The Broward County School Board in South Florida approved two measures Tuesday night that effectively give a green light to the nation’s first Hebrew-language charter school.
Set to open Aug. 20 in Hollywood, Fla., the Ben-Gamla Charter School will be operated by a private company, Academica, under the direction of Adam Siegel, an Orthodox rabbi who formerly headed Yeshiva Elementary School in Miami Beach. Even though Siegel and the school’s main backer, former U.S. Rep. Peter Deutsch, insist that Ben-Gamla will not teach Judaism, the school has nevertheless generated enormous controversy within South Florida’s Jewish community over the separation of church and state.
“The opposition of some Jewish day schools comes about because until now, they have effectively been a monopoly in terms of delivering Hebrew-English education in Broward County, and they feel that their monopoly status is being threatened,” Deutsch told JTA.
Rabbi Allan Tuffs of Temple Beth-El in Hollywood counters that the objections are not about money or power.
“Nobody’s got a problem with teaching modern Hebrew,” he said. “What I’m worried about is that if Ben-Gamla succeeds, every religious group in America will want to have their own segregated, religious school funded with public money.”
The measures approved Tuesday night at a meeting attended by hundreds of parents involve changes to Ben-Gamla’s curriculum and its use of a building in Hollywood that can accommodate up to 430 students.
Both the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Federation of Broward County have expressed concern about the new school, though Broward County School Board officials insist that Ben-Gamla is not at all religious.