Rabbis backtracking on support for N.J. charter school


NEW YORK (JTA) — Two Orthodox rabbis who had supported a new Hebrew-language charter school in New Jersey reportedly are now saying they have reservations.

Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO for kashrut at the Orthodox Union, and Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, first vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America, had contributed letters of support as part of the 2010 charter application for the Shalom Academy in Bergen County, near New York City. Both lead congregations in Englewood, N.J., where the school will be located.

But Genack now says that the academy, which is scheduled to open in September, could “destabilize” yeshivas and day schools in Bergen County by drawing from those religious schools’ populations, the New Jersey Jewish Standard and The New York Jewish Week reported.

And Goldin said, “I’m always concerned, especially in the current financial climate, that people will see this as an alternative to day school, and I don’t think it’s a viable alternative.”

The school is set to provide a Hebrew immersion program for up to 240 students in grades kindergarten to eight.

Also opposing the project are Yossi Prager, executive director of the Avi Chai Foundation, who wrote an Op-Ed piece about it for the Standard, and Sara Berman, chair of the Hebrew Charter School Center. Berman said Shalom Academy "does not match our vision of a Hebrew-language charter school.”

The local school board also has opposed the academy, saying it would harm its public school students. 

Shalom Academy has drawn support from prominent Jewish figures, including New Jersey residents Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and Foundation for Jewish Camp CEO Jeremy Fingerman.

If Shalom opens as planned, it would be the seventh Hebrew charter school in the United States and the third in the New York area. Hebrew charter schools, which offer nonreligious but Hebrew-focused curricula, are being looked at across the country as less expensive alternatives to Jewish day schools. Several of the schools are operating in New York and Florida.

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