“Leave Our Yeshivas Alone!”

Published by Yitzy Halpern in Five Towns Jewish Home on June 16, 2022.

By Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato

Growing up in Far Rockaway allowed me to be witness to the immense growth of the Orthodox Jewish community and the natural growth of our wonderful yeshivas. I know you. We have celebrated Lag B’Omer together. Cheered for children in bike-a-thons. Witnessed joy on Simchas Torah. Walked school halls with smiling students and staff.

As your New York State Assemblywoman, I have championed state funding to our yeshivas and I am honored to see, every day, the remarkable children that the yeshiva families of Far Rockaway, Bayswater, and the Five Towns are raising. Therefore, I cannot comprehend why the New York State Education Department has decided to once again challenge yeshivas with the updated substantial equivalency regulations.

So many of you know that my mother, former Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, helped to shepherd in and finalize the creation of the buildings of many of our yeshivas. It has been my honor to take this legacy and represent you to bring increased funding for our non-public schools, and I will never back down from making sure yeshivas get their fair share. I know you and I admire you. What I do not admire are these heinous statements that refer to our yeshivas as sub-par. My official comments submitted to the Commissioner of the Department of Education explicitly stated my disappointment in the regulations, and I have said it to leadership, and I will continue to say it – and even scream it – until our yeshivas are treated fairly.

There are those who are peddling a false narrative and portraying themselves as champions for yeshiva students. They are not representing you on any level and instead look to bring us down. To these individuals I say, please resolve your personal issues regarding your childhood education with your parents who chose these schools for you – leave our yeshivas alone! For any person or group to be able to make an accusation, stir the pot and launch an investigation against a Jewish day school is simply discriminatory. We do not have those same regulations and the

horrible impacts of such action inflicted on our public schools. Why do the yeshivas have to be singled out? Who is taking responsibility for endorsing this portrayal of antisemitism?

The yeshivas in our community have proven themselves time and time again to be educational institutions of the highest caliber, worthy of emulation on many levels. In our great, diverse state of New York, I would hope that guidelines would be designed based upon cultural sensitivity and fully embrace the delicate balance which yeshivas

have effectively demonstrated, rather than on insurgent opinion campaigns. I am sad to see that New York is failing at that task, but I will not permit it. I do instead challenge the Commissioner to prove us wrong. If there is a school that is underperforming, communicate that with the school directly. I ask the Commissioner and the Department of Education to work together to resolve the possible handful of rare cases throughout the state of an issue. Let’s work together to lend a hand to these schools. While I cannot speak for every yeshiva throughout New York, I will say that in Far Rockaway, our schools know how to teach, and the students are not just learning Judaic studies, but their secular studies are at higher levels than many of the public schools.

I am here to let you know that I share your values. As a proud Jewish mother and former paraprofessional and PTA president, I recognize the dedication that it takes for you to choose the right school for your family and for each of your children. Our children are our pride and joy, and the commitment we make in helping to ensure a strong Jewish future depends upon our ability to choose the schools that fit our values.

I simply ask, what does the Department of Education do when a public school is failing or has an accusation? Do we threaten to arrest parents or demand a transfer? If the answer is no for that, then why would we require that for yeshivas?

No one has the right to take away your ability to choose what school you send your child to, and I will fight for any parent’s constitutional right to send their children to the school of their choice. I will continue to speak out against these horrible regulations and am determined, with your continued help, to make them stop. There has been well over 220,000 letters explaining the problems with these policies. I thank you for that, as it continues to give me the ability to fight and work to remove these clear double standards. As a community, we are united in this fight, to stop this false rhetoric and correct this problem.

We are in this together, and together we can make the change.