The Frisch School in Paramus, an Orthodox high school, draws students from all over the area, and its graduates often retain a strong bond to the school and to other graduates.
They also graduate the school, they say, with a strong understanding of Jewish values and a deep connection to the Jewish community.
Graduates leave the school and go on to life in the wider world with a wide range of political beliefs and affiliations.
One of the school’s most well-known recent alumni is Jared Kushner, who grew up in Livingston and graduated from high school in 1999, going on to Harvard College, NYU Law School, the New York Observer, real estate investments, and eventually the White House, where he is a senior advisor (at 36 — these things are relative) to his father-in-law, President Donald J. Trump. (Had he been a few years younger, he probably would have gone to the Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston, funded by his family and named after his grandmother, but it did not open in time for him.)
Some other Frisch graduates (although certainly not all of them — statistics are not available) see Mr. Trump’s presidency as a direct contradiction of many of the Jewish values they were taught and by which they have chosen to live. They are most upset by the president’s executive order, which attempted to keep out visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries indefinitely, other immigrants for various periods of time. It has been called a “Muslim ban,” caused havoc and great fear at the nation’s airports, and was both stayed and then withdrawn, although the promise (or threat) of another order has been made repeatedly.
Mr. Kushner’s Frisch classmates were not the only ones to have been taken aback by his father-in-law’s policies, and most particularly by the immigration ban. One of his classmates at Harvard, like Mr. Kushner the grandson of Holocaust survivors, wrote an open letter to Mr. Kushner, asking him to use his influence to help repeal the ban. That open letter went viral and amassed many signatures very quickly.
One of those graduates, Nava Friedman, who grew up in Teaneck, where her parents still live, and was in the class of 2008, wrote a similar open letter to Mr. Kushner. Where the Harvard letter drew on American values, however, hers drew its inspiration from the Jewish tradition.
“I just starting thinking that here is someone who is an alumnus of our school — and it is not a huge school,” Ms. Friedman said. “This is someone who has had the opportunity to get into the highest level of government, and have the kind of influence that very few of us have. So how can we harness this connection that we have, in this political atmosphere, to provide a message that we feels need voicing?
“In the particular moment, we were particularly concerned with the immigration and refugee ban,” she continued. “It seems like a really good opportunity to make our voices heard, and particularly because they are coming from a community that has ties to Jared.
“Aside from all the glamor and the connections, in some way, when I read profiles of Jared, I feel like I recognize him,” she said. “He is representative of us in some ways, so I think it behooves us to make this kind of statement.”
The letter is polite, respectful, and short. It does not mention Mr. Trump by name, and talks only about the immigration ban, and how it conflicts with Jewish values.
Ms. Friedman talked about the letter with some Frisch friends, including her classmate Gabrielle Kaplan, who also grew up in Teaneck. Ms. Friedman and Ms. Kaplan both live in New York now, but they kept running into each other at various meetings and rallies. Ms. Kaplan thought the letter was a great idea; she, Ms. Friedman, and other friends all posted it. In a week, it amassed almost 200 signatures, mostly from alumni, most of them Mr. Kushner’s age or younger. Some former teachers, administrators, and parents signed as well. There also are some oxymoronically anonymous signatures.
“We wanted to get our values across, and they come straight from the Torah,” Ms. Friedman said. “It talks about how we are supposed to care for the stranger. Our country took care of our parents and grandparents who came here, and then there were the others who didn’t and suffered horribly because of it. That made us particularly concerned about what is going on.”
“The Jewish education I received both at home and at school always had as one of its most fundamental elements the idea of loving the stranger,” Ms. Kaplan said. “It is all over the Bible. That is part and parcel of why we are taking a stand against the executive order and coming out in favor of welcoming refugees into the country. Those things are connected. As a people who have a personal connection to refugee status, it is something impossible to overlook. It’s not just in history books. We have seen it ourselves, and so we have to take a stand.
“It’s not just something that can happen, or that might happen. It’s something that has happened to us, and so we are in a unique position to raise awareness of it.”
There are some groups in the Orthodox community, defined broadly, particularly in the Northeast, that are working on ways to oppose harsh treatment of refugees and immigrants, she added.
Ms. Friedman, Ms. Kaplan, and their friends were able to find some of Mr. Kushner’s email addresses, although no one knows if he still looks at any of those accounts. Mr. Kushner, unsurprisingly, has not responded to the open letter from Frish graduates, any more than he has to the one from Harvard grads. But, the signers think, maybe there is some chance that it might make a difference, and they are obligated to try.
This is the letter that Frish alumni sent to fellow graduate Jared Kushner, class of 1999
Dear Mr. Kushner,
It is a rare opportunity to have you, a fellow member of the Frisch School community, play such a critical role in guiding the future of our country.
As fellow graduates, students, parents and educators of the Frisch School and proud members of the American Jewish community, we are alarmed by the President’s Executive Order barring immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim majority nations. Your family and all of ours know too well what can happen when America shuts its doors to those most in need.
Like you, many of us are the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who escaped to this country when the lands of their birth promised almost certain death; like those of your grandparents, many of their parents, siblings and extended families did not make it to our shores and perished in the Holocaust. The memory of the St. Louis rings fresh in our minds as we see refugees from some of the most war-torn countries on this planet barred from entering our country.
The Torah repeatedly teaches us to love and welcome the stranger, for we too were once strangers in Egypt. In fact, the central holiday on the Jewish calendar is dedicated to commemorating this fact. We implore you, as a Jew and as a graduate of an institution that instilled you with Jewish values, to exercise the influence and access you have to annals of power to ensure others don’t suffer the same fate as millions of our co-religionists. We ask you to ensure they gain the second chance our grandparents received to succeed and thrive in America.
The Undersigned Members of the Frisch School Community:
[A list of names follows]