Sunday, January 25, 2009

Engelwood School District Proposed Hebrew Immersion Program
With Religious Accommodation

I found this public announcement on a Facebook group "Yeshiva Tuition is too expensive." I am posting the announcement up as a public service, although my commentors are perfectly welcome to discuss whether or not this is at all an appropriate alternative to a day school education. And I'm sure they will take the liberty to do so. Given the number of families suffering from layoffs and/or reduced income from business ventures, I can only imagine this program will interest some parents, even if these families don't view the program as a permanent solution.

The meeting is coming up very soon and I hope that I can impose on a reader of this blog to attend and guest post on the meeting. Please, please, please, someone step forward.

The Englewood Public School District (EPSD) is proposing to add full day Hebrew Immersion to their award-winning World Languages Program - starting September 2009.

Join with our group of motivated local parents and Rabbi Genack to meet with Dr. Richard Segall, Superintendent of Englewood Schools, tour the newly built facility, hear the proposal, and show support.

Date: Wednesday, February 4th
Time: 7:30 pm
Place: John D. Greico School - 50 Durie Ave. Englewood·

Magnet school open to Bergen County Residents who register for public school
· Grades 1-6 with potential to expand
· World Languages "track" housed separately in new state of the art Greico school
· Nutritious, affordable Kosher meals – reduced meal plans in case of need
· Curriculum to include aspects of Israeli geography, culture, history, holidays, etc.
· Sensitivity and accommodation to Judaic needs
· Full access to “Resources”, special needs, interventions, enrichment, tutoring, etc.
· Free Busing in most cases
· Full access to extra-curricular programs at the Englewood Recreation Center including: violin, ballet, karate, Shabbat friendly league sports (baseball, basketball, soccer) swimming pools, summer camp, trips to amusement parks - and much more - all well supervised and very affordable

Daily, on-site supplemental Jewish identity, prayer and “Limudei Kodesh” optional after school programs provided in cooperation with local Jewish organizations.

For more information on the World Languages Program and the new Greico school:

If you are planning to attend and/or have questions or ideas, please email us in advance to help us prepare: or


Leah Goodman said...

don't know if it's "as good as" a yeshiva education, but it certainly is a much better option than a regular public school.

If there's any interest, I'll write a guest post about my experiences as a religious Jew in the public school system.

There were good and bad points to it.

Orthonomics said...

"As good" isn't the same as an option or alternative. Personally, we love the school we have chosen, but don't see how we will keep paying year after year, especially if we have one more kid. . . . and I'd really love to have another.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Love it, love it, love it. I hope this is only the beginning.

rosie said...

How do they get past the separation of church and state? The Union Free Public School in Monroe NY fought every year to stay open because the entire student body spoke or understood, Yiddish. They were not allowed to teach religious doctrine but were allowed to have student led prayer (they were all special needs) and to make arts and crafts related to Jewish themes as a cultural activity. They obviously closed on Jewish holidays. They at least provided the children instruction in the language that they spoke at home and a cultural identity. At regular public schools the children were taunted because they wore peyos.
How does this magnet school manage to teach Jewish doctrine and what happens if a reform or conservative Jew wants his doctrine taught? If the classes are Orthodox, then whose Orthodox is it? At present each Orthodox group has it's own education system so it is hard to imagine a public school being kosher enough. And then of course is the dress code. If some of the children are non-Jews or are non-Orthodox, can the school enforce Orthodox dress? And then whose Orthodox dress? Knitted kippa or velvet, long or short sleeves on girls, etc.

Leah Goodman said...

There are a couple of different factors at play. Personally, as a kid, my parents would have sent me to any Jewish school available so that I wouldn't have to write letters to Santa, be made fun of when I brought hard-boiled eggs to school on Pesach, miss school on holidays, and need a special note to excuse me from eating "green eggs and ham" when we read the book...

A school like this would deal with those issues. It might not give all the advantages of a yeshiva education, but then again, it would likely be academically superior in secular subjects.

If money were no object, would I trade the option of a school like Frisch (where I went to high school) for this school? probably not. Would I consider this as a reasonable option rather than having my spouse and myself working around the clock to make tuition payments? likely yes.

Anonymous said...

it is very interesting that Rabbi Genack is involved. He is a very respected rov and for him to participating in this is anyway is very out of the box. This could be the story of the year.

Orthonomics said...

I also noted Rabbi Genack's name and am desperate for a reporter to report back with a guest post. Anyone want to step up to the plate? How I wish a road trip could be on my itinerary.

Rosie-I went to public school and there was a Christian group on campus that became one of the most popular clubs on campus. I imagine a Hebrew language immersion would be challenged in court. But, if the program does not exclude non-Jews or try to draw its district to only include a small subset, there is a much higher chance it can survive. The Ben Gamla charter school is Flordia was challenged, but is thriving.

It appears the Englewood school district already has an established language program and is not establishing a "Jewish school" but rather establishing another language program.

It also appears that the religious activities are in the form of a club. Religious groups can and do form clubs on campus. But a school can't exclude Catholics and only accept Episcopilians, or exclude Assemblies of G-d but accept Baptists. I imagine that if there are Orthodox parents behind this plan, then they already have spoked with NCSY. But BBYO or USY could also put in an after school program, and if denied there would be legal issues. I imagine there are strong Christian families that would like their children to lear Hebrew and might also want to take advantage and form a club. Any parent considering this program would have to tolerate such.

Obviously, some parents won't want the mixing at all. But other parents might be willing to take the risk, especially if they have experienced job loss or their business has tanked.

I imagine some parents might like a dress code and there are plenty of public schools with a dress code. Any parent who is caught up in the particulars (knitted vs. velvet kippah) is obviously going to have more issues than the dress code with this type of arrangement.

I don't believe religious instruction would be provided in school hours, just Hebrew instruction, although that might include reading original sources.


Anonymous said...

Obviously I'm generalizing tremendously, but Englewood is one of the more "modern", and wealthy, communities. I can see this attracting families that were well heeled but have lost employment. Also, I can see this attracting Conservative and Conservadox parents who would have sent their kids to regular public school but see this as a Jewish option.

Anonymous said...

The people behind this initiative have included their emails in the announcement. Why not contact them directly? Perhaps you can invite them to guest post.

Anonymous said...

how many charedi or yeshivish families would want then to spend time learing hebrew indepth or really care about israeli 'culture' or israeli geography. most would probably consider this bitul torah
as it is, how much hebrew or ivrit be'ivrit do they do at ynj. even in yavneh (which is supposedly ivrit b'ivrit , much of the limudei kodesh if not all is in english. since most of the rabbis are yeshivish, their hebrew is minimal and the grammar leaves something to be desired.
i am sure that most if not all charedi or yeshish schools dont do hebrew literature and certainly wont do bialik.
this would appeal to the MO's in englewood
since teaneck HS is probalby 75% minority if not more, even if it were offered in teaneck, i doubt if many of my neighbors would send their kids their unless they were in real financial straits

Ahavah said...

Chereidi people won't even glance at this program. Also, a muslim charter school in chicago which was teaching religion was recently cited and charged for violating separation of church and state regulations for charter schools. A charter school is NOT a religious school - they cannot be, by law. They can teach ABOUT a language or religion, but they cannot enforce dress codes of that religion (this is one of the things that the muslim school got in trouble for) nor have prayers or compulsory religions participation. For most frum Jews, this would not be acceptable.

Orthonomics said...

A-I'm off today. I will contact them. Nevertheless, I'd still like a guest poster if possible.

Anonymous said...

my impression of the posters here, is that few are MO in the englewood sense and would be exteremely unlikely to send their kids to such a school
regardless of cost.

David said...

I hope that this and Ben Gamla go from strength to strength. It's time we stopped making the perfect the enemy of the good; we can't afford what we're doing now as a community, and this can be something which can help our overall community.

Anonymous said...

Aman David. Well said.

Anonymous said...

I'm MO and am considering moving to Bergen County. I would send my kids here in a heartbeat if it were an option. I've asked this before on this site and I'll ask it again, what is the point of yeshiva education? The answer to that question is critical in deciding why it's worth spending tens of thousands of dollars on tuition, limiting family size, etc.

For me, I think whether my child remains Jewish and frum has more to do with my family than the school my child attends. I also don't think learning gemara 4 hours a day makes one more Jewish. I also don't differentiate between my children associating with frum Jews or Jews from conservative, reform, or mixed marriages. To me, a Jew is a Jew - nor do I think it's bad to associate with non-Jews either for that matter. I care much more about my kids learning Hebrew properly so they can actually open a sefer and learn without needing the assistance of Rabbi Artscroll and no yeshiva I know of truly provides that.

When posed with tens of thousands in yeshiva tuition and a program like this, I don't see how yeshiva is even remotely worth it. The peace of mind alone is worth it.

Lion of Zion said...

"discuss whether or not this is at all an appropriate alternative to a day school education."

alternative, perhaps.
substitute, no.

on an unrelated matter, the potential earnings of a yeshivah teacher are discussed here:

Anonymous said...

SephardiLady, I couldn't find anything about this at the EPSD link, nor via a google search of recent news. Did you get the information from a particular link?

Anonymous 6:07pm - My impression of the posters here, is that few are MO in the Englewood sense and would be extremely unlikely to send their kids to such a school
regardless of cost.

My wife and I would strongly consider such an option. We are MO and I think many of us who post here are MO.

JS - I also don't think learning gemara 4 hours a day makes one more Jewish.

Not to mention that many students do their utmost to not learn Gemara during all of the 4 hours. Then, not only do they learn [a little], but they also learn to become batlanim. 4 hours of Gemara are not for everyone, maybe we should stop forcing everyone to attend?

JS - I care much more about my kids learning Hebrew properly so they can actually open a sefer and learn without needing the assistance of Rabbi Artscroll and no yeshiva I know of truly provides that.

Yeshiva of Flatbush comes close. My sisters and brother went to Flatbush and I went to MTA. I spent 4 hours a day (plus an hour at night seder) learning Gemara. They learned how to read 200+ page Hebrew books. There were a few other differences, but that really sums it up.


Orthonomics said...

Mark-I saw this on the Facebook group "Yeshiva Tuition is too expensive." I don't know if you are on Facebook. If so, search groups for Yeshiva tuition and you can see the post yourself. If not, this is the entire text.

Lion of Zion said...


"as it is, how much hebrew or ivrit be'ivrit do they do at ynj. even in yavneh (which is supposedly ivrit b'ivrit , much of the limudei kodesh if not all is in english. since most of the rabbis are yeshivish, their hebrew is minimal and the grammar leaves something to be desired."

thank you. fealty to ivrit be-ivrit is the other great scam of the MO schools.

anyway, as long as you are on the topic of ivrit be-ivrit in teaneck schools, from what i understand ben porat yosef is strong in this area?


don't worry, even in flatbush (at least when i was there) students' hebrew skills were very mixed. (although this was despite the school's and teachers' best intentions and i'm really not sure what wrong.)

Anonymous said...

Wow. I like the initiative, though it no longer applies to me.
Of my 3 sons who are of or past Gemara-learning in school, only one of them would suffer in the environment described, as he actually takes his religious studies very seriously. The other two probably would not miss 4 hours of Gemara/day, if at all. So, my point is: there is a place for such a school. I do wonder where they would fill in their Halacha and Torah etc. but I think that could be arranged in shul or something. Like Talmud Torah, but for Orthodox kids.

Orthonomics said...

Tamiri, I need to take the time to contact the organizers. But it seems to me that the halacha aspect would be incorporated into one of the on-site after school "clubs."

I don't think a club can really replace a graded class. But then again, my experience with Yeshiva grading leaves much to be desired.

Orthonomics said...

Oh, and I would be personally interested because we are experiencing a serious budget crunch this year ourselves. Hopefully extra parnasah will continue to come from all different directions as it seems to be doing this week, and will amount to what we need. But, like many others, the down economy has been hurting some of our ventures and there simply is less cash.

Lion of Zion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lion of Zion said...

i thing we are getting hung up here on the gemera thing. 4 hours a day is *not* the norm in MO schools, certainly not in the lower grades, which is what this particular charter school caters to.

also, while i myself am have never been and am not a gemara steiger, and i personally favor a well-round jewish curriculum that is not centered on gemara, i am a very wary about throwing gemara out completely. (perhaps the question is not whether gemara belongs in a school but whether it is not being taught in the best way for many kids?)


"I think that could be arranged in shul or something. Like Talmud Torah, but for Orthodox kids."

i think we are going to go down a well-trodden debate here, so i'll just repeat my contentions once.

until relatively recently, public schooling plus some form of supplementary jewish education was the norm for american jews. including orthodox jews. and it didn't work. this situation existed for more than a century. so for all the faults (and expenses) of the day school system, i'm wary of calls to return to the way things used to be.

now the community today is different. the country is different. etc. perhaps today a modernized and improved talmud torah could work. but i've yet to read any realistic proposal that would make me comfortable that talmud torah could be a substitute for the day school (or at least what it purports to accomplish).

Anonymous said...


Yes, the proposed program is currently from Kindergarten till middle school, I believe. While in MO schools gemara is not learned for 4+ hours, it is the focus of the Judaic studies after about 6th or 7th grade. I remember having double periods of gemara with torah, nach, and ivrit thrown in.

I mentioned 4 hours of gemara as an indication of two things: 1) I think yeshivas are trying to produce rabbis and/or a level of torah knowledge that has never existed in our communities and has never been deemed necessary (I also find it ironic that despite the increased learning, the number of sheilas one asks seems to have increased); and 2) A person can be just as Jewish and as frum without studying Judaic subjects for hours and hours every day.

Personally speaking, it wasn't the number of rashis or dafs of gemara I learned in school that mattered, it was the environment at home and to a lesser extent at school. This program seems to provide a more Jewish environment than would be available in a regular public school with the opportunity for religious study. For me, this is a magic formula.

For the sake of argument, let's say the program costs $5000 a child for after school religious study and the program eventually expands to include high school. Is being in an environment with ONLY frum kids as opposed to conservative, reform, mixed marriage, non-Jewish kids worth an extra $10K for younger grades and $20K for high school? Is the extra shteiging worth paying thousands of dollars in a building fund, dinner journal, and misc fees? Isn't the peace of mind and shalom bayit worth it? Wouldn't it be wonderful to allow a woman to be a stay at home mom if she so chooses instead of being forced to work just to pay the bills? Wouldn't it be worthwhile to be able to cut ones hours and actually spend time with your kids instead of slaving away to make money to educate them?

Anonymous said...

JS why in world would you want to move to Bergen County? Even in NJ there are much cheaper and more friendly Jewish communities...

Anonymous said...


I'd be interested in hearing your suggestions. Bergen County is just one option we're thinking about. We're considering it because both my wife and I work in Manhattan, it's midway (roughly) between our families (mine from elsewhere in NJ, hers from LI), there are lots of different communities to choose from, and many kosher/Jewish amenities.

We're just starting the house searching process, so any advice is welcome.

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness! I live in Bergen County. I would love to send my children to this school. I don't think my husband will go for it, though.

If this school succeeds, it is going to hurt Solomon Schechter of Bergen County the most. Maybe it will affect Ben Porat Yosef as well.

Anonymous said...

JS, I live in Raritan Valley which, between Highland Park, Edison, and East Brunswick, contains almost the complete spectrum of Orthodox communities. It's much cheaper than Bergen County (and even cheaper than West Orange) and there is a train to Manhattan from Edison (and some buses from other places). I don't commute to Manhattan and I'm sure it's a worse commute than from Bergen County. And of course we can't match in number of restaurants. But, given the cheaper housing and the fact that you're in a smaller (not quite out-of-town but not bad for NJ) community, I think it would be worth looking into... My shul is always looking to get new families and I'd be happy to help you out if you're interested...

Anonymous said...

as a former flatbush grad (thirty years ago) and a parent of both ramaz and frisch and yavneh, the present day school situation leaves something to be desired
flatbush is not the same as it was. i have nieces and nephews who went to YOF in the last 10 years and the problem is that the hebrew teachers like haramatis are few and far between. there are no rav rafuls or ganzvis, kronmans, yerushalmis etc, who were fluent in hebrew and taught gemara, navi, chumash in hebrew. in ramaz, frisch etc the limudei kodeish teachers are yeshivish and thier hebrew for themost part it weak. frisch currently has several very good hebrew teachers who are israeli, but their limudei kodesh teachers struggle.
ben porat and noam may have more hebrew but they are still early in their stages and i hope they will succeed, because that hashkafa is what is needed.
until we get more israelis coming into our ssystems for limudei kodesh, you kids will have trouble learining wihthout art scroll and will have trouble reading ahad haam bialik czernikowsky etc, (assuming that the non MO parents would even let their kids touch that stuff.
the englewood program sounds like a good idea, but time will tell.

Lion of Zion said...


"While in MO schools gemara is not learned for 4+ hours, it is the focus of the Judaic studies after about 6th or 7th grade. I remember having double periods of gemara with torah, nach, and ivrit thrown in."

i don't know about other schools (actually about schools today), but when i went to flatbush gemara was certainly not a focus. 2-3 classes per grade had double periods, which is nothing compared to the overall school day. the other classes had 1 period a day.

regarding the purpose of a jewish education, i agree that there is room to discuss this (and it has been discussed here before). but i don't think there is anything wrong with having a goal of raising a generation of jews who are more learned than their parents.

Anonymous said...

"i don't think there is anything wrong with having a goal of raising a generation of jews who are more learned than their parents"

I don't disagree in principle, but I think what often happens (and has happened in my opinion) is that all that extra learning doesn't make people more able to make halachic or hashkafic decisions on their own, it makes them LESS able. Despite the increased learning, we have a greater dependence on rabbinic teshuvas - even for simple matters like, "I dropped a felishig knife into the milchig part of my sink." It also seems to have lead to a shifting to the right such that MO is shrinking and those who identify as MO today, for the most part, are far to the right of a self-identifying MO person, say, 10 years ago. I also blame the increasing chumras on people being supposedly more learned nowadays (concert bans, tznius police, etc).

At the same time, I want to make it clear that I think learning is a wonderful thing. I think though that we need to examine why the learning isn't necessarily having the intended affect on our communities.

Anonymous said...

Lion of Zion,

I think you give up on the public school mix too easily. While I am conservative, I am a (conservative) day school graduate with kids in both day school and public school. One of my day school kids is interested in Judaics (though in their school, they have one period, at most on Gemara). The other child has little interest. My public school child, who attends talmud torah, who reads incessantly, probably knows more than either of the other two children.

Also, since public school (particularly high schoool) ends much earlier than day school, if the school included Hebrew as the language, it would be very easy to have a "club" that met four days a week M-Th after school for a couple of hours of Judaics, Gemara or whatever was desired.

I would sign up for a school like this in a heartbeat in the place of my very expensive conservative day school (much more money than any of the prices I've read in this blog).

Anonymous said...

Over my dead body will I enroll my child in a ghetto school in a ghetto neighborhood. This is nothing more than a combination of a garbage school system looking to bolster its test scores, combined with the Orthodox community in Englewood trying to wrap its tentacles further around its host neighborhood. I'll work 10 jobs before I pull my kid out of our conservative day school. There is such a thing as separation of church and state in the US, and that also means there is a separation of shul and state. And don't think for a minute that the local "concerned members of the local community" will just sit by idly while white Jewish children from outside the 'hood will come to one of "their" schools and get free Hebrew school.

Anonymous said...

My wife attended the meeting in Englewood last night. Some quick tidbits:
They're modeling this after a very successful Spanish language immersion magnet school. There are no Church/State separation issues; the school will teach secular studies (one week in English, the next week in Hebrew, and so on. That sounds crazy to me, but that's what's working with Spanish...) and there would be absolutely no Jewish content to the curriculum, whatsoever. Parents could arrange for there to be pre-school prayer clubs and post-school religious clubs for those who want religious instruction. Those clubs could be on-site, but parents would have to pay for them. No details on the types of clubs or costs were provided because this was a meeting to see if there was general interest in the school in the first place.

On that front, my wife reports that the turnout was extremely strong - "three, four hundred people" and the room was packed. The audience mix included men wearing kippot, women covering their hair, women not covering their hair, men not wearing kippot, people who were obviously not Jewish at all. And Israelis.

One other thing became immediately clear: this school will only have funding for the children of Englewood residents. There may be grant money available to allow other Bergen County residents to attend as there is something similar for a magnet high school (and some towns, like Teaneck, already supply free busing to schools outside the town), but they couldn't guarantee that funding would be available for non-Englewood residents. Of course, we could always open similar schools in other towns. Englewood is going first for several reasons: the organizers of this initiative live there, Englewood already has a successful language-immersion magnet school up and running, and they have a brand new school building with extra space in it.

My wife left personally disappointed - this isn't even an option we can consider in the short term. We live in Teaneck, and relying on grant money to magically appear isn't something we can count on. There is no guarantee that this will get off the ground, that the after-school programs will get off the ground, that the after-school programs will be hashkafically acceptable to us. (I don't know that we would actually send our kids there anyway, but with four kids in/entering day school we'd like the option.) I think this is a step in the right direction, and if Englewood can make it work, maybe Teaneck will be next. The need/demand is certainly there.

Anonymous said...

I attended the meeting and found it to be very positive. It is not going to be a free yeshiva so people who are thinking along these lines would have been disapointed. But what it will provide is a free hebrew/english education with optional paryer and limudei kodesh before and after hours. Yeshivas are no longer viable option and this is the best alternative you are going to find. I believe that this is the way forwad

Unknown said...
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bashia said...

I realize you might personally feel this is a good idea, but I think it is very dangerous. Just wait until fundamentalist and evangelical Christians grab hold of this idea and we begin to find that the only decent schools throughout vast areas of the U.S. are Christian and we have no alternative other than to homeschool.

Orthonomics said...

bashia-I don't worry much about fundamentalist and evangelicals. They are the ones who gravitate towards homeschooling and their churches provide tremendous support. Our educators constantly knock homeschooling, although it would be helpful for many families and would be helpful for far more if there were homeschooling support.

Personally a reversal of some of the most liberal social programs in schools would make public schooling far more palitable in many large school districts.