A shining star among Jewish educational controversies in New York
A shining star among Jewish educational controversies in New York

Many of my followers and fellow activists have contacted me and ask me to get involved in the growing controversies surrounding yeshiva standards, entrance exams for those academically qualified versus quotas, more safety after students were viciously attacked on their way home from school and the anti-Semitism and discrimination in our classrooms, staff and curriculum.

Education is a nonpartisan issue that needs bipartisan support.  

Yet, all too often, it is not.  Need proof, look at the elected officials making the decisions you are unhappy with, most are Democrat.  This is true in New York.

The reasons this happens is very simple, You, yes, you, are not educated enough about what is going on.  I know this from your contact with me.  

So many of you are unaware of how much each of you pays for your schools, including the staff, supplies, busing and the services needed for students with special needs and extra support.

So many of you are unaware of day-to-day goings-on as to lessons, influences and assignments in classrooms.  

So many of you are unaware of closed-door meetings among religious and political leaders who decide on education issues that relate to you.

And so many of you are aware, but choose to keep silent.  People fear retaliation and shunning from their community.

So many if you are aware, but, are hypocrites.  You complain but do nothing.  Need examples?

Jewish retired educators are very vocal in remarks against President Trump and his administration, especially Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos,  These same people are totally aware of issues of concern in our schools.  However, these are the same people benefiting from the stock market success and other benefits the Trump administration has helped them with.

Many of you want and are driven by receiving  government benefits rather than using your abilities to achieve independence and leadership success.

Here is our problem in our public and private schools—Jews give mixed messages to the powers that be —those powers know it—they take advantage of it.

That is why we are in the “pickle” we are in today—and it won’t change until we rethink which rabbinic influences actually help us, which elected officials from all parties help us and how we work together with other minority groups to achieve our goals in public, private, charter and homeschool situations.

Let me share a positive school example that we could all learn from. It is called theKulanu Center For Special Services

Meet Kulanu Kids, P.A.R.C., and More

According to Beth Raskin, Ed.D., Executive Director, “At its inception in 2000, a group of mothers created a “wish list” of activities that would enable their children with special needs to be included in all aspects of communal life. Their “home”, the Kulanu Center for Special Services has enabled Kulanu Academy to become the site that provides our community with a complex and comprehensive system of services seven days a week, year-round.

Kulanu has developed a reputation for providing programs and services of excellence. It continues to be recognized for its efforts with financial support of governmental organizations, grantors and our community. To its credit and that of its lay leadership and professional faculty, Kulanu has become a beacon of hope, information and support to individuals with special needs and their families.”

One such service is cosponsored by The Jewish National Fund.

Kulanu Ba'aretz is a three month vocational- educational study program for young men and women with special needs ages 18-21.  The program is geared towards individuals who want to spend an unforgettable semester living, working, studying, growing and touring in Israel, based at Kibbutz Shluchot, in the foothills of the Gilboa Mountains in the Bet Shean Valley.

Kulanu Ba’aretz is a unique opportunity for an individual with special needs to develop new skills, build self-esteem and independence, make new friends, and grow in a physically and emotionally safe environment. The students are stimulated socially, emotionally and physically, often in ways they would not have at home while experiencing the spirit and culture of Eretz Yisroel.

If we took a little more time to actually partner routinely with our children, our school staffs and participate more, we might have less frustrations.
Kulanu is successful because of an important fact that not one elected official brings to the forefront because they fear losing votes—Parent Accountability.  All too often, we neglect our children’s needs due to other obligations and only take notice when it’s too late.  Many parents also display a lack of knowledge and respect to school agendas and those on staff. If we took a little more time to actually partner routinely with our children, our school staffs and participate more, we might have less frustrations.

One service Kulanu offers and is an excellent example of a school community committed to working together is The Keren Eliana Parent Advocacy and Resource Center (PARC).

Created to address the concerns of individuals with special needs, their families and the community, PARC serves as a clearinghouse of information with an up-to-date reference library of booklets and pamphlets on a wide variety of developmental, educational, and family topics. Information and referral services, workshops, technical assistance, and parent training are available to individuals, families and outside agencies.

Their in-house computer database is updated regularly with current information about clinicians, specialists, attorneys, adult services, recreational programs, medical services, and upcoming lectures/trainings that users can personally access at the press of a button.

Kulanu maintains collaborative relationships with many educational, religious and social service organizations, and as such is able to recommend a cadre of personalized services.

  • Assist in navigating the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities(OPWDD) system.
  • Join you at a Committee on Special Education (CSE) meeting and/or other educational or vocational appointments.
  • Provide you with a complimentary initial intake. A listing of additional services are provided on a sliding scale basis.

Too many of us think volunteering is a time-consuming and draining activity.  Yet, Kulanu’s volunteers fulfill simple tasks like arranging transportation, purchasing Purim Mishloach Manot cards and gift baskets and helping out at their annual community fair that Jews and non-Jews attend.

Rather than complain, ignore, and spout opinions, rather than facts, let’s unite to improve Jewish Education in all arenas, from textbook accuracy, following through mandated services, ending hiring discrimination in educational arenas, and fulfilling the needs to gain meaningful employment, social skills and religious obligations moving forward. 

Let’s confront our elected officials who stand at ceremonies and events, but who follow up with little action as anti-Semitism is festering in our schools daily.  We also shouldn’t let private school issues become “Jewish school” issues, as Catholic schools face the same matters in question but don’t make the same headlines.

Education is a nonpartisan issue that needs bipartisan support.

Cindy Grosz can be reached at [email protected]