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The Ben Gamla School:

While the new Arabic language school in Brooklyn has attracted national headlines and controversy, far less has been written about a new English-Hebrew language public charter school in South Florida. The school's principal is a rabbi, the food in the cafeteria is kosher, and there are allegations that the school is intended to be a Jewish day school in disguise, violating the First Amendment's ban on government endorsement of religion. If successful, with tuition at Jewish day schools generally exceeding $10,0000 in the U.S., this model could easily spread nationwide in non-Orthodox communities (the Orthodox would generally want much more explicit religious education). In places such as South Africa, Australia, and Quebec, where the government funds state schools that primarily serve Jewish students, a high percentage of Jewish students (I once read 80% in Australia) attend such schools. The American Jewish community is more assimiliated, and more committed to the ideal of "neutral" public schools, that the Jews of those countries, but nevertheless the Ben Gamla model would have great appeal to many here, especially, I'd guess, former Israelis and Russians.

UPDATE: The New York Times has a story today on the school. Interestingly, 37% of parents at the school name Hebrew as their first language, and 17% name Spanish. One problem the school seems to have is to find materials that teach Hebrew that have no religious references--such materials are usually either from Israel, where public schools teach religion, or from the U.S., where they are geared to either day schools or synagogue programs. But Hebrew has been offered as an elective in New York City public schools, and I assume elsewhere, so I doubt this problem is insurmountable. Also interesting is that the school was well oversubscribed.

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