A Jewish Fight for Public Education

The Activists Who Are Struggling To Keep Schools Alive

Save Our Schools: Students and community activists are fighting back against public school cuts and closures.
getty images
Save Our Schools: Students and community activists are fighting back against public school cuts and closures.

By Amy B. Dean

Published September 02, 2013, issue of September 06, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Jews hold education sacred, and for good reason. An educated citizenry is a necessary precondition for any democracy. Similarly, for Jews of the rabbinic era — characterized by, among other things, a devolution of authority to local rabbinic leaders — education and learning have become a necessary precondition for engagement in the full kaleidoscope of Jewish life.

Pirkei Avot states that the world of Judaism rests on three pillars: Torah (study), Avodah (worship), Gemilut Chasadim (acts of loving kindness). In Deuteronomy (6:7) we are commanded to “teach them diligently.” Following these teachings, Jews have prioritized studying and learning down through the generations. Therefore, it is no surprise that they have been disproportionately engaged in building the institutions of education and in promoting teaching as a professional craft. This is true for the range of educational institutions that Jews have supported: from the Yiddish folk schools of the early 20th century to the Jewish day schools that now exist in many cities and, significantly, the public education system.

Three of the past four presidents of the American Federation of Teachers were Jews: Albert Shanker, the iconic 1960s union president; his successor, Sandra Feldman, and the current AFT president, Randi Weingarten. Moreover, Jews are leading the policy debate around public education; this past February, the Forward profiled four of these leaders. And now that our public education system is under threat, it is not surprising that Jews across the country are fighting to protect public schools.

A new network of grassroots Jewish social justice organizations has emerged to mobilize around this issue. Public schools are coming under the budget-cutting blade as never before. Cities like Chicago and Philadelphia and states like North Carolina are targeting public education with school closings and mass layoffs. Jewish activists are living their faith, speaking up to demand that education be kept as a right for all.

Max Socol, co-founder of the Raleigh-based Carolina Jews for Justice, has organized weekly gatherings in front of the North Carolina state House to protest the defunding of the public school system. “Education is a core Jewish value,” he said. “We believe a robust public education system is an absolute requirement for a just society.”

Some of these groups have taken a defensive posture, mobilizing in response to budget cuts and school closings, and asking what will happen to children. In Chicago, for example, the group Jews in Solidarity and Action for Schools came together with alumni of Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps, to demonstrate against Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposed closing of 49 schools for the 2013–14 year.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.