Living with Emunah
James McDonald, the first American ambassador to Israel, once remarked that Israel is the only country in the world that factors 25% miracle into all government planning. At some level, one must be a ba'al emunah to live in Israel.
Just consider last week's news. According to one fully credible source, Hamas is already attempting to clear away the attack tunnels destroyed by the IDF and to rearm. And that was the least of the scary news of the week.
Israel TV reported that Israel is frantically preparing for a "very violent war" against Hezbollah. According to the report, Hezbollah has 100,000 rockets, over ten times as many as Hamas at the beginning of Operation Protective Edge, and is thus capable of overwhelming Iron Dome's protective shield. That 100,000 figure includes at least 5,000 missiles with precision guidance systems capable of reaching all Israel. Because their trajectory is not locked in at the time of firing, those missiles represent a far larger challenge for Iron Dome and the Arrow anti-missile defense systems.
Like Hamas, Hezbollah has built over the years an intricate system of interconnected underground tunnels from which it can fight defensively in southern Lebanon. And it is widely assumed to also have attack tunnels burrowing beneath the northern border. While Hamas never constituted a threat to launch ground operations against Israel, that is not true of Hezbollah, which has been fighting for three years in Syria and has accrued invaluable combat experience and confidence while doing so.
The only "good" news (if it can be called that) is that the IDF recognizes that in a war with Hezbollah, it would not have the luxury provided by Iron Dome in Operation Protective Edge of fighting methodically and precisely pinpointing every target to minimize civilian casualties – not that doing so earned Israel a lot of plaudits. (How many newspapers reported, for instance, the findings of the U.N Office of Humanitarian Affairs – not exactly known as a pro-Israel body – which found that Israeli retaliation against Hamas rocket fire was confined to "Hamas missile launching grounds and facilities, command posts, terrorists' homes and hideouts, operational bases, weapon inventory and tunnels" and left 95% of Gaza undamaged?)
Given the damage Hezbollah missiles are capable of inflicting, the IDF would have no choice but to bomb quickly and heavily and deep into Lebanon where the longer-range missiles are housed, with little regard to civilian casualties or Lebanese infrastructure, to pressure Hezbollah to cease and desist.
Admitting that Iron Dome would be overmatched by Hezbollah missiles, Col. Dan Goldfus told Channel Two News, that the IDF would have to maneuver fast and act forcefully to prevail quickly and decisively. The same report quoted Prime Minister Netanyahu telling UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2012, that in the event of war in the North, Israel would have to hit homes in villages across southern Lebanon in which missiles are located
And both the Hamas and Hezbollah threats are dwarfed by the danger of a nuclear Iran becoming the world's first suicide-bomber nation.
Yet, by almost all measures, Israeli Jews remain among the world's most optimistic people. What can possibly explain that other than emunah hidden deep in the recesses of their hearts?
While the attitude yihiyeh tov (everything will be fine) no matter how ominous the storm clouds on the horizon, represents a level of belief, it is one in some ways more appropriate to our Yishmaelite cousins. Rashi comments that Avraham Avinu insisted on washing off the afar ragleichem from the legs of the three "Arabs" whom he saw from the entrance of his tent because it is the way of Arabs to worship the dust of their feet. Rav Moshe Shapiro explained "worshipping the dust of their feet" to refer to the arrogant belief that wherever I go Hashem will be with me.
The task for us, the bnei Yisrael, particularly in Elul, as we contemplate how Hashem has protected us and how much we are in need His protection, is not to complacently assume that protection is guaranteed, but rather to figure out what we must do to make ourselves worthy of it.
The same week that Mishpacha published a panel discussion with four Orthodox members of public school boards ("In the Hot Seat"), Tablet Magazine carried a 15-page article ("The Blame Game") by Batya Ungar-Sargon on the communal tensions arising from the election of a majority chareidi school board in the East Ramapo School District, which covers Monsey and Spring Valley. The Tablet piece fully confirmed, and even supplemented, the Mishpacha panel's presentation of their interest in serving all segments of the larger community, not just the Orthodox population.
In an interview, Ungar-Sargon described the standard portrayal of the controversies in East Ramapo: Chassidim take over public school board in order to siphon off public monies from disadvantaged kids to pay for the schooling of their own special needs children. The New York Times, for instance, accused "[a]n Orthodox-dominated board of ensuring "that the community's geometric expansion would be accompanied by copious tax dollars." And Bloomberg News quoted accusations that the board was "siphoning public funds for private schools."
Admittedly, the visuals were terrible: The election of a majority Orthodox board in 2005 was followed in 2009 by dramatic cuts in the public school services, including the firing of teachers, with an attendant increase in class size, and the termination of almost all extra-curricular activities – e.g., sports and band. (Most of the extra-curricular activities have since been returned, after the school district obtained a grant from a private foundation.) And one appraiser was convicted of undervaluing a school building sold to a yeshiva.
But consanguinity does not establish causation. After months of scouring school budgets and tax rolls, Ungar-Sargon concluded that the cuts the education budget had been necessitated by the slashing of the state education budgets that cost East Ramapo $45,000,000 over a five-year period. Ungar-Sargon found that other nearby school districts had also dropped activities and fired teachers in response to similar cuts in state aid.
Ungar-Sargon also notes that the state formula for determining school aid rather dramatically disadvantages East Ramapo, and played a significant role in the reduced school spending. In establishing the district's eligibility for supplemental funding, New York State relies on a formula that divides property tax revenues by the total number of students in the public schools. That formula makes East Ramapo look like a wealthy district when it is anything but. The public school population is heavily made up of African Americans and Haitian and Latino immigrants: 78% qualify for free or reduced lunches. The formula ignores that over two-third of the districts school children attend private schools, but nevertheless are entitled to costly services such as school busing and special education. (Ungar-Sargon calculated that the property taxes paid by private school parents comfortably cover the services they receive.)
Under state law, property taxes, from which the public schools are primarily funded, can only be raised 2% per annum, without a super-majority vote of taxpayers. In 2010, the well-organized Orthodox community easily voted down a proposed 10% property tax hike, and was accused of "depleting the resources of the already-strapped East Ramapo schools" for doing so. Yet not one of the 53 other school districts in Rockland County and adjacent Putnam and Westchester Counties voted to raise property taxes above the statutory limits, despite having to impose their own educational cutbacks.
UNQUESTIONABLY, ONE OF THE MAJOR REASONS that the Orthodox communities in East Ramapo and elsewhere have chosen to participate in local school boards is to ensure that the community receives the special education assistance to which it is entitled under federal and state law. Though Orthodox children constitute a large majority of those in the East Ramapo district, they make up only one-third of the special needs population. Yet the sums involved run into the millions of dollars, and are currently the subject of a federal lawsuit against the school board.
The lawsuit charges that the school board has failed to fulfill the mandate of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to place children in the most mainstreamed option, which would be the public schools special education classes. Among other things, the Board is accused of not litigating against parents who prefer a private school option for their special needs children.
The issue is not one of costs. School Superintendant Joel Klein points out that even the most expensive alternative to public schooling in the district – busing children to the public special education school in the Kiryas Joel School district – costs less than per student than would special education in the district. And the Board is on strong grounds in arguing that it is saving money by generally avoiding litigation with parents because it would be likely to lose the litigation and be saddled with paying plaintiff's considerable legal costs. The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that IDEA's mainstreaming mandate was designed to prevent schools from segregating special needs children, not to preclude parents from opting out of mainstreaming.
Still the lead attorney in the lawsuit accuses the school board of having accommodated Orthodox parents desire to "segregate" their kids. As an example, she cites the fact the kids in the Yiddish-speaking class recently instituted in one of the public schools do not eat in the school lunchroom. Neither the fact that many of the special needs kids Orthodox kids are fed through feeding tubes connected directly to their stomachs nor the requirements of kashrus that prevent the Orthodox children from eating in the school cafeteria mollified her.
The principal of the school, Nancy Kavanaugh, told Ungar-Sargon that the Yiddish-speaking program had "been a terrific experience in more ways than we had anticipated." Some of the teachers, she admits, were initially wary of bringing in Orthodox teachers, but everyone had come to have great respect for Orthodox culture. "The teachers are absolutely phenomenal," she said. "They are so loving." But the thing that impressed her most: "They don't gossip. It is a sin. So if you ask any of the teachers down there about a situation, they are very reluctant to speak ill of anybody. If they have an issue, they find a gentle, nice way to say it."
Meanwhile Albany has appointed attorney Hank Greenberg as a "fiscal monitor" of the East Ramapo School. To which Superintendant Klein responds, "I welcome it because we have nothing to hide."
On the evidence of the Tablet article, not only is there nothing to hide: The school board deserves kudos not brickbats, for the long hours dedicated free of charge to serving the needs of all the children of East Ramapo.