Our Views: A controversial free lunch

Our Views: A controversial free lunch

An unfortunate controversy has once again gripped Great Neck North High School following a letter sent by principal Bernard Kaplan to parents warning them that dozens of students from his school were attending an orthodox Jewish instructional program during the school’s open-campus lunch period.

Kaplan was harshly criticized for the letter, sent out on Jan. 31, by the Anti-Defamation League which sent a letter to Kaplan and the school board on Feb. 7.

“The law is clear: as the principal of a public school, you cannot endorse or interfere with religious practice,” wrote the ADL. “Despite good intentions, your actions here were highly inappropriate and could constitute unconstitutional religious entanglement.”

Kaplan sent out a second letter the following day apologizing.

A cynical person might argue that the second letter only furthered his original purpose by once again drawing attention to the instructional program that Kaplan doesn’t like.

Although some parents at a recent board meeting were harshly critical of the lunch program, there is no evidence that any student has been coerced into attending or harmed. Some say the high school kids were “bribed” by the “free lunch.” But we doubt that there are many students at Great Neck North so hungry that they would sit through an hour-long lecture just for a free lunch.

Either the food offered by Congregation Torah Ohr is really good or the teaching is compelling.

Either way it isn’t principal Kaplan’s business.  The open-campus lunch period implies that the school trusts the students to do what they please during this time. Not all public high schools in the metropolitan area have such a policy.

Kaplan showed a degree of intolerance in the first letter in which he accused the temple of “proselytizing children” and enticing them with free food.

“They were quietly eating while a man was instructing them in orthodox religious beliefs,” he wrote. “We have consulted many other local clergy, and they don’t agree with the practice either. These are children, not adults.”

No, they are not adults, but neither are they little children. Some will be going off to college next fall with no one to watch over them.

Would it have made a difference if the instruction was based on more liberal Jewish beliefs? What if the group had been advocating a political or social cause?

That said, we don’t see why the temple wouldn’t see the wisdom in at least asking the students to let their parents know what they were doing.

Rabbi Michael Klayman, the president of the interfaith Great Neck Clergy Association, a man who ought to play the role of mediator, took a particularly strong stand against Congregation Torah Ohr. 

“I think it was the feeling of the clergy association – what resonated with us was that it was a cult-like quality to doing this,” he said.

 Please tell us the clergy association has not taken on the role of determining which religious organization is legitimate and which is “cult-like.” That’s a slippery slope.

Perhaps Rabbi Klayman knows more about the lunch program than we do, such as how “several dozen” kids got involved and what is being taught?  How exactly were they “recruited?”

Perhaps he should have talked with the rabbi running the program before passing judgment.

Great Neck North is an excellent school thanks in no small part to Kaplan’s leadership. The principal showed strong character a year ago in his handling of the SAT cheating scandal. We believe that his concern in this case was genuine but his first letter was, as he correctly states in the second letter, “an unintended infringement on students’ rights.

“The principal of a public school cannot interfere with religious practice conducted outside of the school’s purview.”

We understand that some parents would not be comfortable with their high-school-aged children attending religious instruction of any kind. But that is between them and their children. 

We also suspect that some parents might see this as a positive use of the lunch hour. 

Either way what happens during an open-campus lunch period is not the school’s business.

No posts to display


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here