The new public school…called the Ben Gamla Charter School…is run by an Orthodox rabbi, serves kosher lunches and concentrates on teaching Hebrew.
About 400 students started classes at Ben Gamla this week amid caustic debate over whether a public school can teach Hebrew without touching Judaism and the unconstitutional side of the church-state divide. The conflict intensified Wednesday, when the Broward County School Board ordered Ben Gamla to suspend Hebrew lessons because its curriculum — the third proposed by the school — referred to a Web site that mentioned religion.
Opponents say that it is impossible to teach Hebrew — and aspects of Jewish culture — outside a religious context, and that Ben Gamla, billed as the nation’s first Hebrew-English charter school, violates one of its paramount legal and political boundaries.
Question for Stop the Madrassa and all those New York Jews raising a gevalt and geschrei about the new Khalil Gibran International Academy, the first New York public school dedicated to teaching Arab culture and language: if Florida has the Ben Gamla Charter School why can’t Brooklyn have Khalil Gibran? Why is it kosher to teach Jewish children in public school Hebrew and associated Jewish cultural subjects, but treif for Arab-Americans to learn about their traditions in a similar public school setting? Remember “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander?”
If New Yorkers opposed to the school can be so all-fired certain it will be a breeding ground for jihadi propaganda, how can they claim the Jewish school will not propagate its own religious agenda? Why should an Arab public school be a recruiter for Al Qaeda, but a Jewish public school be pure as the driven snow? Of course we know the answer to that question. Much (if not all) of the opposition to Khalil Gibran is based on racism; and much of that racism alas comes from Jewish sources like Daniel Pipes, David Yerushalmi, Campus Watch and Stop the Madrassa. If you scratched a millimeter beneath the surface you’d find these types view Judaism as a peaceful, tolerant religion and Islam an angry, intolerant one. Certainly Judaism to their mind is inherently superior to Islam.
I, for one, am not opposed to either school provided they approach their respective curricula in the broadest and most inclusive manner possible. For example, in answer to the question of whether Hebrew can be taught “outside a religious context.” I would answer a qualified yes–depending on how you approached it. First, the Hebrew language represents both religious and secular traditions. Therefore, it is not a language monopolized by one tradition or the other. Second, to teach Hebrew you have to refer to religious concepts, but you do not have to embrace them. In other words, Hebrew does not have to endorse Judaism. It merely reflects it.
Another element I would insist upon in both schools is a rigorous curriculum component teaching about ethnic identity and other religious traditions. There should be no excuse for such a school turning inward upon itself and furthering an insular agenda that ignores other religions.
Finally, the opponents of Khalil Gibran are utter hypocrites. You know most of them would have no problem with Ben Gamla. In fact, some of them would be enrolling their kids there if it opened in Brooklyn. Given the school’s owner’s plans to expand, it just might:
Peter Deutsch, a former Democratic member of Congress from Florida who started Ben Gamla…hopes to replicate it in Los Angeles, Miami and New York.
In fact, I have a challenge to Joel Klein and Michael Bloomberg. Open a Ben Gamla Academy in New York in THE SAME BUILDING as Khalil Gibran. In fact, do team teaching in which members of each ethnic group learn about the others traditions in addition to their own. Now, that would be a contribution to interfaith dialogue and tolerance. I’d urge Stop the Madrassa to close up shop and turn to a positive agenda that encourages both Jews and Arabs to learn about their traditions in mutual respect and harmony. How’s that for a wild and crazy idea?
Actually, not so crazy. Things like this actually happened once before in history. In medieval Spain, Jews and Muslims co-existed relatively peacefully. They worked, studied and lived together. They respected each other’s traditions (on the whole). Why can’t we use this as a model for what Ben Gamla and Khalil Gibran could do for New York?