Support The Need Of Our Town And Its Children

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One of the great strengths of our democracy is that people of various beliefs and opinions have a right and an obligation to actively participate in community affairs. We therefore enjoy the privilege of both running for office and challenging the views of those who do so. In this spirit, there are candidates running for school board, about whom there is legitimate concern over their support for the public school system and its budget. I do not know these candidates personally, but I am sure that they are outstanding people, who are exercising their legitimate right to run for the school board. As a citizen, however, I maintain a right to question their motives; and I believe the media has an obligation to do likewise.

When one candidate refuses to even share his views about the budget and bond, it is legitimate to question his support for the public schools. When a second candidate is supported by advocates for increased public funding to private schools; there is also legitimate concern for the future of our public school system. I express my concern both as a rabbi and as a citizen of the community; but want to dispel the perception that the upcoming election is a battle between various religions or ethnic groups.

First of all, as with most religions, Judaism is not monolithic. There are many elements of Jewish belief and practice in which the various Jewish ‘sects’ not only disagree vehemently, but often find themselves as representing distinct or conflicting forms of our religion. We do not think or vote therefore as a block.

That said, I am a rabbi who has served various communities for more than 30 years. Two of my children attended private school through high school; my other two children transitioned from private school to public school during their elementary school years. Despite my passionate commitment to Jewish private schools, I always supported the public school budgets and gladly paid taxes to support public school education. I have opposed vouchers for private schools because of my unequivocal support for the Constitution’s separation of church and state. Whatever my private beliefs and financial obligations to private school, I regard myself as a citizen of the community. Consequently, I have a global responsibility to the institutions of that community. No matter how I embrace private, day school education as a commandment from the Torah; it is still a personal decision and must never negate my obligations to the town in which I live.

I would agree that some of the fears and rumors expressed about the election over the past months are exaggerated and unfair. In the future, I suggest that our various religious and ethnic groups make a much stronger effort to dialogue with one another. I can say with great frustration, that attempts to bring all clergy together in a Clergy Association—over decades—has often led to frustration and failure. If we as clergy cannot reach out to one another, how can we expect the general community to do so?

However, the concerns about blurring the separation between church and state are real. The fears about Great Neck duplicating what occurred in Lawrence (undermining the public schools and turning our town into a religious enclave) is a fair concern despite some protestations to the contrary. The desire for school board representatives from the Asian-American segment of Great Neck is a genuine and welcomed concern. Yet, I offer my support for the public schools precisely because I am an observant Jew; who takes seriously the Torah’s numerous references to educating our children. I support the public schools because, as a student of Jewish history, I appreciate too well how religion-based governments persecuted Jews for espousing the wrong religion. I support the public schools because, as a serious Jew, I cherish our church-state separation as a means of protecting the civil and religious rights of all citizens within the community. I support the public school because I live not only as a Jew, but as a proud citizen of this country.

This upcoming election may truly determine the future course of Great Neck. As a rabbi and community leader, I totally reject the perception of this election being a struggle between religions or ethnicities. Rather, I regard this election as an ideological matter between people who focus primarily on their individual interests as opposed to those among us who take the more global view of supporting the greater need of our town and its children. I strongly opt for the latter.

—Rabbi Michael Klayman
Lake Success Jewish Center

6 COMMENTS

  1. I finished reading this letter almost with tears. Rabbi Michael Klayman has a big heart! We need people like you to constantly remind us why we, all the people,. chose to come and live in this country. Thank you again!

  2. Dear Rabbi Klayman:

    (1) Unfortunately, you letter has been published too late. I withdrew from the race for Trustee yesterday, in the hope that some of vitriol and mischaracterization in our community would die down.

    (2) It helps to check your facts when you write letters to the editor. In contrast to what you write when you question my support for public schools, I came out unequivocally for passing the District’s budget in my the first meet the candidate night in the Library and have consistently held to it. I hope you made an honest mistake, and did not intentionally misconstrue (or fail to investigate) my position when I was a candidate.

    (3) When you imply that another candidate, Nikolas Kron, is somehow suspect because he is “supported by advocates for increased public funding to private schools,” are you aware that students who attend private and parochial schools in New York State are by law entitled to the same services as public school students?

    I invite you to to visit the school my kids attend (Silverstein Hebrew Academy) for example, as see if the services provided are really equal or even remotely second-rate in their availability, resources, and effectiveness. The people you describe as “advocates for increased public funding to private schools,” as if it were something nefarious, are only interested in receiving what they are entitled to by law and as tax payers, nothing more and nothing less.” Surely you are for following the law, right?

  3. while I respect the choice of private schools, I am a stronger supporter of the public school system and think it should work for all people. I may as well send my kids to private universities instead of CUNY/SUNY. If my kids do get the opportunity to go to a private university, I will not burden the American people with the tuition since it is up to me to choose public vs. private. The fair share of taxes for private schools should be determined by the relevant authorities and law. It should not be a reason to vote down the bond. We need the bond to provide safe environment for our children, probably not Ilya’ children. That’s the hidden agenda of Ilya and we now know that he supports Nick.

    • Victor (without a last name)

      Here you go ascribing nefarious motive to me. You absolutely have no clue what you are talking about. Why don’t you go ahead and show everyone one shred of proof about my “Hidden agenda?” You have none, because its all your intentional conjecture. I’m now out of the race, calling for unity, and you still malign me? And you hide behind anonymity, not even putting your last name.

      I’m only here to correct Rabbi Clayton. I’m not arguing for or against the bond. I encourage everyone to vote the way they want. I have good friends on both sides of this contentious issue. But I am arguing for the application of law equally in our district with respect to services for students. And you have no idea who I support, and now that I’m not running, it doesn’t even matter.

      But go ahead, Victor, keep dividing the community. We’ll see how that plays out when another Hurricane Sandy hits.

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