Cutthroat Jewish Education: Long Island

Charges of poaching leveled at L.I. Orthodox day school.

11/16/10
Staff Writer
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When a seventh-grade parent at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Nassau County pulled the familys teenager out of the Conservative school last summer, the parent took more than just the teenager to their new high school, the North Shore Hebrew Academy.

The parent also had a coveted prize in hand: Schechter’s class list, complete with students’ names, addresses and phone numbers, which the parent turned over to officials at North Shore.

What the administration there did with the list — target the Schechter students and their parents with two postcards one month apart inviting them to an open house — has touched off a firestorm of controversy in the Long Island day school world and led to a debate about the ethics of what North Shore did.

Was North Shore, a Modern Orthodox day school, poaching or simply exercising its free-market rights to recruit new high school students?

“I’ve never encountered this approach before,” said Rabbi Lev Herrnson, headmaster of Schechter, which has 500 students spanning kindergarten through high school. “We have received student lists in the past, but this is not the way we comport ourselves. We purchase lists from list services to ensure that we would never consider having inappropriate approaches to families on Long Island that have allegiances with other schools.”

Fouad Pouyafar, Schechter’s board president, said he was upset that “our families were targeted not once but twice with mailers, and that they targeted to the children by name.”

“That has generated great concern among our parent community,” he said.

But Daniel Vitow, headmaster of North Shore’s 400-student high school, said he wasn’t doing anything unusual in targeting eighth graders for postcard invitations to open houses at his Great Neck school. (North Shore’s early childhood, elementary and middle school programs enroll an additional 700 students.)

“It’s standard practice across the Jewish community,” Vitow insisted. “It’s a free-market economy. North Shore kids always get invitations from other schools. … Schools do what they have to do to recruit the best kids.”

But such a practice raises all kinds of ethical questions at a time when day school enrollment has been hurt by the economic downturn.

Rabbi Martin Schloss, director of the Division of Day School Education at the Jewish Education Project (formerly BJENY-SAJES), said flatly: “We never encourage schools going after another school’s students. … We don’t condone it and I don’t know that it is widespread.

“We do everything we can to prevent these kind of things from happening,” Schloss said.

Rabbi Ellis Bloch, secretary of the JEP’s Yeshiva Elementary School and High School Principals Council, said this group of nearly 100 Orthodox day school principals has been “trying to work out accommodations where we avoid poaching and also make sure that parents have a choice between schools.”

Vitow said he sent the postcards to eighth graders only because they might want to consider another school as they prepared for their high school years.

“Parents have a right to see and experience as many schools as they want in order to make a decision based upon what is in the best interests of their child,” he said. “This is the shopping season and everybody has a right to shop. I would never be so arrogant as to think that a kid is mine just because he went to my elementary school.”

“They need to develop a thicker skin,” he added. “It’s a sign of an insecure and immature administrator. … If a school is upset that another school is sending invitations to their students, it is incumbent upon them to make sure they are doing a good job.”

Rabbi Herrnson declined to say what action his school took after his students received the postcards. He said only that the list North Shore obtained had been clearly marked that it was to be used for school-related purposes only.

“It is our policy to keep the list internal,” he said. “As a matter of policy we don’t use other schools’ lists; it is not honorable or within the context of Jewish tradition.”

Vitow said he received a copy of the class list “that did not say anything about it being confidential.”

He noted that last week he received a “lawyer’s letter” from the Schechter school saying that “any further attempts to use the confidential information of Solomon Schechter without our prior permission will not be tolerated; govern yourself accordingly.”

Vitow said that after the postcard labels were made, “we threw out the list.”

Rabbi Bloch said that although it is “fairly common” for Jewish high schools to solicit eighth graders at other Jewish schools, he is aware of it occurring only when a child is actually going to change buildings — moving from a K-8 building to a 9-12 building.

“Normally if a you are in a K-8 school, you give your mailing list to all the high schools that request it,” he said.

But in the case of the Schechter school, its elementary school in Jericho is K-6 and its building in Glen Cove is a combined middle and high school, covering grades 7-12. Vitow told The Jewish Week that he was unaware of Schechter’s unique grade structure.

“Does a K-12 system see this as poaching?” Rabbi Bloch asked rhetorically. “Perhaps. But eighth grade is a time at which parents make choices to try another school. … I understand Schechter has to grow, but parents knowing there are choices makes the system more inviting.”

“I understand where Solomon Schechter is coming from,” he added. “They may perceive that the eighth grade is not such a critical departure junction.”

Asked about the fact that the postcards had the children’s names on them, Rabbi Bloch said he would be discussing the appropriateness of that at next month’s council meeting.

“This is an issue that a few principals have brought to my attention,” he said. “Should we outlaw it? Whatever we decide will be a gentleman’s agreement.”

Because Schechter is a Conservative school, it is not part of the council.

Vitow said this was only the second year he had sent postcards to another school’s eighth grade.

“I only started doing it because everybody was doing it. If I didn’t learn from other people, I wouldn’t have done it. If it’s good enough for the goose, it’s good enough for the gander.”

Last Update:

11/23/2010 - 12:22

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“I only started doing it because everybody was doing it. If I didn’t learn from other people, I wouldn’t have done it. If it’s good enough for the goose, it’s good enough for the gander.” This says it ALL! When my kids say this stuff I laugh. Now I know where they learned it...... From a supposed leader of the Jewish Education world. HA! Vitow sounds like such a fool. No wonder that everyone at HAFTR hated him.
Paul, Please don't make ignorant comments in this forum that only ignite the fire.
I am a modern Orthodox Jew and have known Dr. Vitow for many years. I have spoken to 3 respected Ravs in the Modern Orthodox community, who serve on Beit Dins all over this region who feel that this is clearly unethical behavior. While I am somewhat taken aback by the outlandish behavior exhibited by him and the NSHA, I am not ready to condemn a life long career dedicated to Jewish education for one poor, misguided act. I am certain that had Dr. Vitow truly realized the length of his mistake, and the bad name that he has brought to his institution, he would have apologized and we could move on. However what is MUCH MORE distressing to me is that supporters of this school have used this forum to criticize their fellow Jews! Putting down, criticizing, and insulting other Jews (and non-Jews) for their differing practices and beliefs is clearly NOT a Jewish tenet. If some of you were as truly learned and pious as you claim to be you would know this. I encourage you to immediately remove your false claims and nasty remarks regarding another respected Jewish educational institution. Schechter, while offering a differing education has been successfully nurturing proud and committed Jews on Long Island and nationwide for over 40 years. Let's remember, what connects us is more important than what separates us!
Why is no one willing to give his name on these entries? I am a proud Schechter parent. Schechter graduates are indeed leaders in the university Hillel world, as are many graduates of other fine yeshivas and day schools. It is destructive to make unsubstantiated statements about the derekh eretz of our students. As for the statement that we are a "public school" compared to the fine ethics of Orthodox schools, that is a ridiculous assertion. There are tremendous variations among schools, families and students and one can not generalize that broadly. Those North Shore families deriding Schechter for not being traditional or "Jewish" enough must be aware that in the more right wing and even centrist Orthodox world a coed school such as North Shore is virtually in the same category as Schechter. I have no idea what the financial or enrollment status of North Shore is currently. I am disturbed that they have adopted the practice of targeting students from our school's internal list. Perhaps there was a misunderstanding and leaders from the schools could discuss the issue in a civil way. Jewish schools should support the effort to educate all of our children. Yes, Dr. Vitow, we live in a "free market economy" but the Jewish education world does not have to choose to live exclusively by its rules. Emily Schneider
Howard: People turn away from Judaism for many reasons just as people are turned on for many reasons. I'm not sure what right you have to say the things that you did. As a side point, if someone is living their life by being turned on and off to Judaism so easily like a light switch then their reasons for being "into it" or "not into it" are faulty.
How naive does Schechter think the readership of the Jewish week is ? Most of the comments are clearly setups by Schechter. Nobody is that passionate about such nonsense. In regard to Ivan Kaufmans millions- at least he put his money where his mouth is.And as far as Vitows salary- from what I hear he is grossly underpaid. How many people do you know that can build a full institution in ten years where it takes the average place thirty. Don't be jealous- be thankful that we have such talent in the Jewish community. Its about time that someone other than Gruss stepped up to the plate and did something for Jewish education. Kaufman and Vitow are the dynamic duo. Nobody can take that away from them despite your personal feelings.
To Judy G: First, You obviously don't know what a chillul hashem is. A school inviting felllow jewish students to their open house is ahavat yisrael and hachnasat orchim. Letting the more traditional families at Schechter know that there is a school that might be more in line with their beliefs is a kind gesture considering there are a number of schechter families that have come to north shore over the past few years. Second, there are no students smoking pot in north shore's hallways. I invite you to come for a tour and check it out for yourself before you make ignorant comments in response to an article in the jewish week.
North Shore did nothing wrong, they are just trying to help those Schechter kids that want to be Jewish. I went to Schechter for elementary...or should I say public school. Thank G-d I was able to go to North Shore for high school and learn how to live derech hatorah umitzvot! I can only be thankful north shore recruited schechter kids or I wouldnt be religious!
Those that live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones..... Rather than worry what goes on at Schechter you should pay more attention to NSHA. Many if not most NS families DO NOT keep kosher, DO NOT observe Shabbos, DO NOT behave ethically in business, DO NOT maintain fidelity in their marriages, etc..... Convert them before you try to convert others!
Solomon Schechter High School has every right to be angry about NSHS raiding its mailing list. It is unethical and the fact that other yeshivot are doing the same thing only underscores the paucity of moral values in the Orthodox community. If parents want to explore other schools they know how to do it. They don't need targeted mailings. Every Jewish school is hurting for students these days and to go after another institution's population is despicable. The Loshon Horah written in some of the other letters attacking Schechter is shocking.
Let's see if we can figure out what is really going on here. It appears to me that NSHA has built a beautiful building (as seen in the article) and that they only have 400 students. We can assume that it was built to hold more than that and they are probably struggling now with their budgets. IF they were at capacity, would they really be recruiting Schechter kids that are known conservative families into an orthodox school? I doubt it. They have shown themselves to be about the mighty dollar while a school with a longer and stronger track record has survived and is thriving. Go Schechter! Stand your ground!
The article speaks for itself. If the only explanation that North Shore can come up with this as an accepted Halachic practice is that everybody is doing it...... Regardless, where do you self righteous fools get off criticizing another Jewish institution because they happen to promote a different type of education, and another form of Judaic learning. It is because of close minded, judgmental, hypocrites like you that people turn away from their Jewish roots. You are an embarassment to ALL JEWS!
Ivan Kaufman’s billions have shrunk to millions and Dr. Vitow is under enormous pressure to justify his $400,000 + compensation package. (This is public information on Guide star). He will stop at nothing to fill a few extra seats in his new building, including sacrificing core Jewish beliefs and ideals. This is a Chilul Hashem in the truest sense. As for his answer that about geese and ganders, I wonder if he accepts that response from students that he catches smoking pot in his hallways. I was thinking about NSHS but after reading this NO MORE!
The voices heard in the comments, expose us, the Jews of Long Island as a divided people. To suggest that the Schechter School offers anything short of the best Jewish education and that its graduates are not the leaders they are on college campuses across the country is shameful. How did this become an Orthodox vs. Conservative issue? My expectation of any Jewish school, is to make Jewish education possible to any child who seeks it, to bring more young people into the fold and to encourage participation in the world of Torah and Mitzvot. Shifting a family that has already made the commitment to Jewish education from one school to another does not achieve that goal.
Turn the mantle of Jewish education over to Dr, Vitow. It's a sure fire solution to saving a dying system. He is a breath of fresh air in every way. Keep up the good work, Dr. Vitow. The Jewish community owes you big time.
Agreed!! Dr. Vitow is the BEST principal in the world.
during the fall, when all the schools have open houses, our voice mail and snail mail box were filled with open house offers from all the high schools, those with k-12 and those with just 9-12 - how did these other schools have our information? some offered our kids days they could sit in on classes at the other school, some offered breakfast and lunch... its called competition and thank g-d we are a large and great jewish community and have so many wonderful yeshivot to choose from if all the other yeshivot can send mail about open houses north shore can too remember, jealousy and politics will get us nowhere and that is exactly what this is all about i
Schechter is not one to be judging other people's commitment to Jewish values. All one has to do is walk into that school. If I didn't know better I'd think it is a public school.
Why does the Jewish Week make this sound like a criminal investigation? "Turn over" the list to north shore? No one was forced to turn anything over. They voluntarily gave it to them. And "target the schechter students"? This wasn't dart practice, north shore was just letting them know that there are alternatives to schechter.
Kol Hakavod to Dr. Vitow for reaching out to potential new students. It is about time that the Yeshiva World has competition and that the education of our children become a priority. Those who are concerned that their students may be persuaded to go elsewhere need to do some self - reflection rather than put the blame on someone else. I am very happy that my children had the opportunity to receive a quality education under the administration of Dr. Vitow, who truly cares about each and every student.
Schechter needs some good business people to help run their school. They are obviously in financial distress if they feel the need to run to the Jewish week about this issue to get some publicity.
Schecter invoking Jewish tradition? If only they would discuss Jewish tradition and values in the classroom!!!! As a graduate of a Schecter school I only wish they would realize that most of their alumni are no longer affiliated with Judaism because of the lack of basic midot and derech eretz present in their schools. Take one step into an orthodox yeshiva and you will see the difference.
It's always the people who are loosing the game that don't like the rules. Shame on Schechter,
Kudos to North Shore for creating a competative market.
when my son was in 8th grade at a yeshiva that had an on premises high school also, we received not only postcards and letters from other yeshiva high schools, but we received phone calls , at least 2x a week from other yeshivas asking us to come to their open houses ... by the way, some of the postcards had my son's name on it and some of the phone calls asked to speak to him directly ( a minor of course) north shore did what all the other schools are doing too and no one has made a big deal of it - we think shechter is making more of this than it is because they have always had a problem with orthodox schools and wish to create unfortunately more problems between orthodox and conservative schools and people than we have currently..
Iran going Nuclear, Hezbollah to the north and their rockets, Hamas to the south, and an upsurge in anti semitism worldwide. Yet, the Jewish Week runs a front page story about two Jewish day schools fighting over a class list. What's the cover headline for next weeks Jewish Week? The Gladstone's are no longer talking to the Steinberg's because they were seated too close to the band at David's Bar Mitzvah.
Dr. Vitow is a gutsy administrator but the best in the business. He did nothing wrong. Parents came to him and he seized the opportunity to attract the best and the brightest from the people at Schechter that are seeking an Orthodox school. Plain and simple- if Schechter were as good as North Shore nobody would be switching. Nobody is going from North Shore to Schechter. It's all about customer satisfaction.
If Rabbi Bloch and Mr. Daniel Vitow represent the level of Jewish Education in NSHA, Schechter doesn't have to worry about anything!
"thou shall not covet thy neighbors wife, servant, ox, ...etc." tenth commandment, anyone? free market is all well and good, but a jewish school should hold itself to a higher standard. funny how selective some people will be when deciding which mitzvot to observe and which to ignore when it suits their purposes.
I'm all for the free-market, but "gneivat da'at" -the stealing of intellectual property (whether the list said "confidential or not") should not be tolerated. NSHA should hold itself to the Torah standard, not the business one.