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18 NYC yeshivas do not adequately teach secular studies, investigation finds

(New York Jewish Week) — The New York City Department of Education has found that 18 yeshivas are falling short of secular education standards, a landmark ruling in the ongoing fight over government oversight of Hasidic day schools. 

Letters sent to the yeshivas by the education department on Friday mark the culmination of an eight-year investigation that has pitted the city against the leadership of its large Hasidic communities. Arriving after years of activism by secular education advocates — and pushback from the yeshivas’ defenders — the letters represent the most significant determination by a government agency that the schools are failing to teach secular studies to their students. 

In addition, according to The New York Times, seven yeshivas that were investigated were found to be complying with the law. The New York State Education Department must now affirm the findings of the investigations. 

The education department sent the letters on Friday, close to the beginning of Shabbat, and did not make them public. Two were published online by The City, a nonprofit news organization covering New York.

Those letters show that investigators saw no instruction in English during their visits in 2019. Ultimately, city officials concluded about Yeshiva Bnei Shimon Yisroel of Sopron, for example, that the Williamsburg, Brooklyn-based boys school “has not demonstrated that it is providing instruction that is substantially equivalent to the public schools in the New York City school district,” according to the letter. The letter said that the school is not meeting educational standards “in the four core academic subjects of [English Language Arts], mathematics, science, and social studies/history.” 

But what consequences the schools may face remains unclear. The two published letters mandate that the yeshivas in question create a plan within the next 60 days to reach a “substantially equivalent” level of secular education by the end of the next school year. But the two letters did not mention any further consequences if those deadlines are not met. Earlier this year, a state court ruled that the state Education Department lacks the authority to close the schools if they fail to provide a secular education, though it could deprive them of public funding.

“The findings profoundly change the playing field, though the game has a long way to go,” David Bloomfield, a professor of education law at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “This is the first time there have been official findings of over a dozen yeshivas violating the law on secular instruction.”

He added, “So now the cure is clearly in government hands. How long and how complete that process will be is open to question.”

The letters show that city investigators confirmed what journalists have twice documented and advocates have long argued: that many yeshivas barely teach secular subjects, required under state law. Currently, the schools spend nearly all of their day teaching a traditional Jewish studies curriculum in Yiddish, with a heavy focus on Talmud. Secular studies, according to the letters, occupies only a small portion of the curriculum, with few resources devoted to the teaching of subjects like English and math. 

One investigation found that secular studies at a yeshiva was taught by an educator whose prior experience includes one year of serving as a substitute teacher in the city education department as well as working in a public library. 

The schools and their defenders maintain that students obtain necessary skills across a wide range of topics, from math to the arts, within their Jewish studies curriculum.

The state determinations follow years of public advocacy and court filings by activists, many with roots in haredi Orthodox communities, to force yeshivas to teach secular studies. They also come after an investigative series in The New York Times examining subpar secular education standards in New York City-area yeshivas, which revealed a similar story to that told by the New York Jewish Week in 2015. And they come during the administration of Mayor Eric Adams, who has received support from Hasidic leaders and, earlier this year, said public schools should “learn what you are doing in the yeshivas to improve education.” 

The most prominent of the activist groups, Young Advocates for Fair Education, or YAFFED, said in a statement, “We hope that the completion of this investigation compels the city and Mayor Eric Adams to act on behalf of thousands of students who are being deprived of their right to a sound basic education.”

Haredi groups, meanwhile, have contended that government oversight of secular standards at yeshivas constitutes overreach into a successful system, as well as a violation of their communities’ prerogative to educate their children as they wish. In response to the education department’s letters, Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools, or PEARLS, a defender of the yeshivas, said in a statement that the investigation was based on “a skewed set of technical requirements.”

“Parents choose yeshiva education for their children because of the religious, moral and educational philosophy and approach of those who lead yeshivas,” the statement said, according to multiple reports. “They will continue to do so, regardless of how many government lawyers try to insist that yeshiva education is best measured by checklists they devise rather than the lives yeshiva graduates lead.”

According to the letters, one of the schools appears to have changed its name in the midst of the investigation — with the education department being told the school had closed. Another school refused requests for followup visits from investigators and did not provide requested materials demonstrating its secular curriculum.

The post 18 NYC yeshivas do not adequately teach secular studies, investigation finds appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Williams College Rejects Divestment Proposal, Delivering Blow to Anti-Zionist Student Movement

Anti-Israel protesters outside Columbia University in Manhattan, New York City, April 22, 2024. Photo: USA TODAY NETWORK via Reuters Connect

Williams College in Massachusetts has rejected a proposal to divest from weapons manufacturers that sell their products to Israel, delivering a substantial loss to the anti-Zionist movement in the final days of the academic year.

The school’s Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility (ACSR) has been considering the proposal, put forth by a group which calls itself Jews for Justice (JfJ), since January. This month, it produced a report of recommendations that will be forwarded to the Williams College Investment Committee of the Board of Trustees.

In addition to rejecting JfJ’s demand that Williams College divest from weapons manufactures that do business with Israel, ASCR declined to make itself a permanent standing committee and to recommend adopting controversial Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) principles which have been pushed by far-left groups aiming to use the market as an accelerator of social change.

“The ACSR recommends to the Investment Committee that the college not divest from companies that sell weapons, reconnaissance tools, or vehicles used by the Israel Defense Forces, and that the college not divest from weapons manufactures,” the report says. “Having recommended that … in the absence of other specific requests for divestment, the ACSR recommends to the Investment Committee that the college not adopt a blanket, exclusionary approach to ESG investing.”

ASCR cited a number of reasons why the move would be disadvantageous to the college, including that some of its funds are potentially “commingled.” Divesting from them, it explained, “could have a negative impact on investment performance out of proportion to the negligible impact on the targeted company.” It also said that JfJ’s demands are “broad” and target companies such as Boeing, which “not only builds missiles, but also satellite systems and commercial aircraft.”

ASCR also explained that there is no “shared understanding” among scholars and experts, nor among its own community, about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that would make divestment from Israel as morally cogent as divesting from South Africa in the 1980s or, more recently, fossil fuels.

“The ACSR did receive feedback from some student groups, some faculty, and some staff in support of the Jews for Justice requests,” the report continued. “But oppositional perspectives within our community have also been expressed. The recent tumult on college and university campuses is but one reflection of the contentious nature of these complicated and emotionally charged issues.”

Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) — a group that has been linked to terrorist organizations — and Jews for Justice — an anti-Zionist organization that represents a minority segment of opinion in the Jewish community — voluntarily ended its occupation of Williams College’s Sawyer Quad on May 18, conceding defeat after a two and half week standoff with the university that resulted only in promises of two meetings with administrators in the next four months.

“We ended the encampment, but we do not consider the outcomes of our negotiations to be a victory,” SJP told The Williams Record. “We will continue pressuring the administration until full divestment and implementation of ethical investment standards.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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University of Toronto offers a deal to protesters, but the school refuses to participate in academic boycotts of Israel

Representatives for the pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of Toronto were still deciding on the morning of Friday May 24 how to respond to an offer from the school to either end the demonstration or be issued a notice of trespass. The offer was given in the afternoon of May 23, and gave the encampment […]

The post University of Toronto offers a deal to protesters, but the school refuses to participate in academic boycotts of Israel appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Model Bella Hadid Wears Keffiyeh Dress in Cannes in Support of ‘Free Palestine Forever’

Bella Hadid attends the red carpet of the film ”L’Amour ouf” (Beating Hearts) at the 77th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, on May 23, 2024. Photo: Daniele Cifalà via Reuters Connect

Model Bella Hadid used fashion to make a political statement at the Cannes Film Festival on Thursday by wearing a dress made from a keffiyeh, a headscarf traditionally worn by Palestinians that has become a symbol of solidarity with the Palestinian cause and opposition to Israel.

In between premieres at the film festival, the model and fragrance designer walked the streets in Cannes, France, sporting a vintage Michael and Hushi “keffiyeh dress” from 2001 that was made from red and white keffiyehs. “I made [the dress] out of the keffiyeh fabric, which I still have nightmares about, as it wasn’t easy,” designer Hushidar Mortezaie was quoted as saying. Michael and Hushi also designed a black and white keffiyeh halter top worn by Sarah Jessica Parker’s character Carrie Bradshaw in a season four episode of Sex and the City.

Hadid shared the meaning behind her outfit in a post that she uploaded late Thursday on her Instagram Story. She reposted an image of the original 2001 design, tagged the designers, and wrote in the caption, “Free Palestine forever.” She included an emoji of the Palestinian flag.

bella hadid’s wearing a vintage keffiyeh dress in cannes by michael and hushi

— ✭ (@badestoutfit) May 23, 2024

Since the start of the Israel-Hamas war — which began after Hamas-led terrorists took around 250 Israeli and foreign hostages and killed 1,200 people in southern Israel on Oct. 7 — Hadid has repeatedly expressed solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. In a lengthy statement shared on Instagram in late October, she condemned the Hamas attacks, and said she stands in solidarity with “Palestine” and the “innocent Palestinian civilians” affected by the war.

“I believe deep in my heart that no child, no people anywhere, should be taken away from their family either temporarily or indefinitely. That goes for Israeli or Palestinian people alike,” she added. She also called for humanitarian aid to help “the urgent needs of the people of Gaza.”

During the Israel-Hamas conflict in 2021, Hadid participated in a pro-Palestinian rally where she chanted “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” which has been widely interpreted as a call for the destruction of the Jewish state and for it to be replaced with a Palestinian state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. She has previously accused Israel of “colonization, ethnic cleansing, military occupation, and apartheid over the Palestinian people.”

Hadid’s father, Nazareth-born real estate developer Mohamed Hadid, recently criticized and sent racist messages to US Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) for supporting Israel. He has also accused Israel of occupation, colonialism, genocide, and apartheid. In March, he commented on the support US President Joe Biden has expressed for Israel after the Oct. 7 attacks, saying, “He will be in court with the rest of the Zionist criminals. We will hunt them down like they did the Nazis.” He also called Biden the “head of the Zionist project.”

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