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Liars For Yahweh! How the Tikun Olam Charter School Got a $600,000 Federal Grant

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In a nutshell, what we have is a small group of people who want to start a Jewish charter school for a small community of Jewish students but who need to make it appear that they are starting a secular school that will be chock full of students from every demographic in what is an extremely diverse area in terms of income, race, ethnicity, and religion. But nobody is buying that.

As Highland Park Rabbi Steven Miodownik wrote to acting Education Commissioner Cerf last spring:

"Proponents of the Hebrew language charter school have carefully placed a fig leaf over their agenda of forcing the state to fund their 'free' alternative to private Jewish education, but it is not the job of the State of New Jersey to provide religious instruction for its children; that must be left up to our excellent private schools."

But, what did those federal government consultants who aren't allowed to look at anything other than the information provided by the grant applicant base their approval on when it came to diversity and community support? Well, all they were allowed to base it on was Akman's answers to questions like the following on her grant application:

Selection Criteria - Extent of community support for application

1. Note: The Secretary encourages the applicant to describe how parents and other members of the community will be informed about the charter school, and how students will be given an equal opportunity to attend the charter school.

Strengths:

The applicant provided a detailed description of the ways in which it has conducted community outreach to help ensure diversity of the student population at the proposed charters school. The applicant cites meeting outcomes from a number of sessions with leading political and civic leaders who have expressed an interest in helping to tell the community about the proposed charter school. The applicant has proposed hiring a Community Outreach Coordinator to assist with helping members of the community who do not speak Hebrew (i.e. not Jewish) about the school and its commitment to repairing the world or perfecting the world. The applicant has also indicated that a proposed facility for the charter school is a former Catholic school located in a mostly minority, low-income New Brunswick neighborhood. The applicant believes this is a strong statement of the proposed charter school's commitment to ensure that an equal opportunity to attend the school is given to all.

Weaknesses:

There are no weaknesses in addressing the this application requirement.

Right, there are "no weaknesses in addressing this application requirement," unless, of course, you consider the whole thing being a pack of lies to be a weakness!

While the $600,000 federal grant will only be received if the school is approved by the N.J. Department of Education, Ms. Akman wasted no time in informing the acting Education Commissioner that her grant had been approved, giving her school a potential leg up in the state's final decision, expected on January 17.

Finally, getting back to the church/state separation aspect of this Hebrew school, which is what got me involved in the first place, I have to include the ludicrous reason given by Akman in her effort to make her Tikun Olam Hebrew Language Charter High School sound like it has a necessary, secular purpose. Ready for this? Akman claims that the teaching of Hebrew is vital to America's national interests because the United States does so much business with Israel (even though the official business language of Israel is ... um .... English).

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Chris Rodda is the Senior Research Director for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), and the author of Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right's Alternate Version of American History.
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