Rabbi Avi Shafran’s complaint about the state aid formula for public schools is unquestionably valid, (“Social Injustice and the Ramapo School Board,” online Opinion, May 2), but it has little to do with the disaster that the East Ramapo School District has become, a fact that in itself is undoubtedly fostering anti-Semitism in the Hudson Valley and beyond.
When my father was board president in the 1960s, the district was one of the largest and best in the state. There were small enclaves like Monsey, New Square and the “Hill” in Spring Valley that did not prioritize public education, but most residents were middle class Jews and Catholics who sent their kids to public school. Many of my classmates went to prestigious colleges and became respected professionals in their fields.
I remember my father’s constant complaint that the district was being drastically shortchanged in aid, resulting in school taxes that were too high. But the population was generally willing to pay the price. This was true even though some religious leaders, including Reform Jews, fought tax increases.
The only major change is that now one-third of the district’s children go to public school while the rest go to yeshivas. As the haredi population in the district increased, many middle class families moved, understanding that someone who struggles to pay for parochial school would not support public education the way it needs to be supported.
This trend continues. Recently, when my friend was sitting shiva for his mother, he was amazed by the number of haredim and others peering into the windows, clearly interested in buying the home.
The bottom line for East Ramapo is what my father said a couple of years ago, not long before his death: “This is now the worst school district in the state.”
The lessons have not been lost on nearby residents. There is a palpable fear that the same thing could happen in their communities. It is not impossible that some of the problems [of anti-Semitism] in Monroe and Pine Bush might be explained in part by this fear. Could anyone doubt that fear of being displaced or economically injured gives rise to anti-Semitism? With so many irrational reasons to be anti-Semitic throughout history, why does there have to be one that is arguably rational? This is what worries me. I would urge various religious leaders to think about this carefully when considering expanding or moving to a new community.
Rye Brook, N.Y.
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