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June 27, 2013 - Image 11

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2013-06-27

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its own policies:' he said. "I don't see a
lot of wisdom in this policy.
"I understand the importance of
Shabbat. But what if you are shomer
Shabbat, but don't keep kosher, or you
are shomer Shabbat and you let your
kids ride bikes on Shabbat? Shomer
Shabbat can mean different things
to different people. Whose standard
of shomer Shabbat are you talking
about?"
Gamer, the only Conservative rabbi
to sign a May 4, 2012, letter to FJA
written by local Reform rabbis, says he
understands why these rabbis might
feel disrespected, especially with such
a substantial number of Reform stu-
dents at the school.
"Frankel offers phenomenal educa-
tion, and I don't think students are
being hurt pedagogically:' he said. "It's
more damaging to the psyche of the
community and to the larger constitu-
ency of the Academy in the Reform
movement.
"I don't know how it will get
resolved. Seems both sides have dug
in. It is so public; both sides still are
not willing to change:'
In that May 4 letter, the rabbis
stated: "To use shomer Shabbat as a
litmus test for who can teach a Judaic
studies class or lead minyan not
only excludes many respected rab-
bis and educators, but is contrary to
the school's own bylaws, namely that
teachers must be exemplars of Jewish

values and role models for our stu-
dents. For FJA to be the best school
and to live up to its mission, the cur-
rent hiring policy must be changed:'
Ken Goss, FJA board president at
the time, responded with a May 24
letter that stated, in part: "Having
given careful and thoughtful consid-
eration to your repeated requests, we
now need to agree to disagree and
respectfully end our dialogue on this
topic. We look ahead to the future
opportunities in which we have com-
mon ground and can work together
collaboratively"
This was more than a year ago, and
the Reform rabbis are not giving up.
In fact, they have been joined by FJA
parents trying to make changes of
their own.
One concerned Reform parent
in the group asked, "Is it right for a
school to take money from Reform
Jews, but not represent us?"
Hannan and Lisa Lis of Farmington
Hills, community leaders and parents
of a current FJA student, are part of
the group speaking out about vari-
ous issues of concern to them at the
school. They are a Conservative family.
"I find the policy disrespectful to
rabbis who can be great teachers:' Lisa
said. "The shomer Shabbat litmus test
removes a whole class of teachers and
scholars:'

School Standoff on page 17

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that the School may expel or refuse to
re-enroll a student if, in its sole discre-
tion, the parent(s) engage in activity
which is harmful to the school or
undermines its mission, values and
philosophy:'
Hannan Lis of Farmington Hills,
who is part of the parents group, wrote
in an email, "This is a little bit remi-
niscent of a totalitarian-era policy of
punishing children for the political
beliefs and alleged infractions of their
parents. It's an amazing policy from a
school that is supposed to teach Jewish
values. In essence, the school is forcing
parents to never criticize or disagree
with the school or risk the expulsion of
their kids"
Rabbi Eric Grossman, head of
school, explained, "As a condition of
enrollment, parents have always been
required to sign a statement commit-
ting to their support of our school and
its mission, core values and philosophy.
Every year we update our contracts;
this year we incorporated this language
as part of our enrollment contract in
keeping with best practices of indepen-
dent schools:'
Hillel Day School has a similar
clause in its contract

"This type of language, holding par-
ents responsible for their behavior and
supporting the mission of the school, is
quite common:' Hillel's Freedman said.
"Hillel has included similar language
for years, and I encouraged Eric to add
it to his enrollment contract.
"For the record, independent
schools, which FJA is, like Hillel, have
the right to expect parents to abide
by and respect the mission. After all,
they chose the school knowing full well
what the mission of the school is and
the expectations. When parents under-
mine or attempt to disrupt the school
community, it puts the school and its
mission at risk. That is why so many
schools have this clause:'
The parents group has started a
Facebook page called Frankel Jewish
Academy Community Dialogue, where
information is posted, such as an
upcoming FJA Community Town Hall
it is hosting that is open to the public.
It's at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 11, at
the Jewish Community Center in West
Bloomfield.
"We want the school to be suc-
cessful; Lis said. "But it is not acting
community-minded. It is not an island
in an ocean:" ❑

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June 27 • 2013 11

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