In praise of diversity

In praise of diversity

I attended elementary school and high school in Teaneck. I was fortunate to do this because as a result I had Jewish friends, and white and black Christian friends. As an adult I have lived in Fort Lee and have had Spanish friends and Asian friends and friends from other countries.

When I go to Teaneck now I feel sad seeing the Orthodox kids and black kids walking in packs, knowing that they have nothing to do with each other because they don’t even attend the same schools.

There is much brow-beating in the Jewish press about the cost of a Jewish education. If Jewish schools were after-school and Sunday schools, for religious education only, the costs would decrease. These children would have the experience of knowing each other. Interrelating with different cultural, religious, racial, and ethnic groups is what makes living in America so wonderful. I feel sad that the Orthodox children miss out on this wonderful experience. If they attended public schools, their parents would be able to advocate for Hebrew and maybe even Yiddish as part of the curriculum. This also goes for the Muslim community. I do not know for sure but I assume the children attending the Muslim school in Teaneck live in the community. Their parents could advocate for the teaching of Arabic, an enormously important language in our foreign relations. Of course this applies to other communities around the country besides Teaneck where the Orthodox reside.

When I lived in Teaneck, until the ’70s, I did not know any Orthodox Jews (the few, I am told, who lived there during that time were beneath the radar). Through the wonderful outreach organization the Jewish Learning Experience, I have been exposed to Orthodox customs. I have been the recipient of home hospitality for Shabbat and holidays. Never once did I encounter anyone who was not white or Jewish at these dinners. The most memorable Passover dinners with my family were with Christian friends, who so enjoyed the experience. If the Orthodox in Teaneck and elsewhere were to reach out to their neighbors and send their children to public schools, how much more would this lead to understanding and appreciation of Jewish culture. Strangers don’t know very much about each other. With after-school programs these young people would still get all the Jewish education they need.