As the board of trustees at shuttered Metropolitan Schechter High School continues to deal with the plight of the teachers left without jobs, stories of hardship caused by the Teaneck school’s closing keep surfacing.
Anat Graf, 4′, an Israeli who had been a Hebrew teacher there for four years, decided to move back to Israel and informed the school in March that she would leave in July. However, her ex-husband died in Israel in June, so she and her 7-year-old son had to return then. While there, she reversed her decision and decided to come back to the United States "for my peace of mind," she says. She also wanted her son to have some stability in his life after the shock of his loss.
She called the school in July and asked for her job back. Although it had replaced her as coordinator for Hebrew, she was re-hired as a teacher. When asked if she was informed about the school’s precarious financial situation, she replied, "As far as I knew, everything was fine."
Graf attended a teachers’ workshop meeting in early August. Toward the end of that meeting, the teachers heard about "a letter about a board member losing some money" and they called Alan Tannenbaum for clarification.
Then came Aug. ‘3, the day of the meeting with faculty and parents, when the announcement was made that the school would not open.
"I was totally shocked," says Graf, breaking into tears, "because a week before I had signed a contract to renew my lease for a year. I didn’t know what to do. I’m a Hebrew teacher, not qualified to work in English. My options are limited." She understands that the focus that night was on the students, but she felt pain for the teachers as well, "because the school was our baby. We started from the beginning and went through a hard year last year to survive. We came back and saw how they had renovated the halls so beautifully; there was such a good feeling. Me and my son were crying that night."
Graf’s son had to leave Solomon Schechter Day School in New Milford, where she could no longer afford the tuition. She says she was told she could apply for financial aid, "but I didn’t have spirit to do it. I was so down, I was too tired to ask for favors." He now attends a local public school, where he is in a much larger class.
"I would never have come back if I had known the school was closing," she says. "I’m not starving, I have family in Israel, but it’s hard to help from there. I thought I was coming back to a familiar place, a place I thought was like a family.
"My biggest fear is not to have choices, and how to protect my son. I have no health insurance, and if I go back to Israel, I will have to wait six months to get any."
Graf, who received a master’s degree from the Jewish Theological Seminary in ‘007, is interviewing for jobs. "We had a phenomenal school," she says. "A beautiful community. [Co-heads] Jay [Dewey] and Rhonda [Rosenheck] were always supporting the kids and the teachers. People really cared about each other."