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March 30, 2012

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PAGE  HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MARCH 30, 2012 Hebrew charter school as growth industry By Julie Wiener movement will lure away Ben Gamla Kendall oc- of approved materials., place where the school oc- Jewry and "changing lives," New York Jewish Week tuition-paying students, cupies a building that long In2009,shortlybeforeBen curs after school involving  even as he carefully notes, other Jewish institutions, housed a Jewish day school, Gamla Plantation openedin primarilythestudentsofthe "I'mnotBen Gamla.Mymo- BOYNTON BEACH--As particularly Jewish commu- Greenfield Day School, abuildingformerlyoccupied school ... and some kindsof tivationsarePeterDeutsch's, you turn off the main road nitycenters, are eagerly capi- which closed in June. The bytheDavidPosnackHebrew clubs are treated differently nottheschool's.Icanbesup- and a large Torah scroll- talizing on the opportunities overwhelming majority of Day School on the campus from other kinds of clubs, portive for reasons different shaped sign on your right the charter schools offer. Greenfield's students trans- oftheSorefJCC, Americans that definitely seems like it than the school's reasons. welcomesyoutothe"Temple These include a chance to ferred to the new charter United sent a"cautionary let- might be a way of getting "Ifyou look atthe funnel Torah Campus of Jewish fill--and earn rental income school, and seven of its ter" to Ben Gamla officials, around the law. of the Jewish community in Learning," you could be from--underusedfacilities, 10 teachers now work at Luchenitser said. That let- "The legal question is, America, it's looking into forgiven for assuming the along with the. opportunity Ben Gamla. The Greenfield" ter identified"several areas does theschoolbearrespon- the narrow end," he said, K-6 school you are about to to reach unaffiliated young Parent-Teacher Organiza- of constitutional concern" sibility for the situation or referring to the population visit is a Jewish day school. Jewish families, tion president is now the raised by the opening of a does the landlord in effect decline from assimilation. That assumption might Howard Teplitz, execu- president of the Ben Gamla school on a campus "where become a state actor if the "This is how to change that." continue even as you walk tive director of Temple PTO. religious activities corn- primary activities that occur inside the 190-student Ben Torah, which leases its Other than a skirmish in monly occur and religious in the space after school are After-school programs GamlaBoynton, whichison second floor to Ben Gamla the first year over the He- rules are in effect," and urged after-school activities relat- Currently, 32 percent of thesecondfloorofaConser- Boynton and runs an after- brew textbooks in use at Ben Ben Gamla "to heed all up- ing to the school itself?" Ben Gamla students pay vative synagogue, inawing school program that enrolls Gamla Hollywood which plicablelegalrequirements." According to Luchenitser: to attend one of the Jew- originally intended to house 50 Ben Gamla students, was the first Hebrew charter Americans United "pe- when a school is based in a ish after-school programsl aSolomonSchechterschool, says the charter "school, school in the country--the riodically" receives com- place "associated with one which run Monday through Or when you meet Principal which opened in August, schools have encountered plaintsabouttheBenGamla religion, and all the after- Fridayforanhourandahaif. EianitWeitzman and seethe has drawn new members to no legal challenges and only schools, especially when school programs relate to (The program at theoynton Hebrew translationofMau- the synagogue, helped boost minimal public criticism a new one opens, but "we thatre!igion, itcancausethe JCC runs longer.) rice Sendak's "Where the the congregation's preschool recently, haven't uncovered any evi- school itselfto be associated Free from the constraints Wild Things Are" displayed enrollment and "enabled Lastmonth, afterDeutsch dence of them directly with that religion, with which most Hebrew above her desk. this synagogue to look in spoke about the Ben Gamla injecting religion into their "Other members of the schools struggle--the need But Ben Gamla Boynton, new directions. It's a perfect schools to the Palm Beach program." community could perceive to teach Hebrew, Israel and which opened last Augus L marriage." Board of Rabbis, one local "Certainly this enter- there'sfavoritism,"headded. Jewish history in just one is not a Jewish day school. Reform rabbi published an prise raises church-state ortw0sessionsaweek--the It is one of seven Hebrew On the church-state bor- op-ed ;n the Florida Jewish issues, and it raises consti- The Deutsch influence optional after-school pro- charter schools in the United de Journal arguing that the tutionalissues, butwe don't In the same way that the grams for Ben Gamla kids States, one of four in the As taxpayer-funded in- schools are a"threat toJu- have evidence that they've nuancesofBenGamla'slease can focus on prayer, Bible fast-growingBenGamlanet- stitfltions, the Ben Gamla daism and the Constitution" crossed a constitutional agreements enable Jewish and other topics that tend work founded fiveyears ago schoolswtiichcollectively andthat"themajorityofrab- line," Luchenitser said. after-school programs to to get short shrift in most in South Florida by former enroll nearly 1,400 children bis present expressed great Of potential concern to legally associate so closely part-time Jewish education Rep. PeterDeutsch (D-Fla.). this year--do not teach concern over the conceptof church-statewatchdogs are with the schools, founder programs. A fifth Ben Gamla is religion. Classrooms have a Hebrew charter school." the various. Jewish after- Peter Deutsch's ambiguous Serving Hollywood and slated to open inAugust, in been carefully stripped of However, the column, by school programs that have role at the schools further Plantation, the Jewish Up- Florida's Pinellas County, mezuzahs and other reli- Rabbi Bruce Warshal, the sprung up to serve Ben enables the connections bringing Matters Program and organizers from more gious symbols, enrollment  Journal's publisher emeri- Gamlastudents--programs between the school and the (JUMP)istheoldestprogram than two states are in active is open to children of all tus, has generated little at Hollywood and Kendall after-school programs, for Ben Gamla kids and, so discussion with Deutsch backgrounds and recruit- response; when contacted take placeinthe exact same Neither on the board nor far, the largest, with 270 and the Ben Gamla Charter mentforJewishafter-school by The Jewish Week, Rabbi facilities where school is on the staff, he serves, of- children. JUMP's director, School Foundation about programs is not allowed in- Alan Sherman, the executive held. While Ben GamlaHol- ficially, only as "pro bono Rabbi Jay Lyons, saysitaims replicating the model. Ben side the school. Indeed, when vicepresidentoftheBoardof lywood also has a secular attorney," and he frequently tobefunandinformal, using Gamla schools have no ties it comes to church-state Rabbis, saidWarshal's"opin- and nondenominational notes that in speaking about games and hands-onactivi- to the two New York-area separation, these schools ion was not unanimous," after-school program on- Ben Gamla he is offering ties whenever possible. schoolsundertheauspicesof adhere strictly to the letter at the meeting. Asked his site, the Kendall school has only his personal opinions. "Our approach is trying to the Hebrew Charter School of the law. However, they own view, Sherman said, only Shoresh, a program However, he attends most get everyone excited about Center, a group that has a arguably push as close to the "The whole issue hinges on run by Miami's Center for board meetings (which are Jewish learning, trying to different philosophy and border ofwhat's allowable as whether or not this is con- the Advancement of Jewish open to the public), is in- accomplish a revolution in curriculum and is support- possible, and some of their stitutional," adding "until Education (CAJE). timately familiar with the Jewishculturebypromoting ing projects under way in practices might raise a few it is tested in court one way Americans United's 2009 details of all the schools Jewish learning and Jewish Manhattan, San Diego, Los eyebrows, or another I'm not going to letter to Ben Gamla e rn- and after-school programs unity--aknockoutpunchto Angeles, Washington, D.C. Consider the following: oppose it." phasized that the school and is actively involved in apathy," he says. and elsewhere. While the schools are Interviewed by The Jew- "is not permitted to give securing locations for future On a recent afternoon Charter schools of all forbidden by law from asking ish Week, Warshal reiter- preferentialafterschoolac- schools. Two board members after school, the modular kinds are growing in influ- students their religious iden- ated his objections to the cess to religious groups over are former employees from prefab annex to Ben Gamla ence, even as their perfor- tity, several parents, when Ben Gamla schools, but he non-religious groups, or to Deutsch's congressional of- Hollywood's main building mance, when compared to prodded by a reporter, specu- acknowledged not knowing Jewish groups over groups fice. During a recent visit by was bustling with JUMP that of public schools, is late that at least 80 percent all the facts about them, ex- associatedwithotherfaiths." The Jewish Week, Deutsch activities. both uneven and hotly de- of Ben Gamla students are pressing surprise when told However, because Ben introduced this reporter In oneclassroom, the chil- bated. With Hebrew charter Jewish. It is an assessment that the schoois do not have Gamla, like many other to school administrators, dren were auditioning for a schools offering the chance Deutsch makes as well. mezuzahs and that student charter schools, rents space, parents and after-school play about the exodus from to educate large numbers of Threeofthe fourschools admission is open to all and and does not occupy gov- program directors. Egypt, while in another one AmericanJewishchildrenin have Jew!sh principals; in the. is based on a lottery, ernment-owned buildings, ABronxnativewhomoved first graders were running Hebrew and in the secular fourth, a gentile principal Alex Luchenitser, associ- there is a loophole of sorts: to Florida in 1982, shortly around, bumping into tables aspects ofJewish and Israeli and a Jewish director are ate legal director of Ameri- the school officially has no after graduating from Yale and chairs while playing culture--all at the taxpay- co-administrators, cans United for Separation control over who uses its LawSchool, Deutschserved "ParshaTag'--avariationon ers' expense--and with the Threeofthe four schools of Church and State, a non- facilities when its lease (al- in the Florida State Legis-  freezetag, inwhichkidshave movement's leaders deter- rent space from Jewish profit based in Washington, lowing it access only during lature almost 10 years until to quickly answer a Torah mined to keep expanding, institutions; the Pinellas D.C., told The Jewish Week theschool day) is not in ef- winning a seat in the U.S. portion-related question. this phenomenon has the school, slated to open this his group filed a complaint feet. While a public school House of Representatives A day later at Ben Gamla potential to have a major August, will rent from a letter back in 2007 about has to provide equal access in 1992. Although raised Boynton, similar scenes impact oneducation, Ameri- Reform temple. Optional Ben Gamla's plan to use to allgroupsseekingtorent in a secular/Reform house- were unfolding; some chip can Jewish life and, possibly, after-school Jewish studies the "HaYesod" Hebrew cur- its facilities after hours, Ben hold, he became religiously dren followed JCC staff church-state norms. programs (and no offerings riculum, which includes Gamla'slandlordsareappar- observant in his late 20s, across the parking lot, for Already, while many Flor- from other religious groups) biblical and other religious entlyunder no such legal while a state legislator, and an afternoon of playground ida day schools watch Ben take place in the classrooms texts. The school replaced requirement; they can rent now belongs to an Orthodox time, homework, haman- Gamla warily, worried the of two Ben Gamla schools, the curriculum with a mix to whomever they choose, synagogue. After an unsuc- taschen-baking, music and provided they do not run cessful Senate run in 2004, Jewish stories, while others afoul of fair'housing laws. he moved with his family gathered in Ben Gamla's HANDYMAN SERVICE Hollywood's landlord is to Israel, although they did multipurpose room to meet a private individual, and not make aliyah. Deutsch, up with their Temple Torah Kendall's is the Miami-Dade now 54, and his wife Lori teachers. C]V Jewish Federation, Deutsch currently divide their time A charismatic, middle- Han_00 man and General Maintenance said between homes in Broward aged Israeli teacher with Askedwhatmighthappen County and Raanana a Tel highheeled sandals and a Air 00onoluonlng ifaChristiangroup--oreven Aviv suburb; their daughter bright red pedicure led the ,g' 11-- -- n tH ,'ec'=ca ' a Jews for Jesus group-- is a college student in Israel, kindergarten and first grade wanted to offer an onsite while their son is in a hesder students in a Purim song as after schoolprogramforBen yeshiva combining Israeli thcywalked down the stairs 1"1 1  rlUmulng Gamla students, Deutsch army service and Jevish to Temple Torah. Cal trv said Theyd have to go to studies At the bottom ofthe stairs en_00 the federation and ask if they Interestingly, the father of each boy selected a yarmulke |V could lease the space. They Hebrewcharterschoolsdoes and placed it on his head. Former_00 handled maintenance at JCC would not go through Ben not actually speak much Next: The Ben Gamla Ef- Gamla, because Ben Gamla Hebrew himself. "I've never fect--The Hebrew charter References available has nothing to do with the been good at languages," he schools' impact on theSouth aftercare." told The Jewish Week. Florida Jewish community. STEVE'S SERVICES Told of this situa That hasn't stopped him Julie Wiener is associate edi tion Americans United s from championing Hebrew tor of The New York Jewish Call Steve Doyle at (386) 668-8961) " ' vehicles Luchenitser said, If there s charter schools as Week, from which this article regular activities in the for revitalizing American wasreprintedbypermission.