Wednesday, July 23, 2014 Tammuz 25, 5774

What Comes Next?

November 19, 2009
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It is ironic that in the same week that Jehuda Reinharz, the esteemed outgoing president of Brandeis University, issued a clarion call for greater investment in developing highly qualified Jewish educators (see Editorial & Opinion), the faculty of the Barrack Hebrew Academy went on strike.

The cancelation of classes and school activities at the pluralistic middle and high school has hit the small, but close-knit, community hard. And while there are only 300-plus students who attend the school, the families represented and connected there comprise an outsized proportion of rabbis, communal workers and other leaders in the greater Philadelphia community.

With many of the principles in this drama reluctant to speak publicly and some facts still unknown, it's not for us to determine who is right or wrong in what is shaping up to be a painful, frustrating and protracted standoff. It is often the case in such difficult situations that there is right and there is right.

What we do know is that the current impasse -- with no sign of movement on the horizon -- is not good for anyone.

It's not good for the school administration, who must deal with the public relations fallout, as well as cross the picket line that's manned by their colleagues and friends. It's not good for the teachers who are losing pay each day and are not in the classrooms to which, by all accounts, they are devoted. It's not good for the parents, who pay hefty tuitions to provide their children with a top-notch Jewish and private-school education, and who must find stop-gap measures to care for their children.

And it's surely not good for the students, though some may be relishing an unexpected break from their studies. Most of all, it's not good for the venerable institution itself, which is nationally respected for its pluralism and its academic excellence.

Jewish educators have long had legitimate gripes about their compensation. For years, Jewish thinkers have identified Jewish education as a key factor in developing strong Jewish identities. Yet Jewish educators often lag behind when it comes to pay.

At the same time, Jewish day schools, including Barrack, are struggling. Lower enrollments and shrinking budgets have forced closures, layoffs and more. The enrollment at Barrack remained steady this year only due to a doubling of financial aid.

Both sides in the standoff appear to be waiting for the other to pick up the phone. While it may be a tried-and-true negotiating stance, it won't lead to a fast resolution, which is what the school and this community sorely needs.

However long the strike lasts, there will be damage to repair. The mistrust, acrimony and vitriol already engendered will require a healing process. How this dispute is addressed and resolved will be watched closely by many constituencies -- the most important, perhaps, being the students, whose minds and souls Barrack is shaping to become our future leaders.


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