Great Neck taxpayers should vote Yes for the school bond, school budget and library budgets on May 16, and elect Jeff Shi and Rebecca Sassouni to the Board of Education. It’s time to act forcefully for public education and the First Amendment.
Our community has already been hurt by the narrow defeat of the first bond issue. We can almost guarantee property values will fall if the second is defeated, along with the budgets. Why would anyone vote against good schools in one of the best school districts in the nation?
It’s also time to address two important issues: First, the lack of professionalism of the two local weeklies. By printing letters with alleged pseudonyms, spreading falsehoods about the schools and the religious affiliations of current members of the board and not accurately covering the news, they have exacerbated the atmosphere of innuendo, distortion and threats that has poisoned Great Neck for months.
Second, the real elephant in the room is the split between a large group of newcomers, principally Orthodox Jews of the triumphalist camp, and others who were the majority here for decades. This is not new: I recall attending a meeting of the Great Neck Park Commission in 1993 when the late Rabbi Mordecai Waxman of Temple Israel and now-retired Rabbi Jerome Davidson of Temple Beth-El led the unsuccessful opposition to the triumphalist camp’s demand for placement of a Hanukkah menorah in the Village Green. They argued, correctly, that the menorah is a religious, not cultural symbol. Unfortunately, the latter interpretation has been accepted by the Supreme Court. It’s still misguided.
After the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, the two rabbis were unable to organize a community commemoration of mourning because the other camp was celebrating.
In 2000, Samuel Freedman published Jew vs. Jew (New York: Simon & Schuster) which began with an anecdote about how an Orthodox woman who had not yet been elected trustee of the Village of Great Neck drove her less-observant neighbors out of town, “Several times she asked me, ‘Was Janet Marcus really Jewish?’” Freedman wrote.
The 17 subsequent years have only seen matters grow worse. The successors to Rabbis Waxman and Davidson lack their national stature and courage. The triumphalist group has proliferated; in one respect, it’s helped to increase property taxes due to its many new synagogues and schools, in properties that were once taxable.
So it’s time for the rest of us to say, “This stops now.” We must defend a school system that also provides education and advancement for adults as well as children, fund required maintenance and upgrades and ensure budgets are passed.
As well, we need to guarantee that people interested in serving as nonsalaried “trustees” of the community’s public education establishment have total commitments to it as well as to the First Amendment. Shi and Sassouni have it; their opponents do not.