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!
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • 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.