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April 13, 2012

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, APRIL 13, 2012 PAGE 15.  Texas school group is being pressed to be more inclusive By Shira Schoenberg are threatening to withdraw hard feelings, alot of changes ..... (JTA)--Comments by the head of a Texas school as- sociation at the center of a controversy over Sabbath accommodations is fueling a drive by its members to be more open to the needs of Jewish and Muslim schools. Edd Burleson, the director of the The Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, revived the con- troversy over the Robert M, Beren Academy of Houston's participation in the state boys' basketball tournament last month when he told the Dallas Morning News in an interview published April 1 that the predominantly Chris- tian association "shouldn't have accepted (Beren) in the first place." The Houston Chronicle re- ported that the TAPPS board could decide next month whether to penalize the Beren Academy for a rules violation for failing to withdraw from the tournament last month. Beren had requested a time change for the 2A tourna- ment's semifinals and finals, which were scheduled for a Friday night and Saturday afternoon, to accommodate Sabbath observance. TAPPS agreed todo so only after sev-' eral players and their parents filed a lawsuit. It wasn't the first religious controversy for TAPPS. In 2010, its board denied mem- bership to a Muslim school af- ter asking the Iman Academy SWto complete anapplication with questions about Islam, The New York Times reported. In an interview with JTA, Burleson defended both the comments about Beren Acad- emy and the decision by TAPPS to exclude the Muslim school. Burleson said TAPPS was upholding its rules, not engaging in religious dis- crimination.  But now TAPPS member schools are pushing the as- sociation to become more accommodating. Some, in- cluding the Texas Catholic Conference, which represents the state,s Catholic schools, By Helen Chernikoff NEW YORK (N.Y. Jewish Week)--At the University of Maryland, home to one of the country's largest Jewish stu- dent populations, tensions among the denominations can arise. Yet Jason Felder, president of the Orthodox student group, managed to bring folks together, and on an ordinary Saturday night, no less. Under Felder's leadership, the group, Kedma, rented out part of the university's gym and invitedthe entire community out to play. Time was, Feider, as a Mod- ern Orthodox Jew, wouldn't even have attended the Uni- versity of Maryland, much less played dodgeball with Klal Yisrael, or every kind. of Jew. But these days, Orthodox students like Felder are by- passing Yeshiva University, Modern Orthodoxy's flagship if their concerns are not resolved. "As an organization of private and parochial schools, we should be open to every- one, allow all students to participate and be sensitive to their needs," said Jeffery Patterson, executive director of the Texas Catholic Confer- ence, which asked TAPPS to let the member schools review TAPPS' operations. "If this doesn't get resolved appropriately, certainly it will bring into question whether Catholic schools will continue our affiliation with TAPPS." Rabbi Harry Sinoff, head of school at Beren Academy, declined to comment on Bur- leson's remarks but said the school would like to remain in TAPPS. "They're at a crossroads now, reflecting on what their mission should be," Sinoff said. "A broad mission of inclusiveness, bringing to- gether lots of different schools and makin accommodations that wo=!, oe reasonable, or do they want to be a more ho- mogeneous, narrowlyfocused organization? ... We hope they go for inclusiveness so we can be part of it." " Sinoff said he did not know the details of the cases involving the Muslim school but that he would like to see all the schools included in TAPPS--Jewish, Muslim, Christian or others. "There should be objective criteria for admission, and all schools who meet that criteria should be admittedwithout reference to religion or race," he said. TAPPS, which was created in 1978, has approximately 220 member schools, nearly all Christian, that compete in athletic and arts competi- tions. Burleson maintains that he does not object to a Jewish school, but said that when Beren Academy joined the league three years ago, school officials said they understood that it would not be able to participate in the playoffs. "Three years later there was a lot of controversy, a lot of that had to be made to accom- modate the school that told us up fronl they would not request these accommoda- tions," Burleson said. Nathan Lewin, a prominent Washington. attorney who represented theBeren parents and players, said Burleson's comments confirmed that "he has a very jaundiced, and I can only say bigoted, view about people other than his own kind." Lewin compared Beren's agreeing not to dispute the schedule to a civil rights Case regarding an unconstitu- tional property deed barring a sale to a black person, "You can't be barred from exercising your constitution- al right because somebody has had a biased and illegal provision in their bylaws and contract when you've come in," Lewin said. (While the school asked TAPPS for an accommodation, it was par- ents and the players, not the school, who filed suit.) The, denial of membership to Iman Academy SW, The New York Times reported, came after the school was asked to submit an application that asked such questions as, "Does the Koran actually state that the Bible is pol- luted?" The Times reported that at least two other Islamic schools were given similar questionnaires but declined to complete them. Cindy Steffens, principal of the Iman Academy, said she did not believe TAPPS had any intention of accepting the school. Steffens cited the offensive questionnaire, with questions like "What do you think about the spread of Islam in America?" She said that when Iman Academy officials appeared before the TAPPS board, the board brought up the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks as the "elephant in the room." TAPPS never officially noti- fied the academy that it had been rejected for member- ship. "It was very hard for me to swallow," Steffens said. Beren Academy Beren Academy players huddle March 3 during the TAPPS boys" basketball 2A champi- onship game. Steffens said she did not speak to anyone about the incident until recently, when The New York Times contact- ed her, because the school did not want negative attention. "Our intention was to lie low and hope for the changing of the guard of TAPPS, so at some point maybe they'd be more inclusive so Iman Acad- emy could come in," she said. Steffens said she was upset when she heard about Beren's experience. "To have this happen to a Jewish school, that-hurt me. They're doing it again," she said. Burleson said the board denied Iman Academy's ap- plication because the school had no experience in athletic competition. But he said tlat TAPPS has never made an effort to determine whether its mem- bers want the organization to include schools of all faiths. It is now doing so, holding two member meetings and distributing a survey asking schools if they want the as- sociation to be all inclusive and whether they are willing to make accommodations. The New York Times re- ported that TAPPS surveyed members in 2010 about whether to include Muslim schools. Of the 83 schools that responded, 63 percent said it was not in TAPPS' best interest, the paper reported. "Over the 20 years I've been associated with TAPPS, there's been no direction from our membership to be all inclusive," Burlesor told JTA. Bill McGee, the headmaster of Hill Country Christian School in Austin, which faced Beren in the playoffs and moved its game time to accommodate the Beren community's Shabbat ob- servance, spoke at aMarch 27 TAPPS meeting in favor of inclusivity. He said the United States was built on religious toler- ance and that his school had no problem accommodating the religious beliefs of Beren students. "The general membership desires to be inclusive, and that seems to be at odds with. the leadership of the organi- zation," McGee told JTA. "An organizationwhich is primar- ily athletic or competitive in nature, there's no reason for those organizations to be exclusive." Larry Taylor, head of TAPPS member school Prestonwood Christian Academy in Piano, believes the association would More college options for Modern Orthodox 00secular and 'yeshivish' encouraged to go to Lander rather than YU." As YU decreased iv/enroll- ment, Lander's colleges for both men and women grew. Marian Stoltz-Loike, dean of the women's school, sees her enrollment reaching 500 students within five years from about 300 now. "I chose here over an- other Jewish college because you're not a number here," said Ariela Moskowitz, a Landerjuniorwho, like many of the students there, said she was drawn to the school because of its warm, intimate atmosphere. Rabbis hand out their personal phone numbers, and several students raved about the lengths the administration will go to help them secure coveted internships. Work experi- ence is crucial to these young women, who could become the breadwinners of their families while their husbands remain in yeshiva. On the secular side, Or- thodox.students have even more choices. According to the website of Hillel, the Jewish campus organization, 98 colleges have full kosher meal plans. Increasingly, Modern Orthodox students ,have "decided that YU's emphasis on beit midrash study is too similar to high school ,life, where they spent a full day in the classroona, said Jackie Rockman, director of college counseling at the Yeshivah of Flatbush in Brooklyn, N.Y. ."You would think YU would be more popular," she said. "We've had many meetings with them to talk about ways we can enhance the relationship between our schools, but the number of students who are interested has just declined." Of course, finances play a role in students' choice of college, particularly in the last few years. It cost $50,000 to live and study at YU this year, compared with $23,000 at Queens College for New York State residents and about $23,000 at Lander College for Women Felder, now a senior at Maryland, didn't even apply to YU, although he turned down Johns Hopkins Univer- sity because its Jewish com- munity wasn't big enough. The influx of Orthodox students at secular schools has created some complica- ,tions. Hillel professionals have worried that the domi- nance of Orthodox students complicates outreach to the less affiliated, said Rabbi Ilan Haber, who runs an Or- thodox Union program that helps students navigate life at secular universities. And many in the Orthodox world worry that secular education will cause its students to become less religious: institution, for secular and more traditional options. Enrollment at YU has fallen 8 percent between 2008 and 2011. Lander College for Men, for example, opened in 2000 in New York City to capture the growing market of stu- dents looking for a school that was more traditional than YU. Today the Queens school enjoys exactly that perception among many rabbis in the Orthodoxworld, said Josh Wise, assistant principal at the Rav Teitz Mesivta Academy, a yeshiva in Elizabeth, N.J. "Lander's is perceived as a little more yeshivish," or rigorously Orthodox, he said. "I'm sure the level of learning is the same, and the scholar- Ship of the rebbes is similar. But kids coming back from Israel [where they attend yeshivas post-high school for a year or two before college] will tell me that they will be be strengthened by the in- volvement of all non-public schools. "The sheer number strengthens the quality of our competition," Taylor said. And, he added, "The diversity provides an experience for our students that's very impor- tant for their preparation for college and for life" To some members, inclu- sion is a religious obligation. Connie Wootton, executive director ofthe Southwest- ern Association of Episcopal Schools, said a major tenet of an Episcopal education is racial, ethnic, economic and religious diversity. "If we expect others to re- spect our beliefs, we have to respect theirs, too," she said. "That's the Christian model." Martin Cominsky, regional director for the Anti-Defa- mation League's Southwest Region, said his ,agency was disappointed by TAPPS' at- titude toward Muslim and Jewish schools. "I believe TAPPS should use universal admissions criteria that are not discriminatory against any particular reli- gion," Corninsky said. "Those politics ought to reflect the ever-increasing diversity in the .state of Texas." "The lack of a solid, fervent commitment to Yiddishkeit can cause many, especially those who attend secular universities, to "eventually shed Torah observance en- tirely," wrote Rabbi Steve Burg, who runs the Ortho- dox Union's youth group, the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, in an articletitled "Keeping Our Kids on the Derech [Path]." But attending secular schools inspires many Or- thodox students to take responsibility for their own Jewish lives and those of their communities, said Haber, who himself attended YU. "I would describe myself as Modern Orthodox," Felder said. "All the values I grew up with were just that, what I'd grown up with, and I wanted to find out if they would have meaning to me. ... I think you have more of an opportunity to do that at a secular college."