Friday, December 30, 2005

Why Aren't the Orthodox Advocating for Day Schools?

I have been involved in day schools for more than fifty years, starting in my late teens when I volunteered to work for a newly established network of religious elementary schools in Israel. This involvement has encompassed research and writing, legal activity, service for a third of a century as president of America's oldest Jewish parochial school in continuous operation, development of philanthropic programs to assist day schools and advocating on behalf of these institutions. In short, I regard day schools as essential for the wellbeing of American Jewry.

At the level of rhetoric, many sincerely share this commitment. Unfortunately, in the translation of this commitment into reality, I have very little company or at least that is how I feel. This has been a lonely journey and never more lonely than in recent years. Among the Orthodox for whom religious education is a must, an alien attitude has gained prominence. It is that sending one's children to a yeshiva or day school is an act of consumerism and that like all other consumer products and services, it must be paid for by the purchasers, meaning the parents, irrespective of their ability to pay.

This attitude, which contrasts sharply with the traditional view that to a considerable extent religious education is a communal responsibility, has come to the fore at a time when the size of Orthodox families has increased dramatically, a circumstance that obviously adds enormously to their tuition burden. Even without tuition, Orthodox living is extremely costly. High tuition charges mean stress and pain in many homes. Since educational costs must go up and parents must foot nearly all of the bill, the amount of stress and pain increases regularly. The prospect is for escalating hardship in nearly all sectors of American Orthodoxy.

While several foundations provide meaningful help and day school capital campaigns can attract major gifts, communal support for the operating budgets of Jewish schools has declined. The record of American Jewry is shameful. In an article just published in the Jerusalem Post, Ismar Schorsch, Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, makes what he calls "the strategic proposal that the organized Jewish community in America guarantee a free Jewish education to the children of all members of the Jewish polity."

Dream on. Let us say amen and then recognize that there isn't a ghost of a chance that this proposal will come close to becoming a reality. Last year, the Fund for Jewish Education, controlled by the New York Federation, cut off basic grants to day schools, an evil act that scarcely drew a peep from Orthodox groups and leaders. Their message, inadvertently conveyed, was harm our schools and we will stand idly by.

Contrast this with what took place more than a generation ago - I believe in 1969 - when Irving Greenberg and others disrupted the General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations and demanded support for day schools. Their protest bore fruit. But Orthodox groups and leaders have stopped advocating for day schools.

The picture isn't any better on the government aid front. Congress passed in 1963 the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the nation's first major piece of educational legislation. Although all three branches of the Federal government were controlled by strict church-state separationists, ESEA included parochial schools in benefit programs. This passed constitutional muster and parochial schools continue to benefit. While the Orthodox community was weaker at the time, it fought for this legislation.

Let's fast-forward nearly forty years to President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act, the second major piece of federal education legislation. For all of the predent's religious leanings and the drift away in Congress and the Supreme Court from church-state intransigence, the new law managed to leave out all parochial school students and the Orthodox community did not bat an eyelash. In fact, there are grant programs that include religious schools without transgressing First Amendment restrictions.

Of course, yeshiva deans and Orthodox leaders and organizations would like to see day schools get public support. Unfortunately, they are too comfortable with the alien notion that this education is a consumer product and they are unwilling to mount the kind of effort that might produce results. Instead, they are content to have convention sessions and meetings on the "tuition crisis." Everyone then goes home and nothing happens.

I conclude this week a series of twelve full-page messages in the Jewish Press discussing financial realities confronting day schools and their parents. Two Orthodox weeklies, Hamodia and Yated Ne'eman, rejected these paid messages. While the grass roots response has been substantial, it is evident that the situation in many Orthodox homes is likely to get worse. While the pain is evident, what isn't seen is the growing number of families, most of them marginally observant, who walk away from day schools. One critical measure of the consequence of the failure to advocate for day schools is the sharp enrollment decline at schools with an immigrant or outreach orientation.

Monday, December 26, 2005

The ADL is Harming American Jews and Israel

The Anti-Defamation League is a fundraising and public relations behemoth, raking in more than any other American Jewish organization and constantly getting its name into print. If this would be the entire ADL story, there wouldn't be much to complain about, except perhaps to bemoan the folly of those who mistake fluff for substance and believe that their contributions yield meaningful benefits. Alas, there is more to the picture. To sustain the image that it is doing battle 24/7 against the forces of evil that seek to defame and harm Jews, the ADL needs to fabricate an atmosphere of fear, of enemies of the Jewish people lurking everywhere. As it exploits our fears, the ADL defends its turf, irrespective of the harm caused to Israel and Jews.

For all of the narishkeit contained in ADL files and the fear-mongering promoted by its appetite for publicity, anti-Jewishness and anti-Semitism are not even a minor problem on these shores, in large measure because of the tolerance that is embedded in the American ethos and also because we have so substantially assimilated that few of us remain targets for those who wish us ill. This may, G-D forbid, change and admittedly there are problem areas, particularly for religious Jews who are distinctive in their look and practices. The discrimination faced in the workplace and elsewhere by these Jews has never made it onto the ADL's civil liberties and civil rights radar screen. In this alone, there is a strong scent of hypocrisy in the organization's activities.

As anti-Semitism has waned in the U.S., the ADL has developed a penchant for picking quixotic fights, always careful to assure that its ubiquitous and publicity-hungry leader, Abraham Foxman, is the center of the story. There was the dubious battle against Mel Gibson's Passion. Foxman could not see that his campaign sent a message to millions of Christians for whom the movie had much relevance that their going to see it was a contribution to anti-Semitism. No friend of Jews for sure, Gibson did not have the decency to send a fat check to the ADL in appreciation for the tons of free publicity.

Another example is the silly donnybrook between Foxman and Congressman Charles Rangel over incautious but meaningless words used by the veteran legislator. Indeed, incautious and meaningless language that can be interpreted as unfriendly to Jews is fundraising nirvana for the ADL. As with others who have been accused by the ADL of far greater sins than they have committed, Rangel did not back down, the lesson being that however much we may believe the nonsense that Foxman is contributing to the dignity and freedom of Jews, it is easy to stand up to him because essentially he represents his ego and little more.

Astonishingly for so large a Jewish organization, the ADL is bereft of intellectual weight. In a sense, it is all instinct and no intellect. This is in contrast to the two AJC's which together with the ADL once formed the formidable triumvirate of Jewish defense agencies. While the American Jewish Committee is engaged in serious inquiries on the state of contemporary Jewish life and the American Jewish Congress is grappling with church-state issues in a changing legal and social environment, the brain of the ADL is the xerox machine and other PR paraphernalia.

Admittedly, much - maybe most - of what the agency does is benign self-serving shtick. There is an exception. The ADL cleaves today to a single idea, that idea is hostility to religion. In this alone, there is a clear and present danger for American Jews and to Israel.

The ADL is in the vanguard of the secular American Jewish hostility toward Judaism. Perhaps this is only opportunistic because there is gold to be mined among affluent assimilated Jews who are generous toward a cause that denigrates religion. Still, it must be asked how antipathy toward Judaism fits in with an agenda that purports to defend Jews against defamation. The image promoted by the ADL clearly results in Jews being defamed as a group that is at war with religion, a group that is fanatically determined to fight bitterly to prevent any place for religion in the public square.

The message being sent to tens of millions of Christians who have no dislike of Judaism is that we don't like them. Purposefully or not, we are tarnishing them as bigots and as people whose views we must oppose as Jews. It is warped to believe that this attitude protects Jews.

As with the ideology and rhetoric employed by all kinds of groups, specifically including political and other secular groups, there are actions and language that can make us uncomfortable and which need to be challenged. I am not unconcerned over the campaign conducted by media right-wingers, the likes of Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh. They have fabricated a straw man of anti-Christian sentiment and used this fabrication to beat the drums for religion. What the ADL is doing is not to challenge their campaign but to do battle against Christians generally, thereby contributing to the wrongful notion that we are hostile to the religious beliefs of other people.

We now have Foxman's denunciation of Evangelicals, they being the Americans who are by far the most supportive of Israel. His attack is mean-spirited and intolerant. It is already evident from the response of rank and file Evangelicals that Foxman has damaged Israel. Evangelicals are questioning whether the aid and comfort they give to the Jewish state is warranted in view of the attack against them by a major Jewish leader.

I imagine that none of this bothers Foxman. I imagine that his attack against Evangelicals has been a fundraising boon. The heck with the Jews. The heck with Israel. Long live the ADL.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Israel's Undemocratic Supreme Court

Unless they are toothless, Supreme Courts are sore spots in democratic societies because some of what they do is to review and occasionally invalidate laws passed by democratically elected legislatures and actions taken by executive administrative bodies that can be held accountable via elections or through other democratic controls. Supreme courts aren't elected and they aren't accountable.

When judicial review is employed sparingly and only in special situations, it can be justified as necessary in a scheme of checks and balances and as a way to protect fundamental rights. Sooner or later though, there is apt to be trouble, as in the recent U.S. Supreme Court onslaught against two generations of constitutional law.

As egregious as the Rehnquist Court was in striking down precedents and laws that merited respect, it was unthinkable for the Chief Justice to determine who fills vacancies on his bench. That function is given to the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate. Not so in Israel where in an arrangement that is as bizarre as it is inherently anti-democratic, the Chief Justice plays a decisive role in selecting his colleagues, an irresponsible responsibility that is relished by Aharon Barak, Israel's super-powerful Chief Justice.

As critics have pointed out, Israel's Supreme Court has evolved into an insular body with a self-perpetuating ideology, which is to say that its non-democratic character is multi-layered. Barak now has outdone himself with the apparently successful effort to block the appointment of his "good friend," Professor Ruth Gavison, who is described by David Hazony in the Jerusalem Post as "arguably Israel's most celebrated legal scholar." Lest it be thought that she is an observant Jew and that's why I am advocating on her behalf, Gavison is a secularist, a longtime proponent of peace negotiations with Israel's Arab neighbors and an activist for human and civil rights. She has chaired the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

She would seem ideal for Aharon Barak's team. But he came out against her a month ago in an extraordinary speech which went beyond the bounds of judicial propriety. While conceding that Gavison "is completely worthy of being appointed a Supreme Court Justice," Barak opposes her because "she is a candidate who comes to the court with an agenda - and that in and of itself is a bad thing…. Her agenda is bad for the Supreme Court" and "I don’t want candidates taking a position regarding the agenda."

I imagine that Mr. Barak and those who have passed his muster all have had frontal lobotomies ere they ascended the high bench. As for Professor Gavison's agenda, she opposes the Supreme Court interfering regularly in decisions made by the Knesset and the Government and this criticism obviously rankles Aharon Barak who holds the opposite view that judges must have free rein. The Gavison sin is her commitment to judicial restraint, a commitment that would put her in the company of some of history's greatest jurists. Under the Barak standard, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. would not have been eligible for the U.S. Supreme Court.

When Barak's intemperate speech evoked a chorus of criticism, Haaretz came to his rescue with a hatchet job. In a long article called "Ruthie's Agenda," we learn that her "fiery temperament is known far and wide," that she is "the dictionary definition of the total opposite of a judge's temperament," that she is "a very unpleasant person" who "lacks minimal judicial disposition." To boot, she possesses "a kind of innate asocial character." And that's only in the first paragraph!

There is a strong sexist aspect to the attack on Gavison.

I know people who have worked with Ruth Gavison and they describe her differently, as someone who understands the importance of compromise and accommodation and as a secularist and scholar who recognizes that in order to prevent Israel from being rent further asunder by cultural and religious conflict, secular and religious Israelis need to reach an understanding. She has the makings of an outstanding member of the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, as they say on these shores, she is chopped liver, thanks to Aharon Barak who is Israel's chief chef.

Sadly, Israel and, in a relevant way, world Jewry, will continue to be ill-served by a Supreme Court that promotes social divisions and exacerbates intra-Jewish conflict, a Supreme Court that has an ideological agenda, a Supreme Court that is unrepresentative and hostile to democratic principles.

Even the most accomplished apologist would have difficulty defending the Supreme Court's role of interfering in the daily routine of government, as it does nearly each day when it sits as the High Court of Justice. That's a high sounding phrase for three or more black-robed people imposing their views on Israel, without regard to questions of standing. What they don't like, they find reasons to strike down.

This system, referred to as "Bagatz" - it should stand for "beyond goofy and zany" - allows the judges to reject even relatively minor governmental appointees and to set aside a wide range of ministerial actions. Anyone with ideological stomach cramps can go directly to the High Court of Justice where injustice is doled out routinely. I doubt that there is another Supreme Court in the world that has acted in so usurpatious a fashion.

Although this incredible approach to judicial authority has been sharply criticized for nearly the entirety of Israel's existence, it is maintained because the judges on the Supreme Court of Israel are power hungry. In the words of one of their former prominent members, this is the right way to do judicial business because the Knesset and Israel's leaders cannot be trusted.

That is some sentiment for a democratic society!

Letter to Haaretz

The following letter was sent to Haaretz in response to an article published on Sunday:

It is astounding to read these opening words in Tamaara Traubman's article on Professor Robert Aumann's receiving the Nobel Prize in Economics for his mathematical research into game theory: "At the yeshiva high school where he studied, he was told he was not very good in mathematics, and they advised him to choose something simpler, like auto mechanics."

In fact, in a long interview published earlier this year in Macroeconomic Dynamics, a scholarly journal, Professor Aumann was asked at the outset to identify "the milestones on your scientific route." He responded "My interest in mathematics actually started in high school - the Rabbi Jacob Joseph Yeshiva on the lower east side of New York City. There was a marvelous teacher of mathematics, by the name of Joseph Gansler. The classes were very small; the high school had just started operating. He used to gather the students around his desk. What really turned me on was geometry, theorems and proofs. So all the credit belongs to Joey Gansler."

He has said much the same on other occasions.

Dr. Marvin Schick
Rabbi Jacob Joseph School

Friday, December 09, 2005

Who Is Myopic?

Up close, Michael Steinhardt is terrific. He's serious about Jewish life, charming, lots of fun and, of course, smart. From a distance, the picture is somewhat different. What is impressive is his boldness, his reaching out for new ideas and big projects aimed at counteracting the bad mathematics of American Jewish life Birthright Israel is the best example of this side of the picture. The other side includes an embrace of anything goes Judaism that is unfortunately accompanied by a debunking of our traditions and values.

According to Gary Rosenblatt's sensitive report last week, Mr. Steinhardt spoke recently to a group of Yeshiva University alumni and criticized the Orthodox for being myopic. While he is not a poster boy for the delicious aphorism, "If you want to know what God thinks about money, look who he gives it to," it is a stretch to say as Richard Joel, Yeshiva's president said, that he has "the largest heart in the Jewish world." As the Jewish world is powerfully driven by the twin imperatives of fundraising and public relations, rich people tend to have wonderful qualities that expand as their wealth expands. There are abundant examples of dreadful people who get such awards as "Humanitarian of the Year."

Anyway, Mr. Steinhardt - a good man - faulted the Orthodox for "not fulfilling their communal, moral and religious obligations to support the rest of the Jewish community." Is he kidding? What else is maintaining a significant and expensive network of day schools if not the fulfillment of a religious, moral and communal obligation? It is no answer to respond that the Orthodox are providing for their own - in large measure they are - because in addition to religious education being a religious, moral and communal obligation, day school education benefits all of American Jewry. Also, nearly all of the special education, outreach and immigrant schools and programs for youth at risk available in our community are under Orthodox sponsorship.

Mr. Steinhardt further questions "why so little Orthodox philanthropy went to non-Orthodox causes, like Jewish federations, from whose programs Orthodox Jews benefit." Here, too, the record does not support the criticism. For openers, the Orthodox benefit minimally from federations and what benefits they receive have generally been reduced in value and, at times, in dollars over the years, no matter what contradictory puffery is emitted by the federation world. Who benefits from federations and whether these benefits are meaningful is an important question that begs examination in view of the place of the federation network in American Jewish life.

In channeling contributions to causes that they sponsor, the Orthodox are following Michael Steinhardt's example. I'll bet my next to last buck that no more than a pittance of his formidable philanthropy goes to federations, the reason being that he wants to have control over what he gives to. There is a collateral reason, which is that he does not have an excess of faith in the efficacy of the Jewish establishment, believing that he can do a better job placing his bets and money on his own initiatives. These factors are increasingly true of other major donors who continue to give to Jewish causes. Why should the Orthodox think or do differently?

The primarily voluntary social service network established by the Orthodox dwarfs in the number of people reached and served, specifically including the non-Orthodox, what the federation world does. The gap becomes wider each year. If I would list each significant Orthodox chesed initiative and provide a single sentence describing what it does, a month of columns would not come close to containing sufficient space to do the job.

The major issue posed by the Steinhardt challenge is involvement, the failure of Orthodox Jews to be sufficiently engaged with the non-Orthodox. He asserts that this is contrary to Maimonides' teachings, in the words of the article "that one must not remove himself from the community." Maimonides is relevant to the issue, but he teaches exactly the reverse in describing a situation that echoes contemporary American Jewish life. Those who wish to explore whether I am accurate can examine Laws of Ethics (Hilchot De'ot), chapter 6, 1.

Putting aside the question of whether the Orthodox have room for more on their communal plate, are they obligated to be engaged in the fashion insisted on by Michael Steinhardt? Many are, in fact, engaged, whether in education, outreach, charitable activity or in other ways, as I am. But must we ignore the widening chasm as secular Jews move further away from our traditions and values? The Jewish establishment has made a sincere effort to accommodate the Orthodox on kashruth and, at times, Shabbos. Yet the secular and the Orthodox are further apart than ever in values and ideas. Are the latter required to ignore the funding of or involvement in activities that debase Judaism? Are they to ignore the overwhelming support among our secularists for gay marriage? Or the widening opposition to even a minimum place for religion in American public life? Are the Orthodox to be blind to the all-out war waged by the Jewish establishment against aid to parochial schools? What about intermarriage and its consequences?

The sad fact is that when the Orthodox and non-Orthodox interact, there's a good prospect that the food will be kosher but the values will be chazer treif. As assimilatory forces alive in American Jewish life take an ever-increasing toll, there will be even less common ground and reduced prospect that Orthodox engagement will have an impact.

This may sound too pessimistic. Mr. Steinhardt also criticized the Orthodox for believing that the non-Orthodox "are a lost cause." This isn't the case, although prospects for Jewish continuity among a majority of American Jews are bleak. Interestingly, in a meeting several months ago, not set up at my initiative, Mr. Steinhardt was pessimistic about the Jewish future of non-Orthodox Jews.

The Yeshiva on Henry Street

Allen and I came to the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School on Henry Street on the Lower East Side in November 1943, eight years after our older brother Arthur. Allen is my twin and we were nine, fourth-graders for "English," as secular studies were then called in all yeshivas and the way they are still called in many of our schools.

We were in first grade for Hebrew, a circumstance arising from the sudden death of our father on Purim in 1938 which resulted in our family being dispersed as our mother who had four children ages 3-7 and was left penniless struggled to rebuild her life and make a home in Boro Park for her children.

Our first grade rebbe was Rabbi Nachman Mandel, already a veteran teacher, although he had another sixty years of classroom activity ahead of him before he retired after teaching for about a generation at a Los Angeles yeshiva.

While we progressed nicely, it wasn't easy to adapt to the age differential and this plus my rambunctious nature led to Rabbi Hillel Weiss, RJJ's gifted and devoted principal who had studied with our father at the great yeshiva in Pressburg, telling our mother that another school should have the privilege of educating her precious twins. For four years we were at Toras Emes in Boro Park, a beneficial experience, and then we returned to RJJ for the tenth grade and remained through high school and then for five years in the bais medrash.

By 1943, RJJ was well into its fifth decade. Referred to by its loyalists as "the Mama Yeshiva," it was the oldest Jewish parochial school in continuous operation in North America. There had been good times and bad times, the latter especially during the Depression years when enrollment declined in the small number of American yeshivas and day schools, with some of them being forced to close. Those who survived lived a penurious existence. Several RJJ attempts to establish a high school had floundered because of financial difficulties.

The country had mostly recovered from the Depression by 1943 and RJJ was on a path toward unprecedented growth. The yeshiva was imbued with new vigor, thanks to Rabbi Weiss and talented faculty and staff and a new high school, this despite the enormous decrease in the Jewish population of the Lower East Side.

That decline was hardly evident in the Jewish enclave below Delancey Street. On East Broadway and directly behind RJJ there was the Forward building, the tallest structure on the Lower East Side. The Morning Journal, another Yiddish daily, was published a few doors away. On the corner there was the Garden Cafeteria, then open on Shabbos and therefore unreliable and avoided by yeshiva students, although its food was cheap and inviting.

Seward Park was on the other side of East Broadway, serving as a hangout for yeshiva students playing hookey and as an outdoor gym. It was also a meeting place for the remnants of American Jewish Socialism, old men who would argue about the revolution that wasn`t coming.

We also hung out at the Seward Park Library and spent time at the Educational Alliance, the historic settlement house which then catered almost exclusively to Jews, and where RJJ rented space in the 1950's as its enrollment grew.

All around there were shtiblach, Jewish organizations and signs of a vibant Jewish life. Across the street from RJJ there was Anshe Maimad where exceptional Talmudic scholars who were esteemed in pre-Holocaust Europe but lost on these shores studied, argued and earned a pittance saying Kaddish for those who paid for the privilege.

RJJ itself consisted of a building dating from around 1915, a connecting annex that was built in the 1920's and, separated by a small yard, a renovated high school building that was the gift of the Golding family and which, as I recall, was opened in the early 1950's. Poor maintenance was the common denominator for all of these facilities.

On the corner of Henry Street and Rutgers there was a small playground - it's still there - dedicated in memory of Captain Jacob Joseph, a Marine who was killed in Guadalcanal in 1942. He was the great-grandson of Rabbi Jacob Joseph, New York's only chief rabbi, after whom the yeshiva is named, and the son of Lazarus Joseph, a Democratic Party leader who was a state senator and then New York City's comptroller while being active in RJJ.

The yeshiva was nearly always broke and behind in paying salaries to underpaid faculty and staff. Tuition was low and nonexistent for more than a few students but RJJ also had as officers and directors people of considerable means and reach. I am in my thirty-third year as president - a longer period than any of my more distinguished predecessors - and I have never been able to figure out why the school could not get its financial act together.

In 1943, the United States was at war. Irving M. Bunim, who two years later would become RJJ's president, was intensely engaged in Vaad Hatzala, the notable Orthodox rescue organization. I remember students saying Tehillim on D-Day in June 1944 when the Allies landed in Normandy. I also remember the yeshiva being engulfed in a sea of tears when the news came in April 1945 that President Roosevelt had died. Yet the Holocaust scarcely penetrated the psyche of the yeshiva, reflecting the inability of American Jewry at the time and for much of the generation after the Holocaust to come to grips with the destruction of European Jewry.

By the war's end, the yeshiva world was in transition. Beis medrash or seminary programs were established or enlarged and there were students who continued in kollel after they married. New faculty were hired, many of them refugees from the great European yeshivas that somehow found a sanctuary in Shanghai during the Holocaust. Among the veteran faculty, in RJJ and elsewhere, there was a sprinkling of "Haskalahniks," men who were well educated in Bible, Hebrew and Jewish history, but not particularly observant. This reflected the reality that for much of the first half of the twentieth century there was a limited pool of prospective Judaic teachers.

My second grade Hebrew teacher, Mr. Markoff, taught at RJJ for about fifty years. He was kindly but firm. For the third grade, I had Mr. Reisberg. They taught the fundamentals of dikduk or Hebrew grammar and they and others account for the fact that RJJ students and alumni were generally more adept in Hebrew language and grammar than students at other yeshivas. Less welcome during this period was the willingness of some teachers to hit students, a practice that thankfully is no longer tolerated in our yeshivas and day schools.

RJJ blossomed during the late 1940's and into the 1950's, thanks to the tireless work of Rabbi Weiss who gave fully of his heart, soul and even of his meager financial resources. Through Mr. Bunim, he developed a relatonship with the Great Rosh Yeshiva of Lakewood, Rav Aharon Kotler, a number of whose students - including Rabbi Mendel Krawiec, who was the highest rosh yeshiva - joined the faculty.

I remember Rav Aharon coming to RJJ, being introduced in awe by Rabbi Weiss and speaking to the students, few of whom understood what he was saying. Yet many were touched by the experience. A number of the familiar pictures of this greatest of Jews ever to set foot in North America are from these talks at RJJ. They show a man who though in his sixties looked close to 100, with a fire glowing from his face. I tremble whenever I look at these pictures and I tremble as I write these lines.

In truth, the quality of the Hebrew Department was uneven. There was a Hebrew Language division that dated back to RJJ's second decade and which justifiably or not was regarded as a place for weaker students or those who did not care. In the main Judaic Division where Yiddish and English were the languages of instruction, there were teachers who couldn't teach. Some were refugees whose level of knowledge was far too high for the students in their classroom and others whose nerves were shot.

These faculty members could not effectively relate to American boys. I can still see the pain etched on the faces of these good men who had lost so much in the Holocaust and who were now lost in an environment that was alien to them.

There were many students who did well, with a significant number going to Lakewood. Some have become noted roshei yeshiva. Of the "non-learners," a great many developed into serious religious lay people who in their adulthood have been more committed to Torah study than they were in yeshiva. In sharp contrast to the present attitude of showing the door to students who do not fully measure up, in the 1940's and 1950's there was greater tolerance and this sense of tolerance has yielded much good fruit over the years.

All of the old religious faculty are gone, with the exception of the saintly Rav Zeidel Epstein, a true tzaddik from his earliest days who well into his tenth decade continues to inspire RJJ alumni.

For all the merit of the religious studies program, at least at the high school level the English Department was the primary magnet, attracting an ever-growing number of students from outside of the Lower East Side. What made this more remarkable was the length of the school day, which ran until 6 p.m., including Sundays. This was arduous, especially for those who traveled as much as two hours a day, but it did allow for a serious and fully developed secular studies program.

Directed by Herman Winter, a remote but capable man, the whole of the secular studies curriculum was greater than the parts. Most of the teachers were good but far from outstanding, with several exceptions, including Joey Gansler, our fabled math teacher. Mr. Winter had been on Stuyvesant High School's faculty and some of its retirees taught at RJJ, with at best mixed results because there were those who were too old and feeble to cope with hyperactive yeshiva boys who by mid-afternoon and later were more than a bit antsy.

What made the English curriculum exceptional was its seriousness and a number of special touches. Although high school enrollment was modest until the early 1950's - my June 1952 graduating class had about two dozen students - there were electives and extra-curricular activities that included a remarkable range of clubs for students to participate in. In a word, what elevated RJJ was an environment that encouraged study.

There were brilliant students, although this would not be evident if we judged by the grades they received. Nowadays, a 90 on the report card for a good student can beget tears and protests, which is understandable as we are in a period of severe grade inflation. RJJ was draconian in grading. There were two semesters per year and three grading periods per semester. Except in reward for spectacular performance, the practice was to give no more than an 85 for the first grading period, 90 for the second and 95 for the final period. I recall that an 85 average was needed to get into the school's coveted Segula or Honor Society.

Grades provide another notable contrast between today's and yesterday's yeshivas. Parents did not complain if their children did not do as well on tests or papers or the report card as the children and/or parents thought they did. There was a different relationship between parents and school. Unlike today when many parents act as surrogate big brothers and sisters to their children and help with or do the homework, children then did their own work and parents were largely thankful that their kids were in a yeshiva and respected what the school and teachers decided.

RJJ parents were also grateful because there were special manifestations of chesed - of tzedakah and kindness. In addition to the caring and dignified tuition policy, many students were provided with free clothing and food. There was the special project conceived and funded by Joseph Applebaum and continued to this day by his family of distributing kosher food to needy families before Pesach. Camp Deal, now named Camp Dora Golding after its great benefactor, added another touch of caring as RJJ boys were given two wonderful weeks at the handsome sleep-away camp.

Yet, already in our time, the yeshiva was in decline. Further Jewish population losses on the Lower East Side contributed to this, as did the establishment of yeshivas and day schools wherever religious Jews lived in significant numbers. The sudden death of Rabbi Weiss in 1954, was the turning point in RJJ's fortunes. He held the yeshiva together and when he passed away, the atmosphere changed for the worse.

Yeshivas are fragile institutions, bereft of the bureaucratic layers and processes that cushion against the damage that can result from internal conflict. I will not detail here what occurred after Rabbi Weiss's death and it is likely that I never will. But a high cost was exacted as faculty, administrators and even lay people contributed to the potent brew.

The yeshiva was at once fortunate and harmed because lay officers and directors were intensely involved in its operations. This is a final contrast between the yeshiva world in an earlier period and today's pattern. The steep decline in volunteerism throughout American life is reflected in our schools and other institutions.

When I left RJJ in 1957, feelings of hakoras hatov - gratitude - were accompanied by feelings of hurt over what I had witnessed. Although I was already knee-deep in communal activity, Henry Street was not much on my mind. Nor would it be for another fifteen years, when Mr. Bunim, exhausted from his valiant effort to keep the yeshiva going, called to say that RJJ was in a state of collapse and asked me to come into the picture.

A latent sense of hakoras hatov and the belief that I could salvage from the remnants of Henry Street enough to build Torah education elsewhere led to my becoming the yeshiva's president. A third of a century later I am still doing my best to keep the best of Henry Street alive.

Friday, December 02, 2005

A Question of Ethics

Now that the usual suspects have gone after the Catholic Church and the St. Rose of Lima School in Queens for the firing of an unmarried but pregnant preschool teacher, perhaps we can explore in a fair way the issues raised by this incident. This means being fair to the Church and not bringing in its obvious vulnerability on sexual abuse and other matters.

The question of whether the school or Michelle McCusker, the fired teacher, violated the contract they entered into when she was hired in September is not a civil rights issue. Whatever legal or administrative bodies will adjudicate her claim, the contract issue does not of itself raise any novel questions.

Nor need we dwell on the ridiculous claim advanced by the New York Civil Liberties Union which is representing McCusker that she is the victim of sexual discrimination since the Church does not equally take action against male employees who engage in premarital sex. Even with advances in biology and medical science, not all of them salutary, pregnancy remains a condition reserved for the females of our species. Inequity, such as it is, arises from this circumstance and no other. I trust that we can understand that there are laws and situations - abortion is a useful example - that apply to but one gender.

Our focus should be on the moral dimension, beginning with the question of whether an applicant for a teaching position who knows that she is pregnant, but this is not yet physically evident, is obliged to inform the school of her condition. This apparently is McCusker's situation. Even if we accept society's interest in promoting equal opportunity in the workplace for pregnant women, perhaps we should view schools in a different light regarding prospective teachers because the education of children is likely - probably certainly - to be disrupted when in the middle of the school year the teacher will be out for two or three months or longer on pregnancy and maternity leave. Isn't the school's legitimate interest in the education and welfare of children sufficiently compelling in such a situation, although pregnancy certainly would not be a legitimate cause for firing a veteran teacher? Accordingly, wasn't McCusker morally obligated to inform St. Rose of Lima that she was pregnant?

This issue, incidentally, is faced routinely by yeshivas and day schools, particularly the large number that recruit young Orthodox women, including the recently married. Some schools are reluctant and even refuse to hire such women. Whether such a policy is justified, I believe that an applicant who is pregnant is obligated to inform the school.

St. Rose of Lima acted, of course, on a separate ground. It did not want an unmarried pregnant woman on its faculty because, as its principal put it in a letter to McCusker, "a teacher can not violate the tenets of Catholic morality." It's this view that generates criticism of the school and the Church, including from Jews of a secular orientation, which is another way of saying the great majority of American Jews.

Two considerations should compel a reconsideration and result in the conclusion that the school is within its rights.

We incessantly trumpet church-state separation, the refrain being that the involvement of government in religion or religion in government is strongly to be avoided because the mix is dangerous. This is the basis of opposition to government aid to parochial schools, which in turn is the reason why St. Rose of Lima must charge tuition and raise funds to meet its budget. The flip side of separation is that government must not interfere in the affairs of religious institutions, except in the most extreme situations, as when a religious entity acts contrary to public safety and welfare. Else, church-state separation is a one-way street, entirely to the detriment of religion.

The Catholic Church has its beliefs about marriage and child-bearing and has the right to articulate these teachings as it staffs and operates its schools. In fact, the values promoted by the Church in the McCusker situation are in an important way echoed outside of the theological domain and they coincide with broad social goals. It does not take a prudish outlook to acknowledge that sexual activity among schoolchildren, including preteens, and teenage pregnancy are serious social concerns. There are publicly funded programs dealing with such matters.

While McCusker was a preschool teacher, the issues raised by her situation have applicability throughout the entire range of grades. What message would be sent to seventh and eighth graders if their unmarried teacher were pregnant? Would those who have rallied to McCusker take the same position? To put the question differently, how many parents of a liberal orientation would welcome their children being taught in a private or public school by someone who is pregnant but not married? Perhaps I am wrong, but my guess is that there would be strong parental opposition as concern for the children trumps concern for the possible rights of the teacher.

It is too early to know whether this case will go anywhere or whether Jewish organizations will take a position. If there are proceedings, hopefully Orthodox groups will support St. Rose of Lima's right to terminate Ms. McCusker. It is too much to expect that secular Jewish organizations will support the Church. The best we can hope for is that they stay away from the issue and thereby avoid adding to their already formidable record of opposition to religious values.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Israel's Katrina

The Bush Administration and FEMA were sharply criticized because they ignored reliable warnings that a huge storm was on its way and then when the storm hit, their response was delayed and consequently there were additional victims and damage. Both of these lapses were measured in days. Yet, our government was faulted and deservedly so.

How are we then to judge Israel and the Sharon government's treatment of the Israel Gazans who were forced out of their homes? Three months have passed since the last Gush Katif settlers left. Although their total number was fewer than 10,000 - a figure that is certainly manageable - many continue to live in tents and hotels and enormous harm, perhaps permanent, has been done to family stability. The socio-psychological toll is mounting, with little prospect for a quick turn-around. The most fortunate of the ex-Gazans live in caravans or small homes, some in clusters and others in places that they scarcely recognize. Too many have not gotten what they were promised, as Israel's High Court of justice or Supreme Court has acknowledged in recent decisions in which Chief Judge Aharon Barak has admonished the government.

Unlike Katrina, where advanced notice was obviously limited, Mr. Sharon and his Disengagement Authority knew for more than a year what lay ahead. Timetables had been set and a substantial bureaucracy was created to see that Israelis who in good faith had built their homes in Gaza and contributed to Israel's welfare and security would be fairly treated. The fact that relatively few of the Gazans welcomed what was looming and not many signed up in advance on the dotted line does not in any way absolve the government from its obligation to see to it that those who were removed are properly recompensed and resettled.

It turns out that those who adhered to the government's timetable have not fared much better than those who did not. While the military and police did their job, generally with empathy, from the standpoint of Israelis, disengagement is a mess. What is striking about this is that Israel manages to build highways in what seems to be a jiffy and other expensive capital projects move quickly. Yet, it is beyond the capability of the government to provide adequate housing, even of a temporary nature, for approximately 1,500 families. As I write, there are children not yet in school, families in disintegration, much pain and heartbreak and people going to pieces. While the sad saga continues, Mr. Sharon and Ms. Rice break bread and decide, I believe understandably, how to make life easier for those who have moved into what Israel abandoned.

As with Katrina, a good chunk of the explanation for what has gone wrong is that public bureaucracies tend to be insensitive and inefficient, not because they want to be but because their focus is overly on rules and forms and not on those who desperately need help. Even accounting for a high dosage of bureaucratic ineptitude, Israel's post-disengagement record is dreadful, perhaps to some extent because of insufficient caring about those who have lost so much.

Israel is at the brink of winter and the rainy season and the winter usually is harsh so what awaits those who still await resettlement is greater hardship still.

Is there are role in this for American Jews? Probably not because we are not there, although the proper attitude might help. If we were polled about Katrina, I believe that at least 90% of us would criticize the Bush Administration. For nearly sixty years we have given the Jewish State much slack, usually but not always for good reasons. Relatively few American Jews empathized with the Israeli Gazans, regarding them as occupiers and fanatics. We should have another look at their situation and change our tune.

The primary thrust of American Jews, most of them Orthodox, who want to help these Israelis is to provide clothing and other items that will improve their lot. It is hard to argue with charitable initiatives, yet they make me uncomfortable because they may breed a culture of dependency among people who had been self-reliant. Once embedded, dependency is difficult to shake off.

We are also letting the Sharon government get off the hook too easily. It bears responsibility for what has gone wrong and is obligated to take corrective action. This is more likely to happen if we would not be Jews of silence regarding Israel's mistreatment of some of its Jews. Unless our media and organizations speak out, prospects are not good that the lot of the ex-Gazans will improve any time soon.

Unless there is a dramatic change in Israel's treatment of those whom it has made homeless, we need to consider diverting financial support for Israel from conventional causes to the emergency engendered by disengagement, perhaps by contributing to funds that go directly to providing new housing for the ex-Gazans.

It is not only for the sake of these Israelis that we need to pressure Mr. Sharon and his allies. The pull-out from Gaza and four small and isolated West Bank settlements is a first-stage Road Map activity that is to lead to further territorial concessions and population withdrawals. The U.S. has upped pressure on Israel. Given the public statements of Mr. Sharon and Amir Peretz, the new Labor Party leader who is a pronounced dove, it seems inevitable that before long there will be additional West Bank evacuations. In a sense, therefore, Gaza serves as a test-run. If Israel cannot get it right for 10,000 evacuees after a year and a half of advanced notice and planning, what can we expect when 50,000 are to be removed?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Shmutz Is Shmutz, Not Jewish Continuity

The desperate effort to maintain flickers of Jewish identity among the great number of American Jews who have married out or demonstrated in other ways their wholesale abandonment of identification with our religion, people and community has resulted in what I have termed anything goes Judaism. What counts these days is the label, not the contents, and it matters little that the label bears little resemblance to what Judaism has stood for. Nor does it matter whether what is being marketed is offensive.

As discontinuity packaged and marketed as continuity continues to yield little beneficial fruit and as surveys show further loss, our identity efforts have become more desperate, more removed from anything that can legitimately be described as Jewish and more tolerant of what is hostile to Jewish continuity.

I accept that Orthodox or conventional outreach touches only relatively few of the Jews who need to be reached out to, if only because most of those whom we continue to call American Jews are not paying attention. Yet, I am struck by the sagacity of the Talmudic sages who cautioned that as with physical salvation, spiritual salvation is a retail enterprise, the saving of just one life at a time. I believe that along with traditional learning and prayer, the Orthodox would achieve more if they focused more on the power of music and the impact of chesed activities as ways of reaching out.

Because the stakes are high and the odds are strongly against reversing contemporary trends, it is good that a huge investment is being made in Birthright Israel and Masa, the new Israel government and Jewish Agency initiative to bring thousands of young American Jews to Israel for learning and cultural experiences that will last for up to a year. The financial cost is immense and while the payoff will be limited, these activities will have some beneficial impact, in large measure because they are hospitable and not hostile to our traditions.

The overall picture remains disheartening. There is a spreading inclination to accept what is bogus, as in the Kaballah fraud that is the rage, or perhaps worse yet in the soft core dreck of Heeb and activities that debase our community.

Jews are not the only American ethnic or religious group experiencing severe membership loss. The melting pot may not melt away ethnic distinctiveness as quickly or as completely as once was believed to be the case, yet in this land of opportunity, social mobility and freedom, acculturation, assimilation, intermarriage and other yardsticks of ethnic decline are not mirages. What distinguishes us from other groups that are losing members is that uniquely we think that by embracing what is thrilling but base we somehow can salvage some of what is being lost. While other groups have standards or at least a sense of shame, we have few standards and little shame.

A case in point is the Boston Jewish Film Festival, which is billed as New England's largest Jewish cultural event. According to Sara L. Rubin, its executive director, "more than ever, this year's festival speaks the current language of our younger audiences." Translated this means that more than ever the festival is removed from Judaism and more than ever it is outrageous and open to obscenity.

One of its feature films is Sarah Silverman's "Jesus Is Magic," which just opened in New York, with A.O. Scott, the Times reviewer, noting that when Silverman opens her mouth, "the vilest, filthiest things you've ever heard come pouring out of it." Apparently she does speak the language of some younger audiences. The movie also contains this line in one of its songs, "I love you more than bears love honey/ I love you more than Jews love money."

I emailed my reservations about the Boston festival to a deservedly respected local Jewish leader, asking why the community is sponsoring such material. The good news, conveyed in his response, is that the movie has "nothing to do with proselytizing." The other news is that "it's actually worse about African Americans and Hispanics ... plus it's outrageously obscene." I was also told that "this stuff attracts outliers and unaffiliated Jews." This may be the most distressing part of the episode. Silverman is not the first to demonstrate that a dirty mind and dirty mouth attract attention, yield financial benefits and transitory fame. And she won't be the last. What is hurtful is the eagerness of persons who are responsible for Jewish continuity to embrace obscenity in the name of reaching out.

Again, no other ethnic group has stooped as low as we have. Nor has any mainstream film festival. I imagine that except for those that deliberately market obscenity, what is obscene is off limits. I should mention here that the Boston Jewish leader also told me that there is "actually worse stuff on the program" than Silverman's trash.

I wonder whether those who decide programming for the Jewish community reflect on the implications of what they are willing to do. Are there any limits to how low we will stoop? Do we care that other Americans look at what we are promoting and too many have come to believe that Jews stand for cultural degeneration? Do we care that while people may come to our programming which features dirty jokes, there is no evidence that such activities result in an even attenuated form of Jewish identity? Put otherwise, are we able to recognize that our indulgence in shmutz is for shmutz's sake?

There is no reason to believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel, that we are nearing the bottom of the barrel. Unless more of us speak out, the Boston Jewish Film Festival will be a way-station in the ongoing process of American Jewish debasement.

Have we no shame?

Friday, November 11, 2005

Satmar v. Satmar

There is a potential for conflict in all social relations and it exists not because people are selfish or foolish or have other shortcomings - although these are factors - but because it is natural for people to look at the world they are in through their pair of eyes and no one else's and in terms of their own interests. The negation of self-interest may strike us as moral and often it is, yet it is not what we ought to expect and it is not always the moral thing to do. While it is generally preferable to avoid conflict, at times the preference should be in the other direction.

Since conflict is inherent in human relations, with proximity enhancing the prospect of its appearance, the crucial question is how disagreements are handled, whether with a sense of restraint or in a no-holds barred fashion, with the goal being to defeat the other side. Societies invest much in conflict resolution and for good reason because there is always the danger that disputes will turn violent or exact other serious costs.

That religious groups are not immune from internal discord and personal disputes is a proposition too obvious to need explication. The added ingredient of ideology or theology to self-interest increases the prospect of serious intra-group and inter-group conflict. This prospect increases in turn the obligation of those who lead religious groups to be careful about the rhetoric they use and the actions they endorse, lest religious and ideological conflict get out of control as true believers believe that their mission is sacred and they must prevail.

The dangers of religious conflict are sadly on display in Williamsburg within the Satmar chassidic group as followers of rival claimants for dynastic succession are battling it out in synagogue, court and wherever else their twain meets. There has been violence and arrests and because neither side is particularly blessed with a sense of restraint, what lies ahead is frightening.

Apart from the obvious reasons why this behavior needs to be condemned, it is especially to be regretted on two additional counts. Overwhelmingly, the rank and file of Satmars are not directly involved in the fray. While they look quite different from nearly all of us, like most of us they are primarily concerned with livelihood, raising a family, and enjoying the blessings - material and other - available in this land of freedom and opportunity. Of course, they also are determined to live religious lives. Except for a few, Satmars go to shul to daven and not to throw punches.

Secondly, Satmars have a remarkable record of chesed, including toward those from whom they are distant, as is apparent in their extraordinary activity to assist those who are hospitalized or have other needs. There may be no other Jews who have as powerful an instinct for charity.

Violence and wrongful behavior do not alter this record, yet they deflect from our appreciation of the good that these chasidim accomplish. It should be clear that charitable activities do not provide a scintilla of justification for violence or the unwillingness of community leaders to show leadership by calling for restraint and peaceful resolution and not for warfare.

In the classical way that one wrongdoing results in additional wrongdoing, the Satmar conflict is further marred by the two competing sides relying on secular courts to vindicate their claims. There has been a stream of litigation, doubtlessly all of it costly because as with doctors, chassidim want the best lawyers. This is in clear contravention of powerful halachic or religious legal strictures that designate religious courts or Beth Dins as the appropriate forum for conflict resolution. Litigation in secular courts is described as a Chillul Hashem, a desecration of G-d's name, because it amounts to the declaration that religious authority cannot be relied on to resolve disputes.

Sadly, in chassidic circles there is a spreading tendency to engage in civil litigation when conflict erupts, mostly over dynastic succession. There is no excuse for this and the practice must be strongly condemned. By contrast, in the yeshiva world sector of Orthodoxy there is a commendable tendency to resolve disputes - again, invariably regarding succession - via the Beth Din route. Admittedly, the stakes are higher in intra-chassidic disputes because the outcome determines who leads a community and controls its institutions, while in the yeshiva world the outcome affects a single institution and usually determines who inherits the bills and the burden of fundraising.

Violence inherently is a Chillul Hashem and media attention adds to the desecration. Even without fistfights and worse, it's deplorable that the Satmars cannot find restrained ways of conflict resolution. Are there no rabbis to turn to for counsel and religious rulings? Certainly, there are respected religious figures in Israel with whom Satmar has good relations. Why aren't they being asked to listen to the competing sides and determine how to go forward?

We who are religious Jews are told constantly that restraint and moderation are hallmarks of our religious life. We proclaim that the ways of the Torah are pleasant. It should bother us enormously when the message received by the overwhelming majority of American Jews who are not observant is that our religion is not pleasant, that restraint is not practiced and that their rejection of religious life is justified. Their criticism is often not justified, but it should matter to us, including the Satmars, that we are giving them potent ammunition.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

RJJ Newsletter - Tuition Crisis

There is at long last heightened awareness of the tuition crises confronting a great and growing number of religious families. After years of silence about the subject, despite powerful evidence that constantly rising tuition begets enormous pain, there is talk that something needs to be done. This is good news, yet before we start celebrating we need to recognize that we are far from being out of the woods, that any effort to provide meaningful relief to families that deserve relief faces long odds.

I have raised the tuition issue for nearly the entirety of my one-third of a century as RJJ's president. As much as I may want to think or claim otherwise, my advocacy has essentially failed. Torah Umesorah - the National Society of Hebrew Day Schools has been extremely negligent in this area and its once glorious record has been tarnished. Roshei Yeshiva have been occupied with other causes and other issues. Over the years I have been a lone voice protesting against the wrongness of an attitude that makes yeshiva education into a consumer product and the wrongness of an attitude that results in stress and pain in some of the best families that we have.

As this newsletter is being written, I am at the halfway point in a campaign, expressed through a series of full-page messages that are appearing in the Jewish Press that aim to challenge the prevailing notion that basic Torah education is not a communal responsibility. It is telling that Hamodia and Yated Ne'eman, the English-language weeklies that serve the yeshiva world and certain chasidic sectors, turned down these messages because they did not want to go into controversial territory. What we need, in fact, is more discussion and debate and not only about tuition but about a wide range of issues affecting American Orthodoxy.

We have become afraid of controversy, even afraid of disagreement. In my youth, at the Agudah conventions and elsewhere, Gedolei Torah often disagreed with one another and they did not shy away from dealing with subjects that might breed dissent. They also had no problem with laymen taking positions on key issues, including those that were controversial. Without advocacy that is accompanied by a good dose of passion, there is scant prospect that the tuition situation will be improved.

Even with the most effective advocacy, the odds are quite long against significant improvement in the short term. As one of the as yet unpublished Jewish Press messages underscores, yeshiva and day school education in the New York metropolitan area alone costs about one-billion dollars a year. That's without taking into account capital expenditures for new and improved facilities or the cost of Beth Medrash and seminary programs, kollels and certain other religious educational activities. The obvious point is that Torah education is now extremely costly and expenses will continue to rise, with parents bearing a growing share of the burden because our schools must pay their staffs and bills.

While personnel costs obviously account for by far the largest share of the typical yeshiva budget, three other expenses provide insight into the hardship schools face as they try to make ends meet, a hardship that in turn is passed on to parents, too many of whom are trying to make ends meet. After 9/11, there were massive increases in the cost of insurance. It was also necessary for schools to devote scarce resources to ensuring security and this too has been costly. In the wake of Katrina and other events, energy costs have gone through the roof; as winter approaches, many schools are wondering how they will meet their fuel bills.

Torah education is a costly matter and getting more costly, although nearly all yeshivas and many day schools actually underspend because they are forced to cut back on vital services. Even if contributions rise, we have a long way to go until there will be meaningful relief. But we must begin. In part, our schools must pay more attention to fundraising and be more creative in this area. This means that lay leaders of yeshivas and day schools do not fulfill their responsibility when their role is essentially limited to setting tuition, limiting scholarship assistance and hoping that the annual dinner will be successful. They have to do a better job at fundraising than most of them are now doing.

However, if the status quo regarding communal support is not challenged and changed, even with the best of intentions few lay leaders will be able to avoid making decisions that essentially mean that parents have to pay more each year, irrespective of how limited they are financially.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Johnny and Joey

When across the span of two full generations a student who has achieved scholarly eminence recognizes the influence of a teacher, the glorious fruit of educational excellence are revealed. Shortly before he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics, Robert Aumann - Johnny in his student days and to his friends - was interviewed by an admiring Hebrew University colleague for a fascinating long piece that has been published in Macroeconomics Dynamics.

Asked at the outset to identify "the milestones on your scientific route," he responded, "My interest in mathematics actually started in high school - the Rabbi Jacob Joseph Yeshiva on the lower east side of New York City. There was a marvelous teacher of mathematics, by the name of Joseph Gansler. The classes were very small; the high school had just started operating. He used to gather the students around his desk. What really turned me on was geometry, theorems and proofs. So all the credit belongs to Joey Gansler." This is thrilling to old RJJers, adding to the enormous pride in the recognition being given to Johnny Aumann. Joey Gansler was a masterful teacher and also quite idiosyncratic, the subject of stories and jokes told by students long after they last sat in his classroom. His life ended tragically and yet Professor Aumann's tribute makes us understand that his teaching brought forth extraordinary fruit.

I am in my thirty-third year as RJJ's president - only the fourth in the school's on--hundred and six years - and the responsibility is difficult and voluntary. My focus here is not on the recent period but on the years immediately after the Holocaust when despite great improbability, RJJ rose to greatness, the lesson once more being that people of devotion and talent can overcome long odds. Doubtlessly, this assessment is not shared by all who attended the school in the 1940's and 1950's, yet it is close to the mark, especially when we consider that all educational enterprises have shortcomings. Inevitably, there were flaws, and yet there was a great deal that worked in a truly impressive way.

What was improbable about RJJ's achievements in the 1940's and 1950's? Enrollment in the 1940's was below what it had been thirty years earlier. Previous efforts to establish a high school had ended in failure, primarily because of a lack of funds. Certainly, there was little money in the till. Faculty were badly underpaid and they were not paid on time. The Lower East Side was way past its prime. It was hard to recruit top-flight educational leaders. The school's new principal was Rabbi Dr. Hillel Weiss, a late 1930's refugee from Germany. He was an imposing man but how could he run a school for American boys, much less mold it into an outstanding institution?

That's exactly what he did. This exceptional noble man turned out to be a great educational leader. He was a person of integrity and good judgment. He recruited some talented people and he was aided by an enormously dedicated staff, including Louis Sternfield and Hyman Brill on the educational side and Abraham Block and Samuel Bernstein in the office. RJJ somehow scaled the heights and its reputation grew. Students came from across the metropolitan area - quite a few from Borough Park, Johnny Aumann and me among them - and many were attracted by the excellence of the academic program directed by Herman Winter, the "English Principal" and a Stuyvesant High School faculty member who recruited effective teachers, including Joey Gansler.

RJJ's new stature was at least as pronounced on the religious education side as Rabbi Weiss worked closely with Irving M. Bunim, my predecessor as RJJ's president and an outstanding lay leader of the emerging American Orthodox community. Mr. Bunim's close relationship with Rabbi Aharon Kotler, the transcendent religious leader who established the great yeshiva in Lakewood, New Jersey, contributed importantly to RJJ's achievements. Torah scholars, nearly all of them refugees from the Holocaust, were added to the faculty. For years, a significant proportion of Lakewood's stellar students came from RJJ.

This, too, was an improbable outcome. How could these new faculty members who were certainly Talmudic scholars but who scarcely spoke English relate to American students who were meshuga about baseball and other alien pursuits? In truth, at times they did not and the results were not always salutary from either a religious or educational standpoint. Yet, there was abundant success and it is evident today because in the world of Torah scholarship there is a significant cadre of RJJ alumni who have made their mark. This is, of course, true also of alumni who have achieved prominence in academia and other fields.

Well into the interview, Johnny Aumann was asked, "who are the people who have most influenced your life?" After speaking about his family, especially his remarkable mother, and then mentioning once more Joey Gansler, he said, "On the Jewish side, the high school teacher who influenced me most was Rabbi Shmuel Warshavchik. He had spent the years of the Second World War with the Mir Yeshiva in China, having escaped from the Nazis; after the war he made his way to the United States. He had a tremendous influence on me. He attracted me to the beauty of Talmudic study and the beauty of religious observance… Warshavchik's enthusiasm and intensity - the fire in his eyes - lit a fire in me also."

Fifty years after I was in his shiur, I continue to feel the warmth of Rabbi Warshavchik, an elegant man who was a devoted and excellent teacher who like other Talmudic scholars who were refugees served as a spiritual link between the great pre-Holocaust yeshivas and the yeshivas that were taking root on American soil. There was a special chemistry to RJJ in these years and it means much that Johnny Aumann at the peak of his fame has helped to bring back memories of a truly glorious experience.

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Responsibility of American Jewish Journalism

Journalism is largely about choice, about what stories to publish and what should be included in those that are. The available space cannot accommodate all that is happening. To accommodate declining readership interest in hard news, much of the available space is increasingly assigned to trivial pursuits, such things as gossip and human interest stories. Likely, the New York Times fabled "All The News That's Fit To Print" front-page boast always has had as much to do with space considerations as with appropriateness, but never more so than now.

Journalism is therefore inevitably - and usually unintentionally - the handmaiden of distortion. What is reported becomes larger than it is, as in the recent Times gushing article on kugel (aka pudding) which in addition to other fantasies contained a bit of sociological infantilism announcing that among chassidim, kugel received from their Rebbes had "mystical powers," including the ability "to help couples conceive." No wonder that chassidim do not take biology.

The distortion is even greater when what is newsworthy is not reported. What is becomes, in a sense, something that isn't. Another contributor to distortion is the use of material from interviews. The inescapable tendency is to select a handful of words out of perhaps many hundreds. In the process, the views of the person who is being quoted are often inaccurately reported. This is why those who are wise avoid giving interviews.

American Jewish journalism, primarily in the form of weekly newspapers, suffers from the shortcomings of the genre. Space limitations are compounded by our extraordinary number of organizations, institutions, projects and causes, many of them trying to get media attention. Public relations is often their primary activity. Another complication is the geographic diversity of American Jewry.
Those who edit our communal newspapers have a tough time figuring out what to print.

At times, they come up short as significant developments go unreported. A case in point is the failure to report that for more than a year there has been an attractive and well-written English language daily newspaper called Hamodia serving charedim or the fervently Orthodox. This is a major story, but I bet that at least 90% of American Jews do not know that there is such a publication. Also worthy of attention and also lost in the shuffle is the huge amount of private construction by and for chassidim at the edge of Williamsburg pushing into Bedford Stuyvesant. This is a development that has significant economic and ethnic implications.

Space limitations do not account for the curious neglect of key Israeli news. Substantial attention is given, of course, to Israel, yet the stories have little depth and the tendency is to shy away from issues that the Israeli government might not want covered in American publications. I wonder why I was the first to write about Israel's enormous shame in turning a blind eye for too many years to the trafficking in women sold into sexual slavery, a subject that has been covered in Israeli newspapers.

Perhaps this story wasn't regarded as sufficiently newsworthy. What is the excuse for the insipid coverage of the intense pressure being exerted on Israel by the Bush Administration and especially Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. As Jonathan Mark noted last week in his important article in this newspaper, this is one of the "most unreported stories of the year." He quoted Sidney Zion's reference in the Daily News to Rice's "bullying" and his complaint about the failure of U.S. media to tell the full story. This is big time news and we should expect coverage in our newspapers.

Could it be that the Sharon government has indicated that American Jewish newspapers should not publish material critical of President Bush and his administration? Or is it that our media are engaged in self-censorship? Whatever the explanation, there is no justification for the nearly total neglect of a critical development in American-Israeli relations. I might add that this neglect does not result in any benefit to Israel, nor to American Jews. It also constitutes a neglect of journalistic responsibility.

Much the same can be said of the feeble attention given to the AIPAC affair. This is in contrast to probing articles in The New Yorker and The New Republic that questioned the charges brought against Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, the ex-AIPAC staffers. Our publications have essentially reported what can be read in the general media and little else. It was for The New Republic to tell us that this case is the first time "the federal government has charged two private citizens with leaking state secrets" and that the "prosecution of Rosen and Weissman threatens to have a chilling effect - not on the ability of foreign agents to influence U.S. policy, but on the ability of the American public to understand it."

How can American Jewish newspapers ignore these issues? Is our timidity self-imposed or are we obeying instructions from Israel? In either case, our publications are not fulfilling their responsibility. The AIPAC affair is harming Israel because it is causing too many Americans to question this country's relationship with the Jewish state. The AIPAC story is harming American Jews. This harm is not going to be negated by our turning the other cheek, by not challenging charges that deserve to be challenged. If we believe, as I do, that American Jewish groups and Israel have the right to do what other governments and lobbyists do dozens of times each day in Washington and elsewhere, then the charges against Rosen and Weissman are bogus.

I am not advocating that our newspapers disclose information that is secret or harmful to the U.S. or Israel. I am advocating that they adhere to their self-proclaimed credo that a free press is beneficial to democracy and the people who depend on a free press.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Helping Some of Katrina's Children But Not Others

When George W. Bush was re-elected by an unexpectedly wide margin, there was much media and political talk that in order to accommodate social conservatives who were decisive in crucial Red States, Democrats and their liberal allies would moderate their position on hot-button social issues. Soon enough, there were strong signals that this wasn't idle speculation. Perhaps it was their still being blue over the electoral outcome that induced gay righters to say that their advocacy of same-sex marriage was moving too fast - after all, a year later, they're in high drive on the issue - or Senator Clinton to suggest a compromise on abortion.

While certain liberal sacred cows were being offered for political slaughter, there was one that was still regarded as an untouchable, as too sacred to put on any altar to tame the wrath of Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians. There could be no yielding on separation of church and state, on the dogmatic belief that great evil would befall the country if the wall of separation was even slightly breached.

Along came Katrina and New Orleans' walls holding back flood waters were severely breached, giving the purists, including many in the Jewish community, an opportunity to demonstrate anew that nothing can deter their absolutism. When as part of Washington's response to the disaster President Bush proposed an emergency education program that included vouchers for non-public school students - parochial schoolers among them - liberals and Jewish groups emitted howls of protest.

But Katrina is different. Water and wind did not distinguish between home and church, between public school and religious school. There was perfect neutrality in the destruction. Presumably, there should be a reciprocal neutrality in the government's response and in the challenge to rebuild, certainly when we look at this challenge from the perspective of Katrina's victims. If in helping them, the religious education that some received were excluded from public funding on First Amendment grounds, government would inadvertently, yet inevitably, be hostile to religion.

Putting aside the important question of whether there is sufficient space and educational infrastructure to accommodate the large number of parochial school attendees who cannot return to their former schools, even in its most liberal composition the Supreme Court has sanctioned public programs that encompass religious schools and their students when the primary focus is on the welfare of the children. Is there a more compelling example of the child-benefit imperative than the one provided by Katrina?

There is even a question whether in view of the scope of the disaster America is facing, public funding might be utilized to rebuild churches and other religious institutions damaged or destroyed by the storm. Could they be excluded, if the aim is to restore what once was?

The point is not new. It was made nearly forty years ago by Nathan Lewin, the noted constitutional lawyer who was then at the Justice Department, in a paper presented at a conference on aid to parochial schools that I organized and chaired. Not long before, there had been destructive race riots in the Watts section of Los Angeles and in other cities. Referring to these events, Nat said:

"Hypothesize, if you will, an imaginative Mayor of Los Angeles faced with a destroyed area such as Watts, or a daring housing administration in Detroit or in Newark. What if he were to conclude that his municipality should float a bond issue and rebuild the wasted area from the very ground up at city expense? He designs homes and stores and libraries and offices, and then it occurs to him that he must include churches and possibly a synagogue or a mosque ... Must the Mayor build the churches in the area with the very limited funds which the residents can provide or may he dig into the city's treasury to construct buildings that will fit in with their surroundings? I have no hesitation in saying that he may do the latter - even though the city is financing the construction of a church."

The relevance to Katrina is obvious. For all of Nat's prescience, there is no chance that Washington or Louisiana will rebuild ruined Gulf State churches, nor should they be rebuilt with public funds. I believe that a defensible distinction can be made between churches which inherently and fully are establishments of religion and parochial schools which inherently are educational institutions. In any case, school vouchers go directly to children and their parents and they are neutral instrumentalities. The first blast of criticism of the President's proposal was unwarranted. It was the automatic reaction of people who have long been conditioned to oppose any place for religion in the public square, people who never feel the obligation to re-examine their faithless faith.

As I write, there are indications that congressional strict separationists are tempering their position, in recognition that the extreme emergency warrants attention being paid to all victims, including those of a religious persuasion. There isn't a corollary indication that Jewish church-state purists are ready to soften their views. We are diehards and in what I regard as a perverse way, we are consistent. American Jews, after all, have done a good job undermining Judaism. Why shouldn't they bring their talent and resources to bear on other religions?

Friday, September 30, 2005

Should We Give Up On American Jewry?

Jack Wertheimer, provost of the Jewish Theological Seminary, has written a terrific, must-read article for the latest issue of Commentary. "Jews and the Jewish Birthrate" is chock full of ideas and data that add up to a pessimistic view of the American Jewish prospect. While intermarriage inescapably contributes to this pessimism, Jack's primary focus is on fertility and related demographic factors. He notes that our median age is "seven years older than other Americans" and that "among Americans of all kinds ... Jews have the fewest number of siblings, the smallest household size, and the second lowest number of children under eighteen at home."

Furthermore, too many of us do not marry. Those who do, as often as not, marry non-Jews. We also marry later and have fewer children than other white Gentiles. In short, as Jews have become more appreciated by their fellow Americans and have made distinctive contributions, we also are moving in the direction of becoming extinct. Since we are certainly among the most avid readers of the New York Times and, I suspect, pay inordinate attention to obituary notices, we should have a good sense of what is happening at that end of the life-cycle. Many more of us are exiting than are entering and with the exception of the Orthodox, the new arrivals are far less likely to be Jewishly connected than those who have departed.

The "cumulative effect" of these developments, Jack writes, "is now being felt and will only become amplified as time goes by. In a community that has long since ceased to replace its natural losses, continued low fertility rates mean that the number of children in the communal pipeline will soon drop sharply, causing a decline over the next decade in enrollments in Jewish schools and other institutions for the young." He quotes sociologist Bruce Phillips that soon "there will be fewer practitioners of Judaism in the U.S.," a development that "will at some point become evident in the number and/or size of synagogues and other Jewish institutions."

The article explores the socio-psychological, behavioral and ideological factors that contribute to the disturbing fertility pattern which is in contrast to the high fertility of the Orthodox. Although separately Reform and Conservative affiliation outnumbers by huge margins the number of Orthodox Jews, "among synagogue-affiliated Jews, the Orthodox sector contains more children than either of the other two."

Apart from the Orthodox whose ranks will continue to grow, although aliyah and abandonment by some of a religious life will limit the gains, is it time to face reality and say that there is little to be done to avoid the inevitable loss of nearly all non-Orthodox Jews? Is it time to throw in the towel, perhaps by deciding that our resources should be directed toward helping Israel?

This isn't a new question. It was asked of me about a dozen years ago by Zalman Bernstein, the great philanthropist, after the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey left many of us shaking our heads about the future of American Jewry. Subsequent bad news has resulted in the question being asked again and again. The answer a dozen years ago and now is that while our losses are severe, there are lots of Jews who can be reached and the effort must be made. They number in the high tens of thousands and it is possible to strengthen their Jewish commitment, provided that we make substantial and meaningful investments in Jewish education - something that we have not done sufficiently - and provided that we recognize that continuity is not a term but a way of life that accepts our past, our heritage and our traditions. What American Jewry has called continuity since NJPS 1990 is largely discontinuity.

In any case, organized American Jewry is not prepared to call it quits, no matter what the bad news, nor is the Israeli government. We have contrived a self-deluding and generally delusionary picture purporting to show that while we have changed radically, we are doing rather well. Working with statisticians aka demographers and others who have a stake in putting a stamp of Jewish approval on our losses, we have convinced ourselves that severely watered down Judaism is a legitimate product. Because we have invested so heavily in false versions of Jewish life, we are impelled to keep the shell game going.

We need to continue to promote the notion that the emperor is fully clothed. What would our federation and organization worlds be like if we acknowledged that 80% or more of what we refer to as American Jewry is under water?

The Israeli government and the Jewish Agency know the score. The data they are looking at is based on research by Sergio DellaPergola of Hebrew University and it is bleaker than what Jack Wertheimer presents. Their strategy is not to indulge in self-delusion but to try to retard the frightening consequences of what we have wrought on these shores. They believe that Israel's welfare depends to an extent on a strong American Jewish community. They are scared out of their wits by what is transpiring.

Their plan is to build on Birthright Israel through a new program called MASA that will provide extended educational, work and other experiences in Israel for up to a year for Jews of college age. Israel and the Jewish Agency are committing huge sums for this purpose and they are also soliciting outside philanthropic support.

While Birthright has been oversold in some quarters, it has achieved promising results under difficult circumstances. Birthright remains a valuable approach to the predicament of American Jewry. It is a disappointment that the new initiative will be independent of Birthright, the reason perhaps being that we must never forego the opportunity to establish another Jewish organization. However MASA is constructed, we must pray for its success because we desperately need to reach out to Jews who are at the edge of being lost entirely.

Friday, September 23, 2005

When Abbas Stumbles Israel Pays

In his speech prior to the Gaza withdrawal, Prime Minister Sharon said that changed circumstances had made the move imperative. He did not spell out what they were, perhaps because he thought they were obvious or perhaps candor would have opened a can of worms.

We know that 9/11 revealed deep hostility toward the U.S. throughout the Islamic world. The size and geopolitical importance of this world generated, in turn, an understandable desire among American policy makers to seek better relations with Arabs and Moslems and this inevitably resulted in a changed approach toward Israel. Every American step to fight terrorism, starting with Afghanistan, and then the Iraq invasion has been accompanied by a corollary determination to strengthen ties with parts of Islam. This, too, has operated to Israel's disadvantage.

At best, Israel would have to take a back seat in the new U.S. diplomacy. Worse yet, Israeli actions would be required to fit into the changed American outlook. A dual dialectic was at work, firstly in the paradox that greater enmity toward the U.S. among Arabs and Moslems resulted in support for Israel being somewhat downplayed and, secondly, in that American friendship toward Israel was reconfigured into a diplomatic device whereby Israel would serve as an instrumentality for the achievement of the changed American goals.

Israel still had a trump card in Yasir Arafat. As long as he lived, there was greater freedom because Washington had announced that it would not negotiate with the Palestinian fakhir (aka faker.) Pressure in Israel was therefore tempered. When he went, that barrier came down, to be replaced by an urgent, even frantic, U.S. determination to shore up Mahmoud Abbas and to forestall Hamas. Since Arafat's death, Israel has yielded huge chunks of sovereignty.

The situation is likely to get worse, if only because Abbas' situation is likely to get worse. The cat was let out of the bag by Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert when he announced that new construction in Maaleh Adumim - a next-door suburb to Jerusalem - was being suspended and would not be resumed until Washington gave its approval. This is on top of the humiliating China drone affair in which Israel yielded to the Pentagon and Washington bureaucracy its freedom to make key 1) diplomatic, 2) military and 3) economic decisions. The only saving grace in this matter was Defense Minister Mofaz who refused to obey the Pentagon's instruction that he come to Washington and personally beg the forgiveness of lower American officials.

As Israel withdrew from Gaza, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was forcefully pressuring Israel to do more - lots more and pronto. When Palestinian mobs overran what Israel had abandoned and destroyed synagogues, had they paused to read they would have been comforted by the words of State Department spokesman Sean McCormack who said that Israel's decision not to destroy the synagogues put "the Palestinian Authority into a situation where it may be criticized for whatever it does." So Israel is responsible for Palestinians destroying religious places! It is obvious that McCormack said what he was instructed to say by his boss.

The State Department has emerged all-powerful in determining how the U.S. looks at relations between Israel and Palestinians. If only because of 9/11, this is scary. As National Security Advisor, Ms. Rice was reckless in protecting this country against unmistakable indications that terrorists were plotting to harm the U.S. and she then covered up her malfeasance. She cannot be trusted with Israel's security.

Our media and organizations have little to say about these troubling developments. It is a precondition of Israel's dependency status that its leaders are more than circumspect about criticizing the U.S. Disagreements are covered up and the Israeli and American publics are deceived. American Jewish organizations and media go along with this deception. In an unintended way, Pat Buchanan has it right. There is an amen corner where we bless all that the American government does even when it is harmful to Israel.

We do have AIPAC to further the self-delusion that gives credence to the mischievous notion that there is an all-powerful American-Jewish lobby. In fact, we are in the dark about back-door U.S. diplomacy which provides arms and other support to Arab countries.

The AIPAC prosecution should dispel our exaggerated self-importance. Think about it. There has not been a single prosecution like this in the entire history of the country, although it is certain that what the two ex-staff members are accused of is daily fare in Washington. We delude ourselves and we allow too many others to think that we are in control of the White House, Pentagon and State Department by settling for the appearance at AIPAC's extravaganzas of the Secretary of State and other officials who mouth scripted cliches about U.S.-Israel relations. In fact, AIPAC is one of Washington's least effective lobbies because to be effective lobbying has to be discrete.

There is a saving grace in the far more discrete and far more effective efforts on behalf of Israel by Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians. They are tougher than we are in advocating Israel's case and they are better connected than we are. Israel needs them and hopefully they will remain allies despite incessant efforts by American Jewish groups to alienate them.

The factors that have weakened Israel's relations with the U.S. and curtailed its diplomatic freedom will not go away. Every time that Abbas stumbles, there is the prospect that a cost will be exacted from Israel. I know that Israel has never been blessed with free will in its relations with Washington. But the present situation is especially troubling. Israeli leaders must be more candid in describing what is occurring. Isn't this one of the requirements of democracy?

Friday, September 16, 2005

The Message from Lawrence

We received a wake-up call a couple of months ago in the effort of Lawrence day school parents to reduce their tuition charges by having the local school district take over the academic portion of the curriculum. Because of constitutional and practical constraints, the plan has no chance of success. It has gotten attention, thereby accomplishing the important goal of getting more of us to think about the growing tuition crisis in many religious homes.

Not that there is reason to be optimistic that the larger Jewish community will alleviate the pressure on schools and parents. For decades, American Jewry cared little about day school education, regarding it as inconsistent with American ideals. This attitude remains a strong force in Jewish communal planning. There was a spike in support for day schools after the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey scared the daylights out of us about Jewish continuity. Even so, actual support remained modest, with the exception of contributions for day school construction, notably in the non-Orthodox sectors.

The record in New York is dreadful, even taking into account that the large concentration of day schools in the area makes it extremely difficult to provide significant support to the 300 or more schools in the New York Federation's service area. It's disgraceful that Federation cut back the little that it did by terminating basic grants to local religious schools. Much of the funding snatched from day schools has been allocated to silly projects of the sort that routinely find favor with those whose titles are inverse to their knowledge of Jewish life. In our long experience, it's doubtful that any community has had a shabbier record than New York.

What about the Orthodox? With more than 80% of day school enrollment, the Lawrence wake-up call was primarily aimed at them. Here, too, the record is nothing to applaud. Orthodox organizations and leaders have stood idly by as steadily rising tuition and steadily expanding family size have combined to create a crisis in an expanding number of religious homes.

The prevailing attitude is that a religious Jewish education is a service or product that like other services and products must be paid for by the consumers - meaning the parents - irrespective of their financial situation. This attitude is alien to our tradition and cruel to people who live good Jewish lives and struggle to make ends meet. Our callous attitude takes a heavy toll in shalom bayis or family relations. There is pain and tears and even tragedy. It is asinine to suggest that Torah education is akin to a product that we purchase in a store.

Our approach to tuition is also based on dubious economics, on the view that the cost can rise each year without there being a point at which price resistance results in diminished demand for the product. There obviously is price resistance among the non-Orthodox. The Lawrence episode suggests that at least among the modern Orthodox, a point may be reached where a growing number of parents say that they have had enough. The growing interest in home schooling in other parts of Orthodoxy is another sign that cost matters. One fascinating offshoot of the tuition crisis is the phenomenon of "tuition refugees," a term that refers to families of limited income that have made aliya in order to avail themselves of low-cost Israeli education and avoid the huge bills from American Jewish schools.

As day school costs and tuition go up, there is a corresponding decline in the ability of our community, including the philanthropic sector, to devise ways of helping the families most in need. There are 210,000 dayschoolers, grades K-12. At an average figure of $8,000 per student, the annual operating bill comes to more than $1.5 billion. If we estimate that half of the students are legitimately in need of meaningful financial assistance, the scholarship tab would be huge, certainly beyond what can be raised through contributions. The determination of each school to raise funds is a critical factor in determining whether scholarship assistance is available. In most non-Orthodox and modern-Orthodox schools, fundraising takes a back seat, so that scholarships are hard to come by.

Schools that make a serious fundraising effort would likely have better results if the consumerist mentality were abandoned and replaced by the attitude that it is a mitzvah to help basic religious education. It would also help if Rabbinical leaders and the National Society of Hebrew Day Schools publicly reject the consumerist attitude and call for communal support for yeshiva elementary schools and high schools. It has been years since yeshiva deans last declared that there is a religious obligation to support local yeshivas and day schools. Synagogues that once made appeals for local schools have in most neighborhoods stopped doing so. This, too, is wrong.

The good news is that there are first stirrings of improvement. The other news is that at least in the short run - and perhaps much longer - the rejection of the consumerist mentality will not go far to alleviate the situation, as day school costs rise each year. It is unrealistic to expect that help for needy parents may be around the corner. What is wrong in day school funding is cumulative, the product of neglect over the past generation. If there is to be improvement, inevitably it will come slowly.

Our community and schools must think of other approaches and solutions, which also is what the Lawrence message is about. As difficult as it may seem, schools must establish endowments. Even a modest start will yield fruit down the road, as endowment funds tend to grow. Too few day schools officials recognize the critical role that endowments can play in stabilizing a school's finances, so enmeshed are they in the daily struggle to get by.

We need to be creative and bold and explore income approaches that have not been on our radar screen. Although this was not the intention, ultimately this may be the legacy of Lawrence.