Rabbi Shea Hecht of Brooklyn tells rally-goers in West Orange the campaign for school vouchers is “something we should all speak out on.”
Photos by Robert Wiener
ISRAEL TEITELBAUM, organizer of the July 3 rally, supports the “Civil Rights Act for Equal Educational Opportunity.” According to Teitelbaum, the act would:
- require the states to provide equitable educational funding for children in public and non-public schools, while respecting the liberty of schools in hiring and provision of services.
- leave it up to each state to design its own system of funding education, provided all schoolchildren are granted equitable treatment, including those attending non-public schools.
July 10, 2008
Kicking off the Fourth of July weekend with what they called a civil rights movement for the 21st century, some 40 advocates of government subsides for private and parochial education rallied at the Leon and Toby Cooperman JCC in West Orange.
The July 3 gathering — attended largely by members of the Chabad-Lubavitch hasidic movement from Morristown and Brooklyn — was aimed at broadening support for what advocates call the “Civil Rights Act for Equal Educational Opportunity.”
The choice of venue in the largely liberal precincts of suburban Essex County was intentional, said organizer Rabbi Israel Teitelbaum of Morristown, a cofounder of Parents for Free Choice in Education.
“This being a liberal community, we want to have the conversation and we believe people will really learn the issue. Even those people who are liberal-minded will come around to realizing this is the better way to do things,” he said.
With the exception of Orthodox groups, the largest Jewish organizations have been mostly cool to school voucher plans, which they say violate the separation of church and state and harm public school funding.
Teitelbaum, however, thinks voucher plans and other subsidy proposals — which give parents money to pay their children’s private-school tuition —actually help the disadvantaged access better schools.
“Speaking of liberalism, and what it originally was, is to appeal to people who are being downtrodden,” he said. “Those are the people who are hurting the most these days from public education. Civil rights are supported by liberal people. This is a civil rights issue from our point of view.”
Rabbi Shea Hecht, a political activist in the Chabad community and chairman of the National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education, spoke of the upcoming holiday and its symbolic relationship to their cause. Hecht urged his listeners to imagine themselves as revolutionaries in 1776.
Activist Dan Gaby of West Orange compared the voucher campaign to the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
“This is one thing that really affects all of us because we have children or grandchildren or because we pay school taxes of one sort or another. This is something we should all speak out on,” said Hecht.
According to Teitelbaum, one reason for choosing the West Orange location was to show support for Roland Straten, a Republican from Montclair, who is challenging Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-Dist. 8) for his seat in Congress. (The rally was a private event and was not sponsored or endorsed by the JCC.)
“I passionately believe we can do a better job in Washington,” said Straten as he took the podium. “All reasonable people, regardless of our political persuasions, should agree that we should give all of our children the best possible education we can give them. We have been doing a really terrible job educating our children. If you live in the right town and have lots of money you can give your child an exceptional education. But if you’re disadvantaged or live in the wrong district, your child’s education could be a disaster.”
Dan Gaby, a West Orange resident who is executive director of the statewide advocacy group Excellent Education for Everyone, called himself a veteran of the civil rights movement.
Gaby accused public school teachers unions of “demonizing the word ‘voucher’ so that it is equivalent to child molesting…We’re very proud of this word ‘voucher.’ What it means is you empower the consumer to decide who the consumer wants to pay for that service or goods, and the government pays for it.”
Rally organizer Rabbi Israel Teitelbaum of Morristown said the cause should appeal to liberals who wish to aid “people who are being downtrodden.”
Rishe Deitsch, senior editor of the N’shei Chabad Newsletter in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights, complained about the high cost of day school tuitions.
“Some of our husbands are working two and three jobs to pay for tuitions for eight or 10 children. Many wives have taken jobs in schools at no salary to contribute towards those tuitions. You can imagine that stress on our families, or maybe you are experiencing that stress right now yourself,” she said. “Vouchers would be a good solution.”
Jerry Cantrell of Randolph, president of the New Jersey Taxpayer’s Association, and a former president of his town’s school board, complained that public monies are being used to build swimming pools and dance studios in public schools.
“Somebody who wants to have their little prince or princess dance better is going to do it within the educational day. These are the things that go on under the radar, but it is reality,” he said. “It is going on on a daily basis.”
Unable to attend because of the birth of his child hours earlier, writer and television personality Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who lives in Englewood, sent a statement to the gathering.
“Children who get an education based on values and morals grow up to be more responsible and more committed citizens,” said Boteach. “They also save the government untold sums by living lives that do not lead to delinquency. It is therefore a shame that in taking the important separation of church and state to an extreme, our country does not allow parents to utilize their tax dollars to offer their children school choice and send their children to a school that will offer them principles and ideals on a solid faith-based education.”