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Sandro Rosell
FC Barcelona President
Saturday, September 23, 2017

The ongoing effort by Jewish activists to convince New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to obligate Chassidic yeshivas in the five boroughs to provide students with state-mandated secular education has now accelerated, as a new petition has gathered an impressive 1,500 signatures.

Just last month, the progressive Jewish group Yaffed (Young Advocates for Fair Education) set up an online petition that urges city schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña to fully enforce a state law requiring Orthodox schools to ensure that their students receive standard academic lessons in subjects such as science, mathematics and history. Its authors informed the Daily News that the petition has even been signed by influential rabbis and Jewish educators.

In a letter delivered to City Hall in July of 2015, Yaffed specifically cited 39 New York City yeshivas it claims do not provide academic instruction that is required by state law. The letter generated a city investigation into the matter.

Expressing disappointment with the mayor, Yaffed executive director Naftuli Moster said de Blasio has not capitalized on the lengthy time he has had to produce some tangible results. “The city is stalling and stonewalling rather than seriously attempting to fix the problem,” Moster complained to the Daily News. “They’re playing politics at the expense of the students.”

The activist added that an estimated 25,000 students at the strictly male yeshivas are negatively affected later in life by a dearth of secular studies.

While city officials chose not to disclose many details about the continuing investigation, de Blasio spokesman Austin Finan asserted that the inquiry is making progress. “The schools and their representatives have committed to begin altering their curricula to include better and more secular education as early as next year,” Finan stated.

But skeptical observers said the slow-moving investigation is simply another in a series of special favors that the mayor has granted to the city’s influential Orthodox community. “The extended delay in releasing public findings from the supposed investigation raises serious questions of political interference,” accused Brooklyn College and City University of New York education Professor David Bloomfield.

Avi Schick, a prominent attorney who represents the 39 yeshivas identified by Yaffed, said the schools being probed are cooperating with investigators. “Yeshiva leaders and the city continue to work together to provide a positive educational experience for children whose parents have chosen these schools,” Schick stated.

Schick also advises PEARLS (Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools), a coalition of yeshiva educators, families and community leaders dedicated to improving yeshivas from within the system. He stated to The Jewish Week that the organization “supports improvements to the secular curriculum while ensuring that the yeshiva education continues to remain a fundamental bedrock institution of Jewish learning.”

Sholom Schreiber