’ column), I think the decision is a sound one. It’s all well and good to study Kabbalah and mysticism on sunny summer days – but can your theology and spirituality withstand the truth of the holocaust? And while the subtleties of Nazi genocide may well be lost on pre-teen kids, the general narrative will not be.

I just hope Madonna also gets to enjoy the sights of Krakow – there’s a great nightclub called “Kitsch” that I think she’d enjoy, plus the grave of the RaMaH, a great Torah sage. I guess there aren’t that many people who would appreciate both – but I bet Madonna would.

Read more


Diane Ravitch Flunks Hebrew School

By Daniel Treiman

Noted historian and education expert Diane Ravitch is weighing in on New York City’s planned Hebrew language charter school. And, unsurprisingly, this champion of civic education and e pluribus unum — and ardent opponent of multiculturalist cant and other centrifugal forces — is not pleased by this latest effort to enlist the public schools in the service of yet another particularist agenda.

She writes in the Daily News:

Our public authorities have forgotten that the public pays for public schools to advance public purposes. Among those purposes are: teaching kids their rights and responsibilities as American citizens; teaching them to live and work with others of different cultural backgrounds; and preparing them for higher education and for the modern workplace, where people of diverse backgrounds interact.

It is the job of family, the community and religious institutions to teach children about their heritage. The job of public schools is to teach children a common civic culture and a shared commitment to democracy.

In a city with hundreds of different ethnic and cultural groups, we should not be encouraging the creation of schools that are specific to a single non-American culture. That way lies separation, segregation and the fraying of the bonds that hold us together as Americans.

Of course our public schools should teach foreign languages. We should expect students to learn a language other than English. If there is a critical need for speakers of Arabic, Hebrew, Spanish, Chinese and other languages - and there is - then school officials should make sure to hire enough language teachers to offer these languages in middle schools and high schools.

If the goal of the Hebrew Language Charter School is to strengthen the religious identity of Russian and Israeli Jews, then it should be a private school. If the goal is to teach Hebrew to a broad variety of students, then the Regents should encourage the teaching of Hebrew in the regular public schools. And the same goes for schools that promote Chinese, Russian, Korean, Spanish, Arabic and other world languages.

Read the full article here.


Will Yalies March on the Sun?

By Daniel Treiman

The expensively educated elitists over at The New York Sun are making like they’re U.S. News & World Report. They’ve developed an ever-so-scientific system for grading New York City’s elite private schools.

The Sun’s methodology:

The New York Sun has assigned its own letter grades, using a mathematical formula that takes into account the school’s net assets and the number of students it sends to Harvard and adjusts for the size of the student body.

So it’s Harvard uber alles. Students who choose to go to Yale, Columbia, Amherst, Vassar or, heaven forbid, a fine public institution like Berkeley (full disclosure: my alma mater) — they’re worth bupkes.

The Jewish angle? Ramaz earned a respectable B+ from the Sun.

Okay, here’s the real Jewish angle: Sun editor Seth Lipsky and managing editor Ira Stoll (Harvard grads both, of course) are, respectively, the founding editor and former managing editor of this rag.


Pro-Palestinian, Pro-Israel Activists Team Up

By Daniel Treiman

In a historic instance of inadvertent collaboration, the combined efforts of pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian students at San Jose State University in California landed their school a spot on Mother Jones magazine’s annual roundup of campus activism:

Mother Jones reports:

Adopting a tactic popularized on other campuses, in April San Jose State University students built a mock version of Israel’s “security wall,” complete with checkpoints and 50 fake Israeli soldiers and Palestinians. Pro-Israel students crashed the event, wearing shirts that read, “If I were a suicide bomber, you would be dead.”

It’s to Mother Jones’s credit that it seems to think both sides have legitimate grievances, given that left-wing magazines all too often place the blame solely on Israel.


A Liberal Perspective on Brooklyn’s Arabic Academy Brouhaha

By Daniel Treiman

Conservative media outlets like the New York Post have led the charge against a controversial Arabic-themed public school planned for Brooklyn, the Khalil Gibran International Academy. But, Richard Kahlenberg argues in a compelling New York Times Op-Ed, there’s reason for liberals to be wary as well:

The late Albert Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, once famously said that the rationale for public schools was to teach children what it means to be an American.

At their core, in free democratic societies, schools are meant to develop children who will grow up with critical minds to be productive employees and tolerant, independent-thinking citizens. But in America, given our diversity, Shanker believed that public schools should provide a common education to children from all backgrounds that teaches not only skills but also American history, culture and democracy. Public schools, to him, were critical in this process of Americanization.

Keeping Shanker’s point in mind, there are principled reasons to be concerned about the Gibran school that are not simply bigoted. Jonathan Zimmerman, who teaches history and education at New York University, has likened opposition to the school with anti-German hysteria during World War I, when state legislatures passed measures barring or restricting German language classes. But there is a significant difference between teaching Arabic in a public school — something all Americans should support — and creating a school dedicated primarily to the study of Arabic language, history and culture.

Read more


Ha’aretz to American Jews: Reconsider Opposition to Gov't Support for Religious Schools

By Daniel Treiman

The liberal Israeli daily Ha’aretz is urging American Jews to reconsider one of the cornerstones of our community’s liberalism: opposition to government funding for religious schools. In an editorial on the importance of Jewish education for maintaining Jewish identity, citing in particular the effectiveness of day schools, Ha’aretz writes:

If Jewish community leaders in the United States are genuine in their desire to slow the processes weakening their community, they would do well to reexamine their entrenched opposition to state or federal support for religious education, including Jewish education. They fear that such support, even in the form of tax rebates, would violate the absolute separation of church and state, which could in the long term harm the Jews above all. But it would appear that the proven danger of assimilation must take precedence over fears of potential dangers, particularly after the experience of other Jewish communities that receive funding from the countries they live in without being hurt as a result.

This recommendation, in addition to being surprising, is problematic on two fronts.

Read more


Monkey Business at Jewish Girls' School in Calcutta

By Gabriel Sanders

India’s Express News Service reports:

Much to the amusement of students and teachers, a monkey sneaked into the campus of Jewish Girls’ School today and caused quite a stir. However, it also attacked a few students when they came near it. The incident occurred at 10.30 this morning. After watching its antics for some time the locals caught it by using a net. Later the simian was handed over to Park Street Police and is now being kept in a separate cell.

Who knew there was a Jewish girls’ school in Calcutta?


The Battle of Newton: Dershowitz vs. Chomsky

By Daniel Treiman

Last month, far-left icon Noam Chomsky spoke about Iraq to students at Newton South High School. He came at the invitation of the Massachusetts high school’s Social Awareness Club. The choice of speaker sparked no small measure of outrage (which isn’t surprising, given that it sometimes seems as if the famed MIT linguist never met a problem he couldn’t blame on American foreign-policy). The invitation to Chomsky — no great friend of Israel — particularly irked members of Newton’s large Jewish community. In response, the school’s Jewish Student Union is calling in the heavy artillery: Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who will speak at Newton South on June 5.

I don’t have much to add, except that this presents a convenient opportunity to recount a highlight from a 2005 debate at Harvard between Dershowitz and Chomsky. In the course of arguing that many countries have better human rights records than Israel when responding to terrorism, Chomsky declared:

Israel and the United States are both threatening Iran with destruction. Preemption, according to Dershowitz, would require that Iran be carrying out targeted assassinations in Israel and the United States.

What makes Chomsky’s statement that much more unhinged is that it came only a month after Iran’s president called for Israel to be “wiped off the map.” Talk about turning the world on its head…

You can watch the full video of the debate here. The bit mentioned above comes one hour and 20 minutes into the video.

UPDATE: Bintel Blog reader James Holstun disputes my characterization of Ahmadinejad as having called for Israel to be “wiped off the map.” Read my response here.



Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.