I have lived in Great Neck for 42 years and am terribly saddened by the acrimonious and divisive campaign for the two open school board seats. Regardless of the outcome, how we all respond after the election will determine the future of this community.
It is clear that over the years, with the rapidly changing demographics of our community, that support in general for public institutions in Great Neck has weakened. This was manifested by the defeat of the first library bond issue followed by the recent defeat of the school bond issue. For longtime residents of Great Neck, these defeats were earth-shattering. The reputation of the community was based on the fact that residents demanded, supported and took pride in the very best public schools, library and parks, and trusted the proposals put forth by their elected leaders. Aside from the convenient commute, those public institutions, especially the public schools, are what drew people to Great Neck.
I certainly understand the concerns of supporters of our public schools who fear an encroachment by elements of the community—and the candidate or candidates they support—who are perceived as less supportive of public education. I stand strongly with the supporters of the schools—and therefore the candidates who share that view—as well as the budget and bond issue. However, even though I do not agree, people are entitled to other opinions and attitudes and should not be denounced for them. Personal attacks and generalized condemnations are unwarranted and unacceptable.
Change is not easy. Growing diversity is a blessing that strengthens our community, but also creates challenges. What was once a fairly united and homogeneous overall community has devolved into separate, balkanized communities, each with its own agenda and wants. The challenge for Great Neck is how to unite all the groups, old and new, to recreate the wonderful sense of vibrancy and community that we seem to have lost. In most locations, the greatest unifying institution is the public schools system. That is why this current confrontation has so many ramifications. For instance, will the election energize the Asian community and encourage Asian residents to take a greater role in civic affairs and community development? Will the Orthodox Jewish population expand its concerns beyond narrow parochial ones? How can the Iranian residents become even more involved in community affairs and institutions? And, will the shrinking non-Orthodox Jewish and Christian communities continue to want to live here after the bruising school board battle and what it may portend?
As important as the outcome of the election is to the future of our schools, how we deal with the nasty tone of the campaigns, the dangerous division of the community, and a growing sense that we are losing the “Great” in Great Neck, will determine what kind of future we have. Healing the wounds, reaching out to each other and overcoming boundaries of religion, degree of observance, ethnicity, national origin, and even political allegiances, are challenges for each one of us individually and collectively as a community.
I urge our community leaders, governmental, religious, ethnic, civic and others, to come together after May 16 to start the healing process and to create a program to bring our community together. There is enough intolerance and hate all around us; that has never been the environment in Great Neck. It’s up to us to put an end to it now.