Great reporting by Naomi Zeveloff and Nathan Guttman at the Forward on the extent to which the Jewish charter school movement, which establishes Hebrew-language schools using public funds, is serving a frankly Zionist agenda. The piece demonstrates that Zionism has become central to American Jewish identity, and also, I hope, marks a turning point in American Jewish attitudes towards these schools, dedicated to helping a foreign country. Excerpt:
Yet, as Hebrew charters have overcome stereotypes of being parochial Jewish institutions, they’ve also positioned themselves as more than just schools. Many, though not all, Hebrew charters see themselves as fonts of Israel education that will cultivate students — both Jews and non-Jews — to serve as goodwill ambassadors for Israel in the years ahead.
“I often dream of what the graduates of our Hebrew-language charter schools will look like 20 years from now,” wrote Sara Berman, the chair of the Hebrew Charter School Center [HCSC] in the Spring 2011 issue of Contact, the journal of the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life. “I see them as a vanguard of understanding for Israel and for cultural respect in general.”
Charter schools are publicly funded but privately sponsored primary and secondary schools that pledge, in exchange for their taxpayer support, to meet certain standards put forth in charter agreements with state or local education boards. Many also receive private funds from their sponsoring institutions. Most charter schools operate on a lottery system; families who want to send their children to the schools are picked at random…
One goal of the curriculum at Brooklyn’s Hebrew Language Academy [HLA]— HCSC’s first school [Hebrew Charter School Center]— “is to foster a love for the country of Israel in all of its diversity,” said Principal Laura Silver.
At HLA, whose 306 students are 45% non-white, the Israeli flag hangs alongside the Stars and Stripes…
“A passionate, Israel-oriented, Hebrew-speaking community will almost certainly support Israel and stay connected to Judaism,” wrote [San Diego’s Jennie] Starr in the Autumn 2011 issue of Contact, describing Kavod