Opinion: NYC Investigation of Yeshivas a Farce – New York’s Children the Losers

education_sign_resizedNYC’s so-called investigation of yeshivas is a farce

 

For a brief moment last summer, new Chancellor Richard Carranza seemed set to break the logjams and turn the city’s three-year farce of an investigation into Jewish religious schools into something serious.

Guess again: Carranza has just disclosed that none of the Orthodox yeshiva high schools — always the real crux of the alleged problem — will allow city investigators in.

For years, activists have charged that some Orthodox schools fail to provide the basic secular education that state law requires. Even those elementary schools that offer a bare minimum of instruction reportedly end it after age 13.

In 2015, the de Blasio administration announced an active investigation. But years passed with no sign that any such probe was actually under way.

Now NY1 reports that Carranza has notified State Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia that 21 of the 30 targeted schools have been inspected (surprise: all “passed”), and three others have scheduled visits.

As activists note, the fact that the visits are scheduled instead of unannounced strongly suggests any investigating is being driven by the schools, not the city.

More important, six high schools won’t even let officials in the door, so Carranza is asking Elia for help. Elia, in turn, says long-promised new guidelines for such inspections are coming … real soon now.

Again, more than three years have passed — during which the politically potent Orthodox community, while fighting the non-probe tooth and nail, got the Legislature to water down the education requirements.

City Investigations Commissioner Mark Peters is looking into whether political interference explains the city’s foot-dragging.

This is not religious persecution; it’s about ensuring that kids learn the basic knowledge and skills to function outside their community. Plainly, Team de Blasio doesn’t see that as any kind of priority.

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Education, New York, YAFFED

Brooklyn Hasidim Lost A Vote — Which Might Save Their Children From A Life Of Poverty

THE FORWARD

In A Last-Minute Backroom Deal In April Of 2018, A New York State Senator Managed To Dramatically Reduce The Ability Of The Government To Enforce Educational Standards At Jewish Day Schools.

Senator Simcha Felder, An Orthodox Jew Who Ran As A Democrat But Caucuses With The Republicans, Represents Large Swaths Of The Hasidic Community In The Boro Park, Midwood And Flatbush Neighborhoods Of Brooklyn. In April, Felder Was A Key Swing Vote With The Power To Block The State Budget If He Didn’t Get His Way.

But In The November 2018 Election, Democrats Took Back Control Of The New York State Senate — And With It, A Large Chunk Of Felder’s Power.

Brooklyn, New York Is Home To Approximately 50,000 Hasidic Yeshiva Students. Until Recently, The Yeshivot That Educate These Students Have Set Their Curriculum Without Much Interference From The Government, Media Or The General Public.

What Was Taught In These Yeshivas Was Of No Concern To Those Outside The Hasidic Community. This Started To Change In 2011, When Former Hasidic Yeshiva Student Naftuli Moster Founded Young Advocates For Fair Education And Began Pressing State And Local Authorities To Enforce Educational Standards. In 2015, New York City Officials Agreed To Begin Looking Into The Issue, And That Same Year, YAFFED Filed A Class-Action Lawsuit Against Four Yeshivot. In The Years Since, Moster And His Allies Have Been An Increasingly Public Thorn In The Side Of The Hasidic Brooklyn Establishment.

As The City’s Investigation Continued To Pick Up Steam, Hasidic Leaders Devised A Plan To Safeguard The Status Quo.

The Plan Was Brazen By Any Stretch Of The Imagination. The Satmar Rebbe Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum Urged State Senator Simcha Felder To Hold Up The New York State Budget Until They Agreed To Pass An Amendment Which Would Exempt Hasidic Yeshivot From The Full-Curriculum Of Secular Studies As Mandated By Law.

The Chamber Was Evenly Split Down Party Lines, And Simcha Felder Knew How To Use His Power. Time And Again, He Was Courted By Both Parties. Felder Made His Vote Count, Especially When It Came To Protecting The Status Quo Of Hasidic Yeshiva Education.

Felder Followed Orders And Eventually Pushed Through The Budget And His “Yeshiva Carve Out” Amendment.

Felder Himself Is Not Hasidic. His Children Do Not Attend Hasidic Yeshivot. Nevertheless, Felder Felt Obligated To Take Orders From The Satmar Rebbe, Whose Followers Generally Vote For Whomever He Tells Them To Vote For.

Governor Cuomo Warned Felder Months Ago That The Midterms Would Most Likely Result In A Democratic Majority. “Let Me Say That The Democratic Conference Will Not Need You In November The Way They Need You Now,” Cuomo Reminded Felder, And Urged Him To Rejoin The Party While His Vote Still Counted.

Felder Ignored Cuomo’s Advice. Now, With Felder Weakened, His “Yeshiva Carve Out” Amendment Might Be In Jeopardy Of Being Repealed Or Undermined.

Without The Felder Amendment, Hasidic Yeshivot Would Theoretically Be Subjected To The Same State And City Education Laws That Apply To All Private Schools. Not Teaching Secular Studies As Mandated By Law Would No Longer Be Acceptable.

The Felder Amendment Aimed To Deal With The “Substantially Equivalent” Clause In The New York State Education Law, Which Mandated All Private Schools Teach Their Students A Substantially Equivalent Curriculum As Taught In Public Schools.

The Amendment Sought To Consider The Talmud Taught In Hasidic Yeshivot As A Substitute For The Secular Subjects Not Taught To The Yeshiva Students. The Amendment Also Wanted To Permanently Exempt Hasidic Yeshivot From Teaching Any Secular Subjects Past The 8th Grade. Naturally, Albany Was Wary Of Passing Such An Amendment, As It Would Only Further Erode The Little Secular Studies That Hasidic Yeshiva Students Received Already.

“Even If We Had To Do Something For Simcha, We Could Have Minimized The Damage To Kids With Narrowed Language,” Said Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, Who Chairs The New York State Assembly Education Committee.

Exactly How The Amendment Is To Be Understood And Implemented Is A Matter Of Ongoing Debate.

In Practice, Hasidic Education Consists Almost Exclusively Of Religious Studies Such As Torah, Mishnah, Talmud And Jewish Law. The Little English Grammar And Basic Math That Is Taught Comes After A Long Day Of Religious Training.

From My Own Experience Studying In Hasidic Yeshivot And From My Time Teaching Basic English In The Satmar Yeshiva, I Can Attest That By The Time Students Sit Down For The Regular 90 Minutes Of Secular Education, They Are Usually Tired And Restless. Most Hasidic Boys Do Not Receive A High School Diploma. With Only Rudimentary Secular Training Until 8th Grade And No Secular Studies After 8th Grade, Hasidic Boys Do Not Have The Skills To Even Take The New York State High School Regents.

This Is Not Accidental. The Hasidic Yeshivot Don’t Want Their Graduates To Attend College And They See No Reason Why Their Students Should Receive A High School Diploma. So Long As Their Students Are Adept At Talmudic Study And Jewish Law, The Yeshivot Feel That They Have Accomplished Their Mission.

This Has Not Always Been The Case. In The Early Days Of Hasidim In America, Hasidim Were More Open To Secular Studies For Their Sons. Most Hasidic Yeshivot From The 1940s Through The 1970’S Taught Their Students A Dual Curriculum, With Torah In The Morning And Secular Studies In The Afternoon. But With Time, The Hasidic Community Reverted Back To The Education Model They Had In Eastern Europe Prior To The Holocaust.

The Bobov Hasidic Community Illustrates This Shift Well.

One Of The First Comprehensive Studies Of Hasidic Education In The United States Was Written By Robert Mark Kamen, Entitled Growing Up Hasidic: Education And Socialization In The Bobover Hasidic Community. The Book Explores The Bobov School System, Primarily Dealing With The Boys Yeshiva Grades 1-12. The Study Is Based On Kamen’s Field Work And School Visits During The 1974 School Year.

At That Time, Following Eighth Grade, Each Boy Had A Choice Of Whether To Continue Studying Secular Subjects. If He Chose To Discontinue Secular Subjects When Starting Ninth Grade, He Had To Obtain Permission From Both Parents. Kamen Reports That Obtaining Permission From The Father Was Much Easier Than From The Mother. Perhaps Mothers Were Hesitant To Allow Their Sons To Stop Learning Secular Subjects, As This Would Preclude Them From Receiving A High School Diploma. But After A Few Requests, The Mothers Would Eventually Sign The Permission Slips.

From Then On, The Yeshiva Boy Would Learn Exclusively Torah For The Rest Of His Formal Yeshiva Schooling. Kamen Reports That In 1974, Very Few Bobov Yeshiva Boys Received A New York State High School Diploma. As Time Went On, It Seems The School Policy Changed. Written Permission From The Parents Was No Longer Required To Discontinue Formal Secular Education. By Default, From Ninth Grade On, The Yeshiva Provided Only Torah Instruction.

Most Hasidic Yeshivot Eventually Followed The Bobov Model. Secular Subjects, Usually Consisting Of Basic English And Math, Stopped Entirely After Eighth Grade. Furthermore, Not Every Hasidic Boy Was Obligated To Attend Secular Subjects Even Until Eighth Grade. Children Or Grandchildren Of Hasidic Rebbes, Known As “Rebeshe Einiklach,” Were Exempt From Secular Subjects Altogether.

The History Of The Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic Sect In America Illustrates This Conflict. Initially, When The Sixth Chabad Rebbe Arrived In 1940, He Established The Yeshiva Tomchei Tmimim, Which Utilized A Dual Curriculum: Torah In The Morning Followed By Secular Studies In The Afternoon. However, In 1956, The Seventh Chabad Rebbe Established His Own Rival Yeshiva, Oholei Torah, Dedicated To A Pure Torah Education Without Any Secular Instruction At All.

Naturally, It Was The Graduates Of Oholei Torah Who Most Often Eventually Went On To Heed The Rebbe’s Call To Establish Chabad Houses Around The Globe. Today, The Oholei Torah Yeshiva Is The Flagship School Of The Chabad Movement In Crown Heights, Boasting 1,850 Students From Kindergarten To The Adult Full-Time Beit Midrash.

For Many Years, Yiddish Was The Sole Language Of Instruction In Oholei Torah, But Lately English Is Becoming More Prevalent As The Student Body Speaks Yiddish At Home Less And Less.

Without A High School Diploma And No College Credits To Speak Of, Most Hasidic Yeshiva Graduates Either Studied Full-Time In Kollel, Worked Inside The Community As Torah Teachers Or Joined Local Stores That Were Owned By Hasidim. The Secular Workplace Was Generally Off Limits.

With Time, A Number Of Hasidic Yeshiva Graduates Wanted To Open Up More Job Opportunities For Themselves. Contrary To Their Community’s Wishes And Norms, They Received GEDs And Enrolled In College. Only Then Did They Realize How Behind They Were In Secular Studies. YAFFED Was Founded By One Such Yeshiva Graduate. Moster Immediately Realized The Disservice Hasidic Yeshivot Were Doing To Their Students And Began Advocating For Yeshiva Education Reform.

With The Passing Of The Felder Amendment, YAFFED Filed Suit In Federal Court Challenging The Amendment’s Constitutionality.

The Future Of Secular Education In American Hasidic Yeshivot Remains To Be Seen, But One Thing Is Certain: Felder’s Reign As Kingmaker Is Over.

Now That Felder Cannot Make Demands Anymore, It Would Seem Probable That The Chamber’s Education Committee May Decide To Revisit His Amendment. There Is No Question That The Amendment Was Aimed To Water Down Education Standards In Hasidic Yeshivot. Instead Of Bolstering Yeshiva Student’s Knowledge Of English, Math And Science, The Amendment Let The Yeshivot Continue Producing Graduates Who Are Semi-Literate At Best.

In The Meantime, YAFFED’s Federal Suit Grinds On.

In A Recent Affidavit Filed In Federal Court, And In A Shorter Op-Ed In Crain’s, Former Hofstra Law School Dean And Current Brooklyn Law School Professor Aaron D. Twerski Asserts That The Current Hasidic Education Curriculum Is In The Best Interest Of The Community. After Discussing The Intrinsic Value Of Talmud Study, Primarily Its Ability To Sharpen The Student’s Mind, Twerski Makes The Following Statement: “Critics Of Hasidim Like To Note That There Is Poverty In Our Community. But It Is Simplistic And Inaccurate To Suggest That The Emphasis On Jewish Studies Is At The Root Of Those Financial Challenges. It Is Common For Husband And Wife To Earn Between $75,000 And $100,000 Annually Yet Struggle Because Large Families Are Common. That Is A Choice Made Of Religious Conviction, Not The Product Of Inadequate Education.”

This Statement Makes Unsubstantiated Assertions. According To The Most Recent UJA Special Report On Poverty, 45% Of Hasidic Households In New York Live In Poverty. The Study Goes On To Connect The Low Earning Capacity In The Hasidic Community To The Lack Of Secular Education. The Study Concludes That Despite Considerable Effort, The Families Cannot Earn Enough Money To Be Self-Supporting.

“Nearly Three-Quarters Of Poor Hasidic Households Have At Least One Person Who Is Employed Full-Time Or Is Self-Employed. But Hasidic Households Have Very Low Levels Of Secular Education. In 62% Of Hasidic Households, Neither The Respondent Nor His Or Her Spouse Has More Than A High School Diploma.”

It Is Regrettable That Professor Twerski, Who Personally Acquired A Solid Secular Education Which Enabled Him To Reach The Height Of American Academia, Should Be Defending The Felder Amendment, Which Will Only Further Erode The Opportunity For Hasidic Boys To Obtain A Secular Education.

The Hasidic Communities’ Refusal To Teach Boys Secular Subjects Seems To Be Based On The Theory That The Boys Will Use Secular Knowledge And Training To Leave The Hasidic Way Of Life. At Times, This Fear Of Male Defection Becomes A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy.

 

Read More: Https://Forward.Com/Scribe/414084/The-Hasidic-Elite-Just-Lost-A-Powerful-Swing-Vote-And-Their-Students/

Read more: https://forward.com/scribe/414084/the-hasidic-elite-just-lost-a-powerful-swing-vote-and-their-students/

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Education and Yeshivas in New York An Institution of Depriving Children

From the Rockland Voicehttp://rocklandvoice.com/opinion/the-woman-who-was-not-educated-in-a-yeshiva/

The Woman Who Was Not Educated By A Yeshiva
Confronts The County Legislators Who Claim They Were.

Julie Globus

 By: Julie D. Globus
“To be a Jew sitting in that room was an embarrassment.”

On Tuesday, June 12, 2018 in the Rockland County Legislature all of the children of Rockland County were stripped of their rights to have their county legislature enforce New York’s requirement of a “substantially similar” education. Parents were denied the most fundamental of rights, to protect their children and see that they are educated; and a community was discharged of its ability to report a school, any school, that is not educating children to standards set by the State. The plundering of these rights was left in the hands of two men, each of whom based his decision on a desire for inequality over equality, for ignorance over knowledge and for insularity over integration. It was a tragedy of epic proportions to watch unfold and it will forever shape Rockland County’s weak approach to New York State’s Education Laws.

Fundamentally and legally what was being voted for or against was a memorializing resolution which is best described as a memorandum of support related to a bill drafted by New York State Assemblyman, Kenneth Zebrowski.  Zebrowski’s Albany bill, at its core provides a method of enforcement for a poorly drafted New York State law related to education. The present law requires that publicly funded private schools offer a “substantially similar” education as public schools. However, New York’s law is lacking both in the definition of “substantiality” and in its enforcement provisions to uphold that law.

A vote in favor of the memorandum of support by the members of the Multiservices Committee, chaired by Legislator Soskin, would have brought the memorandum before the full County Legislature on Tuesday, June 19, 2018 for its vote of certain approval.

While rational minds in all communities should have advocated zealous support for the memorandum and for the change in the Albany law it was designed to support, the two Legislators who shot it down and killed it in their committee, Soskin and Wieder, framed the memorandum into a “Jewish Question” rather than an education question.

Legislator Aron Wieder, in a remarkable rant quoting George Washington, spoke of his beautiful children, spoke of the salaries within the ultra-Orthodox community that are higher than in non-Orthodox communities, spoke of disingenuous depiction of welfare and other laws and then, in showmanship worthy of an Oscar, he threw a report into his trashcan that was drafted by YAFFED (Young Advocates For A Fair Education whose leader grew up a Hasid).

Wieder’s actions prove that there is a fundamental problem within the Rockland County ultra-Orthodox community related to the deprivation of a basic education in core subjects such as science and mathematics.

Legislator Soskin, the leader of the MultiServices Committee, praised me and my comments to the county legislature, which were both in Hebrew and in English. I was vigorously supporting the vote and imploring him to vote in favor of releasing the memorializing resolution from his committee so that the full membership of the county legislature could cast their votes. Soskin, in his biased ignorance, used me as the prime example of someone who is a “product of a yeshiva education.”

First and foremost, I did NOT graduate from Yeshiva – I went to a public school where I was in the racial minority but I grew up in a house where education, beyond all else, was paramount. My school education was Legislator Soskinsupplemented by Hebrew School, finance, music, multiple languages, mathematics, science, horticulture, photography, woodworking and vocabulary. Had there been more hours in the day, my parents likely would have subjected me to additional subjects. Legislator Soskin spoke of parents’ right to educate their child as they sees fit regardless of the parameters of that education, all antithetical to NYS law.

What occurred at the committee meeting spoke volumes about the exploitation of religion as a veil of secrecy and the clever use of politics to scream anti-Semitism by several legislators in the Rockland County legislature.

To be a Jew sitting in that chamber was an embarrassment. To watch the children who believed themselves to be losing out if the vote passed was a travesty insofar as it pointed to how easily children can be indoctrinated and led to follow whatever is being taught whether guided or misguided. To watch Jewish orthodox parents speak out against the bill exemplified the manipulation of the intent of the bill, couched by that community in terms of an attack against a way of life the community holds dear. To listen to the emotional stories of those who came out of a yeshiva system that robbed them of a secular education was heartbreaking.

One woman and her child got up and spoke against the memorandum claiming that she sent her children to Yeshiva and that the Yeshiva in question does a better job of educating its children than the public schools. Perhaps the one she spoke of does do a better job. I wouldn’t doubt it – there are many yeshivas as excellent as many other private religious schools and to be honest many of the  public schools are, in my view, grossly inadequate. This bill would have protected publicly educated children as well. But if her comments were of the importance of a quality education, they should have registered her as a supporter of the vote, which would not have affected her in the least. She should have been imploring support of a vote so that more of the schools sharing her value system achieve the highest standards of which she spoke.

Assemblyman Zebrowski

In the most remarkable words to be spoken by Legislator Aron Wieder in any public meeting to date, he justified his disdain for Democratic Assemblyman Zebrowski’s bill by quoting from a letter written by George Washington. His choice of historical reference was perfect when taken in a vacuum and a clever means to gaslight people into believing the Zebrowski bill was an attempt at curtailing the free practice of religion.

Legislator Wieder neglected to provide context to Washington’s words. The letter from Washington was written in response to Moses Seixas who spoke on behalf of the Hebrew Congregation of Newport in 1789, at a time when Rhode Island was needed for ratification of the Constitution. Seixas in his letter to George Washington, made reference to a long standing tradition of discrimination which prevented Jews from becoming free citizens, free to practice their religion and to worship in their synagogues.

President Washington’s reply, a poignant example of both Washington’s intellectual capacity and his diplomacy as read by Wieder is as follows:

“Happily the government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction,
to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection
should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their
effectual support… . May the children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this
land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants, while every
one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig-tree, and there shall be none to make
him afraid.”

Legislator Wieder’s beautifully rehearsed but misleading diatribe supporting his rejection of the vote on the memorializing resolution, referred to “our great Constitution” (a play on both the Constitution of the United States and the Torah) and he neglected to inform his constituency that the correspondence between Washington  and the Jewish communities was a form of diplomacy to gain Rhode Island’s support for the ratification of “our great Constitution”. The correspondence between the Jewish community and Washington also formed the basis for the Bill of Rights, ratified in 1791, which critically included the right to redress.

Remarkably, the First Amendment reads: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

For Wieder, sitting in safety under the “vine and fig tree” is an imperative, as it should be. The right to redress, however, is to be ignored.

Sadly the words of Legislator Soskin and Legislator Wieder did nothing if not prove that the ultra-Orthodox community on whose behalf they spoke does not want oversight. They do not want transparency. They do not want their schools to be required to teach core subjects and to enforce a policy that requires it, because it will also alter the way in which the children within that community are indoctrinated, shielded from exposure to the outside world and introduced to a path to a future that might one day mean leaving that community. They would prefer to hold children and their families hostage.

For Mr. Wieder it boiled down to religious freedom free of redress. For Legislator Soskin it was a matter of condensing the discussion into the freedom of a parent to choose a specific education without fear of community intervention if that education is inadequate.

Well, Legislator Soskin, I ask you this: “When does the community have the right to intervene on behalf of its children? If it takes a village to raise a child, is it not then the community’s responsibility if that child is deprived, neglected, harmed, destroyed or otherwise disenfranchised?”

In a very slippery slope, Legislators Wieder and Soskin have all but guaranteed that the future of the private school educated children of Rockland County, Jewish or otherwise, is uncertain, fraught with potential hardships, poverty, social and educational neglect.

As an unintended consequence they have all but paved the way for publicly educated children to be similarly disenfranchised, destroying not only the future of those children being taught in private inadequate settings, Jewish or otherwise but also future public education within this great State of New York.

[Editor’s Note:  Legislator Soskin seems to have been unaware of Ms. Globus’ educational credits.  In 1991 she graduated with honors from Skidmore College with a BA in Government and Philosophy which she completed in 3 years. Following graduation, Julie accepted a grant to attend The Hebrew University of Jerusalem on Mount Scopus in Israel for one year. While she did not speak the language when she left for Israel, at the end of the year Julie was offered a scholarship towards completion of her MA, which in 1995 she earned with honors in Political Theory, studying mainly in Hebrew. Julie returned to the US to earn her law degree from Rutgers Law School.

She has written numerous articles about local affairs in Rockland Voice and has written a previous opinion piece addressed to Legislator Wieder entitled: An Open Letter To Legislator Wieder – Anti-Semitism, A Label Used As A Shield Against Scrutiny]

Keynote Speaker Yitzchak Mirilashvili to Speak Before Thousands in Suffern at Rockland Community College

Kinus Hashluchim Banquet Keynote Speaker Announced

The organizers of the Kinus Hashluchim  have announced the Keynote speaker for this years banquet. The following press release was sent out:

We are honored to share that Reb Yitzchak Mirilashvili will be the guest keynote speaker at this year’s Gala Banquet.

Through his Keren Meromim Foundation he supports dozens of revolutionary projects spreading Torah learning, Chessed and outreach while supporting hundreds of Shluchim in Eretz Yisroel and throughout the world.

The Mirilashvlili family have become exemplary partners to Shluchim and communities around the world, committed to perpetuating and expanding the Rebbe’s vision accross the globe.

Yitzchak Mirilashvili is an Israeli-Georgian billionaire businessman and philanthropist, based in Russia and Israel. Mirilashvili’s family businesses include real estate, construction of shopping malls, casino chains, petroleum industry, diamond and renewable energy sectors. He was known as the youngest billionaire of Israel, following the sale of his shares in a popular news site for $1.12 Billion.

He is also a very active contributor to many Jewish organizations.

KEEP READING:

 

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Yeshivas and Secular Education -Preventing an Economic Divide that’s Ever Growing

Note: We have reposted this without the permission of the author, Emily Newman. Should she ask that we remove it, we will do so. The link to the original article is here:
https://thehumanist.com/features/articles/yes-yeshivas-must-include-secular-education?fbclid=IwAR0ckuuKAa8B0v8u-xSDjFclfKaMRMJggE4tVSCnk1JxuJd1VayzMhBHOkA

Yes, Yeshivas Must Include Secular Education

I’ve spoken often about a Tale of Two Cities [sic]. That inequality—that feeling of a few doing very well, while so many slip further behind—that is the defining challenge of our time. Because inequality in New York is not something that only threatens those who are struggling. The stakes are so high for every New Yorker. And making sure no son or daughter of New York falls behind defines the very promise of our city.

This excerpt from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s victory speech on November 6, 2013, describes the city’s economic divide but could easily apply to its educational divide. While New York City boasts some of the best public schools in the nation, it also contains some of the worst schools. More specifically, the city must take responsibility for failing to acknowledge how poorly its yeshivas have been educating students for decades.

Yeshivas are Orthodox Jewish schools ranging from elementary to college that separate classes by gender and teach several subjects in Hebrew. They primarily focus on the study of traditional religious texts—such as the Talmud and the Torah—but this religious focus doesn’t mean they’re allowed to skip secular education, especially given that these educational institutions are heavily funded by the government. The New York State Department of Education requires the instruction provided at nonpublic schools to be substantially equivalent to that of the local public school. This includes classes in “arithmetic, reading, spelling, writing, the English language, geography, United States history, civics, hygiene, physical training, the history of New York state, and science.”

Upon realizing the gaps in his and his peer’s yeshiva education, a former student named Naftuli Moster founded Young Advocates for Fair Education (YAFFED) in 2012. Since then, YAFFED has collected stories from other former students, teachers, and parents describing the quality and content of the education. In an interview with me in August 2018, Moster explained that initial attempts to inform city officials of the issue in 2013 and 2014 were ignored because they were too general and didn’t name institutions. In a July 2015 letter to the chancellor of the New York City Department of Education YAFFED identified thirty-nine schools with poor records. After reviewing the letter, the chancellor notified the New York State commissioner of education that at these yeshivas:

English and mathematics are taught from around age seven to age thirteen, for an average combined time of only ninety minutes and on only four days a week. Other secular subjects are not taught at all, let alone in English. At these yeshivas, English instruction for boys stops at age thirteen. Girls generally receive a better secular education than boys but, we are still concerned that it is not sufficient to prepare them for their futures.

From 2015-2017 the New York City DOE met with superintendents of the listed schools, interviewed the complainants, and interviewed yeshiva leaders. The department consistently missed self-imposed deadlines to release reports on the investigations. YAFFED gathered testimonials and released its own report in 2017. The report found that the average yeshiva graduate

speaks little or no English, has few or no marketable skills, earns a household income well below the average Brooklynite’s, marries young and has many children, and is forced to rely upon public assistance to support his large family.

The two main reasons yeshivas receive millions of dollars in government funding is to address household poverty levels and low class performance, creating a dangerous cycle for Hasidic Jewish families.

The yeshiva issue grew to a statewide concern on April 12, 2018, when New York Governor Andrew Cuomo accepted a budget that included a last-minute amendment to the nonpublic school curriculum law. The Felder Amendment—proposed by New York State Senator Simcha Felder and ultra-Orthodox Jewish community leaders—provides special treatment to ultra-Orthodox yeshivas and cuts down on instructional requirements. This violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution by allowing government to favor one religion over another. YAFFED filed a lawsuit in July 2018 against state officials alleging a lack of oversight of yeshivas and arguing the amendment needs to be removed from law.

In an August 2018 letter, New York City Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza informed New York State Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia that all of the interviewed complainants reported that English was delayed until first grade (sometimes even later), that there was no instruction through a science curriculum (only a few experiments at some schools), that math was restricted to basic arithmetic (sometimes fractions), and that little to no history was taught. Of the thirty-nine listed schools in YAFFED’s letter, nine were removed from the investigation because they weren’t in the NYC DOE jurisdiction—outside of the city or not K-12—or supposedly no longer existed. Carranza has reported optimistically on the fifteen yeshivas that let officials in and agreed to improve, but he admits that it’s too early to tell if the changes are significant enough as the school has only provided outlines and samples of secular curriculum. He has asked for guidance on how to handle the remaining fifteen schools that haven’t allowed DOE officials inside.

One school removed from the list was United Talmudical Academy, which is located on a top floor of a building with a butcher shop on its ground level. City investigators must not have noticed the school’s mailbox or asked around to determine if classes are in fact held at the address associated with the school. Moster noted in our interview that the DOE didn’t consult with YAFFED before deciding to remove schools from the investigation list. Nor have investigators followed up on vetting how United Talmudical Academy received nearly $10 million in federal funding if it doesn’t exist.

“The idea that they will conduct one [scheduled] visit and somehow glean a lot from that is somewhat laughable,” said Moster, who is concerned the investigations have been more yeshiva-led than city-led. He noted that Carranza’s letter doesn’t include names of investigators, visiting officials, education experts, psychology professors, or anyone else in curriculum meetings. The report also doesn’t mention YAFFED as the organization that brought forward the complainants, it but does name Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools (PEARLS)—formed in 2016—as one organization working on new English and math curriculum for yeshivas that “align with the Common Core Learning Standards and use materials that are culturally sensitive to the values of the yeshivas.”

Tension has been rising in New York City as the New York Times published two opposing op-eds: one from its own editorial board blasting politicians for failing to challenge Orthodox leadership and one from PEARLS lawyer Avi Schick criticizing anyone who questions the yeshivas’ progress. Hopefully the curriculum developed by PEARLS will be substantially equivalent to that taught in well-performing public schools. Ideally, New York’s newfound awareness will ensure a fair education for yeshiva students.

Unlike most of the Establishment Clause issues the American Humanist Association takes on, this isn’t about keeping public schools religiously neutral. It’s about ensuring that all schools provide the essentials to help young people succeed in life. No matter where children live or what religion they follow, they deserve a well-rounded education. Make sure your legislators know that they’re responsible here, because an uneducated populace is everyone’s problem.

 

 

NY State Dept. of Health Warns of Measles Exposure in Rockland County, NY

MEASLES IN NEW YORK STATE – SHOULD THOSE VACCINATED BE RESPONSIBLE FOR THOSE WHO AREN’T?

A measles outbreak has it New York State putting both religious and non-religious at risk. It has been linked to International travelers, traveling between Israel and the United States. Israel has a strict policy regarding vaccinating children. With socialized medicine largely the norm, there is a requirement before attending school that children be vaccinated and their regimen is stricter than that of the United States. They include vaccinations that we do not have on our protocols. But within the ultra-Orthodox communities, both in Israel and the United States, the requirements for entering schools (religious Yeshivas) is different. Likely – the policy of vaccinations is not enforced.

But if you take this to its logical conclusion, what’s next? A Polio Outbreak? Or… Whooping cough… or any number of other possible diseases that are preventable.

LostMessiah is well aware that there is a movement of people who do not believe in vaccinating their children either because of the dangers of Autism, or other disorders allegedly associated with vaccines. While we may not agree, we are not having that debate.

But, a vaccine only works if a statistical percentage of people within a community are vaccinated. Therefore, for each one person that does not vaccinate, a statistical number of people must be willing to “sacrifice” their kids for the better good. Otherwise, no one is safe. In other words, people who choose to not vaccinate are relying on those who choose to vaccinate to keep their own children safe. That is the problem, whether by conscientious objector or ignorance we find not vaccinating children to be reprehensible. A parent choosing not to vaccinate his or her child is forcing that obligation on others to keep everyone safe. We have a problem with that.

Within the ultra-Orthodox community, failure to vaccinate appears to be borne of ignorance not some fundamental ideological belief against vaccinations and the policy of enforcing vaccinations by State guidelines is largely ingored in the yeshiva system. Moreover, when the problem needs to be resolved, those uneducated must rely on those educated and outside of their community to control the damage. If you are not going to educate yourselves and your children and teach the importance of vaccinations, we almost think you should shut your gates, quarantine your residents and figure out how to fix the problem yourselves, without State financial assistance and without state intervention.

 

New York State Department of Health Warns More Potential New Measles Exposures in Rockland County

New Cases Linked to International Travelers

State Working with County and Community to Identify Potential Exposures, Provide Vaccine, Prevent Further Spread

ALBANY, N.Y. (October 16, 2018) – The New York State Department of Health today announced that additional measles cases linked to international travelers returning from Israel have been confirmed in Rockland County.

Like many European countries and parts of the world, Israel is currently experiencing a high number of measles cases. In the most recent data compiled by the World Health Organization (WHO), 339 cases have been reported in Israel from March through August of 2018.

To help prevent secondary cases of measles, the state Department of Health is working with the Rockland County Department of Health and Refuah Health Center to identify those potentially exposed and provide information on the importance of vaccination.

A measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine clinic for those who are not immune to measles will be held on Thursday, October 18, from 4:30 p.m. 6:30 at the Community Outreach Center located 21 Remsen Avenue in Monsey.

In addition to supporting the county by providing MMR vaccine, the state Department of Health is testing samples at its Wadsworth Laboratory in Albany, and assisting with community outreach and contact investigations. This includes working with the Rockland County Department of Health to identify unvaccinated students at any impacted schools, and taking the appropriate actions to minimize the risk to other students.

For those who believe they may have been exposed and have further questions, a toll-free hotline has been established: 1-888-364-4837. The hotline is available Monday – Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Individuals are considered protected or immune to measles if they were born before 1957, have received two doses of MMR vaccine, have had measles, or have a laboratory test result confirming immunity. Individuals who are not immune to measles and were exposed are at risk for developing measles. Preventive treatment for measles is recommended for those without evidence of immunity as follows: MMR vaccine can be given to eligible exposed individuals within 72 hours of exposure OR immune globulin can be administered within 6 days of exposure.

All individuals who think they may have been exposed to measles, particularly those without immunity or who are not sure if they have been vaccinated, should contact their health care provider if they develop measles symptoms. Symptoms include a fever, rash, cough, conjunctivitis or runny nose. Symptoms usually appear 10-12 days after exposure but may appear as early as 7 days and as late as 21 days after exposure.

To prevent the spread of illness, the Department is advising individuals who may have been exposed and who have symptoms consistent with measles to contact their health care provider, a local clinic, or a local emergency department before going for care. This will help to prevent others at these facilities from being exposed to the illness.

Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus that is spread by direct contact with nasal or throat secretions of infected people. People first develop a fever, then may have a cough, runny nose and watery eyes, followed by appearance of a rash. People are considered infectious from four days before to four days after the appearance of the rash.

The single best way to prevent measles is to be vaccinated. Individuals should receive two doses of MMR vaccine to be fully protected. If a person is unsure if they are immune they should contact their healthcare provider. Typically, the first dose of MMR vaccine should be given at 12-15 months of age and the second dose should be given at four to six years of age (age of school entry), although individuals may also be vaccinated later in life. In New York State, measles immunization is required of children enrolled in schools, daycare, and pre-kindergarten. Since August 1990, college students have also been required to demonstrate immunity against measles.

More information about measles can be found at https://www.health.ny.gov/publications/2170.pdf.