Great Neck Principal Calls Cops On Orthodox 'Proselytizers,' Then Backs Down
02/08/13
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The principal of Great Neck North High School, who sent an alarming letter to parents and even called the cops about a shul offering lunch and learn programs for his students, has now backed down, admitting poor judgment.

On Jan. 31, Bernard Kaplan warned parents of the heavily Jewish public school that the school has "deep concerns" that students, who are allowed to leave campus for lunch, were visiting nearby Torah Ohr Hebrew Academy for the free lunch of fare such as pizza bagels, while Rabbi Avraham Kohan spoke to them about the Torah. "[Torah Ohr] believes it is perfectly okay for them to entice our students with free lunch in order to give them orthodox [sic] religious instruction, or what many would frankly call proseytizing children," Kaplan wrote. In the letter, he added that he and other school officials visited the shul and asked the rabbi to obtain permission slips from the kids' parents, to no avail.

"We have contaced the police and other local authorities who up to now say there is nothing they can do," Kaplan wrote.

The American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and Agudath Israel of America all said this week that Kaplan's actions were inappropriate because the school does not place restrictions on students' visiting any other locations during their lunch break.

"Placing restrictions on or creating special requirements for the temples' lunch and learn program is an infringment on  a student's right to association and free exercise of religion in violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution," wrote Ron Meier, regional director and Seth Marnin, regional counsel of the ADL. "The law is clear: as the principal of a public school you cannot endorse or interfere with religious practice."

The ADL urged Kaplan to retract his letter and apologize to the school community and the temple.

“Our single issue is that we think parents have a right to know if their kids are getting religious instruction during the school day,” Kaplan said in an interview Monday. “But the temple did not have a legal obligation [to inform parents] and as fa as that is concerned the issue is resolved.”

In a second letter to parents mailed Friday, Kaplan wrote that "upon reflection, my letter of Jan. 31 ... was an unintended infringement on students' rights. The principal of a public school cannot interfere with religious practice conducted outside of the school's purview."

Kaplan apologize to those who "were affronted by my letter" and urged parents to discuss lunchtime activities with their kids.

editor@jewishweek.org

Last Update:

05/20/2014 - 15:18

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Out of curiosity, did Bernard Kaplan ever think to try talking to Rabbi Kohan? I know both men personally, and they are both very decent human beings who care about the people around them. I am puzzled by the way this scenario played out. Jew against Jew. A little bit of dialogue and this could have all been avoided. The police? Really? Very sad....

The issue here is very simple. Parents are concerned. So let them call the Rabbi and see what the program is about. Parents have a right to know where their kids go during lunch.

Well a lot of them go do drugs, some go have sex in the nearby homes, some go play video games, some gamble, some go to subways and some go to have lunch. Kaplan isn't blasting off any letters for these things.

Don't blame the rabbi if you don't know where your kids are during lunch. It's your responsibility!!!!

Mr Kaplan was within his rights as a school principal to raise objections. In fact, a student becomes the schools responsibility from when the bell rings in the morning to the end of classes in the afternoon.

By all rights, each student should have had a permission slip or an agreement from the parents, allowing the student to leave the school at noon. Furthermore, the intention would be to leave for lunch, only. Example, not to play pool in a pool room, or other activity.

But, if the instruction given by Torah Ohr Hebrew Academy were of general nature, even from the Torah, the principal still needed the parents permission.

You are right that he could raise objection. But why insult the Rabbi and 500 people attending that synagogue. He calls it a store front temple that proselytizes kids by enticing them with a free slice of pizza.

Everyone knows that a lot of the kids go smoke drugs and hangout in nearby homes and do what they want. How about getting a general permission slip that says I allow my parent to go out of school for lunch. Period. the parents have to understand the risks that are involved. Does the Principla have to tell the parents that kids are going and eating sugary foods at dunkin donuts???

This publication is showing comments that mostly reflect only one point of view in this matter. One of mine has evidently been deemed unsuitable for this thread, even though it was within the as-stated guidelines of not being profane, irrelevant, promotional or making personal attacks.

I find the comments that seek to ascribe a particular religious bias to Mr. Kaplan to be far more offensive than anything that I have written.

No sense of irony here, in a free society that encourages free speech and a fair and balanced process of advocacy and argumentation, I am seeing comments in a publication that fancies itself as a responsible purveyor of journalism that clearly do not reflect the overall opinions that I have read and directly witnessed in the social media and in person, over the past week. As a Jew in a predominantly Jewish area, I have found overwhelming support for Mr. Kaplan's initial letter to parents, which correctly served as a helpful advisory to concerned parents.

It was only after the misguided, aggressive and partisan protestations from the ADL that pressured Mr. Kaplan into issuing a needless retraction.

The attempt to ascribe a particular religious bias to Mr. Kaplan is as misguided as it is idiotic.

As a parent of a student at this school, I find that the lack of respect is on the part of the rabbi, who evidently is not concerned about parental permission. Mr. Kaplan's concerns were about the welfare of the students, the vast majority of whom are minors. As a parent I applaud Mr. Kaplan for letting us know that this rabbi was inviting CHILDREN off the street, by luring them in with free food, as a means of proselytizing them.

This Rabbi may be acting within the letter of the law, but his actions have a foul odor.

The only foul odor I smell is the one of kids smoking marijiuana on the side streets during lunch time. Why doesn't Kaplan take care or this issue. Do you really think a rabbi is going to call every parent every time he sees their child in his synagogue?

And these are not children. Many of them are a few months or a year away from college where they can attend many programs like this ON CAMPUS. Do you think the dean of the college is going to make the 'child' get a permission slip from the parents?

Did you know in the State of New York your MINOR daughter can get an abortion without your consent! Please don't tell me some rabbi is not concerned about parental permission.

Oh, and if your kid can get proselytized by a free slice of pizza, then try reading a book about good parenting skills. Didn't you teach them never to take candy from a stranger?

The Principal has shown extremely poor judgement. His ability to reason has been clouded by hatred and prejudice. In my opinion ,he should be removed from his position.

He should be commended for advising parents that a someone is luring children off the street by offering free food, without obtaining parental consent.

So if Mcdonalds tries to get your kid to eat a fatty hamburger and a large sugar drink then you want to get Kaplan involved? If a high school kid is being lured by free pizza then its time to have a talk with your kid.

I don't get why parents want the principal to take care of their kids for them. Do some parenting and talk to your kids about where they go and what they do. Stop making Kaplan your Shabbos Goy!!

OK, I agree that the principal should not restrict where the students are going. But, what about the internal Jewish community. Is this an appropriate way to entice high school students to learn Torah. Is it successful, is it cost effective, is it ethical. This should be debated within the entire Jewish community in the Great Neck area.

I doubt a non-Jewish principal would have even cared.

As an orthodox jew, we have to examine ourselves. People do not have to agree with us but we should be respected just as we should respect others

If Kaplan were not Jewish he would never have written that first letter. Nor, as a secular Jew, would he have written it had that synagogue been a church.

Particularly telling is his highlighting that the religious instruction is "Orthodox."

In other words, were it Jewish, but Reform or Conservative, that would have been OK.

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