Opinion – Fight Fire With Fire

By Richard Altebe

9/11/01 was a declaration of a physical war upon our peaceful country and its citizens by an enemy who sought to undermine the values of our nation.

9/11/22 was also a declaration of war. This time it was a declaration of spiritual war against the Jewish people. The cultural leaders at The New York Times placed a front-page attack on who we are and what we believe in the name of educational Improvement. Like Amalek, they preyed upon the weakest of our nation and found those on the fringes of our community who were willing to be accomplices in the destruction of our community.

No matter whether you are Chassidish or whether your children attend a more modern or yeshivish school, your values have been attacked by those who seek to destroy our beautiful Orthodox society.
Don’t think for a moment that the cultural leaders at the Times approve of our teaching of certain pesukim in Vayikra even though we also teach physics and Shakespeare. Don’t fall for the notion that their agenda is about school improvement. Every yeshivah seeks to improve its education, and with the right tools, appropriate texts and training for teachers, low-performing schools could improve over time. Realize that the agenda is to destroy the Chassidic community by forcing them to comply with regulations that undermine the independence of its schools.

Having been part of a school improvement effort in the 1980s at a well-known Brooklyn public high school, I learned that schools improve only when all stakeholders are aligned. Forcing schools to improve has never worked and will not work now. In fact, it is likely that many schools will simply practice the time-tested act of civil disobedience. No school will sacrifice even a minute of Torah education to comply with state-imposed regulations — nor should they.

Twenty-one years ago, our American nation joined together in unity and fought back the enemy. The fabric of our nation was strengthened through a common resolve. Our Jewish nation must seize this moment to unify and become strong. Our voices must be heard. If those at NYSED choose to ignore our 350,000 letters, we must respond in a manner that forces those in charge to listen.

Our first response is to increase our pride in our communities. We are proud of our chessed and educational institutions. We love our shuls and our Rabbis who lead us spiritually. Go to a Chassidish simchas beis hasho’eivah this Sukkos. See the splendor of the various Chassidic sects in Boro Park and Williamsburg. Take pride in their rigid adherence to our faith. We all seek only to enhance our relationship with Hakadosh Baruch Hu and to reflect our beliefs to the broader society through our actions. Let’s all use this Elul as a means of enhancing our own spiritual growth as a people.

Our response to this attack should not be defensive. We have nothing to be ashamed of, and the facts of our success are clear — we have family-oriented communities that are low in crime and boast a high per capita income despite claims to the contrary. Most importantly, we take care of our own. We have food pantries, soup kitchens and tuition assistance programs. We have a gemach for almost any item you might need.

We need to go on the offensive about the woeful state of public schools. While some of our schools may choose to offer fewer secular studies, resulting in lower test scores, the Times admitted in its infographic that public schools are doing just as poorly despite the enormous expense ($28,000/child) and time allotted for the study of required subjects. The excuse for poor performance? Low income! Their illogic is clear: Our low-performing schools cause poverty (which is a blatant lie) — their low-performing schools are caused by poverty! (Are they saying poor kids can’t learn?!)

Finally, we are fortunate to live in a country that gives us the right to vote. For too long, our Orthodox communities have been lax in voter turnout. In fact, in most elections our turnout is less than 50%. We are therefore hardly a factor in statewide elections, and our vote is only solicited in local races in which our unified small numbers make a difference. This November, we must be sure that every man, woman and child over 18 years old who is properly registered goes to the polls and votes!

It is also time to support only those candidates willing to forcefully speak up in defense of our yeshivos. While we are under attack, no other consideration matters. Either the candidate supports our values, or we vote for ones who do. Yes, there are those running who have been supportive of our institutions financially; however, if they remain on the sidelines while our spiritual lives are threatened, they cannot earn our support. There are others who have spoken loudly in support of our yeshivos, and it is time for us to come out loudly in support of them.

Klal Yisrael needs strength right now. May Hashem give us the koach to fight those who seek to destroy us.

Be proud of who we are and what we believe — we will prevail in the end. n

Richard Altabe is the Principal of the Lower Division of Hebrew Academy of Long Beach and President of the Jewish Community Council of the Rockaway Peninsula.

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