An overflow crowd of Midwood residents gathered at a meeting with the leadership of The East Midwood Jewish Center to express their disapproval at the proposed lease of their classrooms to Urban Dove Charter School, an institution which caters to “at risk school children”.
The EMJC has been the home to Rabbi Harry Halpern Day School for half a century, but when the school hit financial difficulties and could no longer pay the rent, the EMJC decided to rent the space to Urban Dove, despite the numerous local yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs who were interested in leasing the space.
Hundreds of neighborhood residents converged on the Jewish Center for the meeting, quickly filling the ballroom where it was scheduled to take place. It was soon apparent that the room could not contain the entire crowd, as many waited in the hallway and downstairs to show their opposition to the planned lease.
Before the public meeting, the community’s elected officials, Senator Simcha Felder, Assembly Members Rodneyse Bichotte and Simcha Eichenstein, and NYC Council Members Farah Louis, Chaim Deutsch and Kalman Yeger, met with the leadership of East Midwood and Urban Dove to express their concerns about this potential lease and to advocate for the local institutions.
In their statement, they wrote, “We asked East Midwood and Urban Dove to work with us to find a suitable religious school to locate in the Jewish Center’s school building. We believe that is the most appropriate solution”. They stated that over the next few weeks, they will be “committed to working with East Midwood, Urban Dove and our community leaders to try to find a resolution.”
Mrs. Dianne Hersh, a neighbor of EMJC for many years, described the unity she observed during the meeting. “It was apparent that the entire community is united in their opposition to Urban Dove moving in. We are worried what the influx of students who are considered ‘high risk’ will do to the safety of our streets and our children. The questions presented by the participants were on the mark, and the answers provided by EMJC and Urban Dove were totally unacceptable.”
After a presentation by a member of the board of EMJC and by Urban Dove, some of the attendees asked why they had not responded to the telephone calls of local schools, both private and public, who had contacted EMJC and Urban Dove with their concerns. “These institutions have been calling for months, including the administration of Edward R. Murrow High School located a few blocks away,” said one questioner, “and they were concerned that these new students would cause problems with their own students. Yet their numerous calls received no response. Why is that so?”
Urban Dove’s reply, that “this is now on the top of my list,” was greeted by groans of disbelief from the audience.
When the residents expressed their dismay at bringing in students who are known as “high risk”, Urban Dove responded that these students were not necessarily problem children, and the school was geared to students who have not garnered the 11 credits needed in the public school system. “Urban Dove affords them the opportunity to continue their schooling with proper assistance,” the representative stated. Yet when questioned about the background of the students, this same representative admitted that the school does not check into the backgrounds of the students who are accepted in the school.
The school officials tried to allay fears of the neighbors by reassuring them that the students would disembark and board their busses on Ocean Avenue and not on East 21st Street, thereby avoiding disturbing the routine of the local residents.
“There is no way the school can regulate the movement of the students,” Mrs. Hersh told Hamodia. “It’s all too common that underperforming students will be wandering the streets, and we are worried what it will do to the safety of our children. I would be afraid to allow my grandchildren to walk alone, and this can cause a substantial change in the tranquility of the neighborhood.”
A neighbor explained to the board member of EMJC that many of the local children are raised in a sheltered manner which can be disrupted by the Urban Dove students, and this is causing a panic amongst the community residents. The response, much to the dismay of the attendees, was that “we respect diversity and not every person has a white face.”
Josh Mehlman, chairman of Flatbush Jewish Community Coalition (FJCC), told Hamodia that contrary to what the board member insinuated, the Midwood community is actually quite diverse. “We have several public schools which provide public education to a wide range of children. Edward R. Murrow High School is located just a few blocks away, as is Midwood High School. In addition, Brooklyn College is also part of our neighborhood, as well as several public schools for younger students.”
“We feel that this facility which was built with the donations of Jewish grandparents who wanted to create a place for Jewish education and continuity should remain as a place which provides for the needs of the local Jewish community, especially since there are local schools which are in desperate need for classroom space,” Mr. Mehlman said.
The outpouring of unity was described as impressive by those who attended, although many felt that it was too late since the decision to lease to Urban Dove had been already reached.
“We have presented EMJC with several offers to purchase or rent the building by local yeshivos,” said Mr. Mehlman. “Going forward, we hope to engage the leadership of EMJC, and we hope that reason can prevail.”