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Orthodox group uses burning Twin Towers photo in ad to slam public schools

‘Save them! Public school begins soon,’ the ad reads, referring to Jewish students who may not be able to afford religious schools

An Orthodox nonprofit took out an ad that uses an image from the 9/11 attacks to bash public education and raise money for religious school tuition, but the advertising manager of the news outlet that ran it is now describing that decision as a mistake.

“We know about it, and im yirztei Hashem (with the will of God), we are taking steps that it shouldn’t happen again,” said Dovid Frankel, of Hamodia, one of the most popular newspapers in the Orthodox world. 

The full-page ad, which features an image of the burning Twin Towers, appears on the back cover of the Aug. 31 print edition of the Orthodox newspaper Hamodia, as well as an online edition, and implores readers to contribute to Nechomas Yisroel, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit, so that more Jewish children can attend yeshivas.

“So many neshamos are in danger of being burned this September if they enter public school,” the ad reads, using the Hebrew word for souls or people. “Save them! Public school begins soon,” continues the ad, which was published as the anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center approaches. 

Rabbi Asher Friedman of Nechomas Yisroel said Monday that the group selected the image because Jewish families who can’t afford a private Jewish education are in crisis because of its rising cost.

“It’s burning a fire on Jewish heimishe shomer Shabbos families in public school just for the reason they don’t have support and can’t afford (private) schools,” he said, referring to families who observe Shabbat.

The ad underscores the skyrocketing cost of Jewish religious school tuition, but also longstanding tensions between Orthodox communities and those who criticize them for providing inadequate instruction in secular subjects. In recent local elections, including last year’s race for mayor in New York City, candidates’ positions on how much they would intervene in yeshiva curricula could win or cost them votes in Brooklyn’s heavily Orthodox neighborhoods.

Brooklyn-based Hamodia, Hebrew for “The Informer,” bills itself as “The Daily Newspaper for Torah Jewry.” It publishes in English and Hebrew and reaches hundreds of thousands of readers, according to its website.

Critics of the ad include Rabbi Avidan Elkin, who is Orthodox and lives in the tri-state area, who said that he fears people might interpret it to suggest that the attacks of 9/11 happened because Jews sent their children to public school.

“There are many regrettable aspects to the public school system, but this is no way to encourage people to opt for private Yeshiva education,” he said in a statement. “It attempts to draw a parallel between terrorism and the school system, which in the absence of prophecy, is an absurd thing to portray. Education is the foundation of Judaism, but this is a terrible and distorted message to be sending to anyone.”

Friedman said his group sponsors more than 2,000 children who attend 160 schools across the U.S., at a cost of $1,800 per child. The ad informs that a pledge of $100 a month will sponsor an elementary school child and $150 a month will sponsor a high school student.

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