Harlem Hebrew Charter OK’d
06/19/12
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A Hebrew charter school in Harlem may sound akin to an African-American-themed school in Borough Park or Jerusalem.

But Harlem Hebrew Language Academy Charter — whose charter the New York State Board of Regents formally approved on Tuesday, and which is slated to open in fall 2013 — is arguably in an ideal location to recruit a racially and socio-economically diverse student body interested in learning Hebrew.

While the publicly funded dual-language immersion school will be in southern Harlem, an area that, like the rest of this historically black neighborhood, has become more racially diverse in the past decade, the school will also be open to students from throughout Manhattan’s District 3, which encompasses the entire Upper West Side from West 59th Street to West 122nd Street.

With more than five Jewish day schools, countless synagogues and a Jewish community center, the Upper West Side has one of the highest densities of Jews anywhere in the world.

Backed by the Hebrew Charter School Center, a group created by a Jewish philanthropic consortium led by Birthright Israel co-founder Michael Steinhardt, the k-5 Harlem Hebrew will be the first Hebrew charter school in Manhattan, the second in New York City and the fifth in the HCSC’s national network, including two others approved this spring.

In addition, a separate network — the National Ben Gamla Charter School Foundation — runs four Hebrew charter schools in Florida, with a fifth slated to open this fall. Independent of any network, the Shalom Academy Hebrew Charter School is slated to open this fall in Englewood, N.J.

Scheduled to open with 156 students in grades k-1, Harlem Hebrew plans to grow over the next five years to 446 students in k-5. It is modeled on HCSC’s Hebrew Language Academy Charter School, in south Brooklyn, which opened in 2009 and is one of the most racially integrated schools in New York.

Harlem Hebrew’s planning group has developed a number of partnerships with community-based institutions, including the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, which is developing a curriculum emphasizing immigration and migration with a lens on Harlem.

“One foundation of our model is creating diverse, inclusive schools that expose students of all backgrounds to the Hebrew language and build bridges of understanding,” said HCSC’s board chair, Sara Berman, co-lead applicant for Harlem Hebrew and a resident of the Upper West Side.

The other co-lead applicant is William Allen, district leader for Assembly District 70 and a lifelong Harlem resident. Other board members residing in Harlem include Linda Aristondo, assistant prosecutor in Jersey City, N.J.; Rabbi David Gedzelman, executive vice president of the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life; Basil Smikle, a political consultant and community activist; and Rev. Michael Walron of the First Corinthian Baptist Church.

Last Update:

06/28/2012 - 04:02

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When sending a child to a Jewish Day school for $30,000 a year is an unreasonable amount for a family who realizes the value of such an education but simply cannot afford it, moreover, if that family has several school-aged children, it becomes more like an unrealizable dream. The solution, while arguably not the ideal one, could be a Hebrew charter school, if there is one in the family's geographic vicinity. In fact, most day school principals and board members may even see the Hebrew charter school movement as a danger even though, in spite of scholarship programs, can only provide for financially elite families.

However, when it comes to dollars and cents, the Jewish community has to make decisions based on priority. Just this month, in Los Angeles, the last of three Jewish Community Centers in the San Fernando Valley, with its seventh largest Jewish community in the country, closed its doors, sending over 300 seniors and a great many pre-schoolers to attempt to find other non-community venues. This was a matter of the Jewish Federation's financial priorities, and the JCC in Los Angeles area, which once had many community centers, is now operating only one old center building in what once was a Jewish neighborhood. It is all dollars and cents. And in the name of dollars and cents, it would be a great thing if the Hebrew charter schools would find a base of operations in the west, in Los Angeles including the San Fernando Valley, where so many Jewish children are deprived of a Jewish education because of rising costs.

For a Jewish child to know Hebrew is a link to his people that is unbreakable.

I was aware of the "machloket" when this school was first proposed for Harlem.
It could be useful to keep in mind that the Hebrew language is as "classical" to Western culture, as are Greek or Latin. It's not only the language of much of the Bible (surely as central to Western culture as Aristotle or Plato), it's the source of many of the children's own names!
Hebrew should also be useful and interesting for Arabic-speaking students (and other Semitic-based languages), just as Arabic can be for Hebrew- and English-fluent students.
All in all, I think this school can be a "plus" for the community, as long as it allows itself to attract students from a wide range of backgrounds.

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