HOLLYWOOD, Fla., Aug. 23 — The new public school at 2620 Hollywood Boulevard stands out despite its plain gray facade. Called the Ben Gamla Charter School, it is run by an Orthodox rabbi, serves kosher lunches and concentrates on teaching Hebrew.
About 400 students started classes at Ben Gamla this week amid caustic debate over whether a public school can teach Hebrew without touching Judaism and the unconstitutional side of the church-state divide. The conflict intensified Wednesday, when the Broward County School Board ordered Ben Gamla to suspend Hebrew lessons because its curriculum — the third proposed by the school — referred to a Web site that mentioned religion.
Opponents say that it is impossible to teach Hebrew — and aspects of Jewish culture — outside a religious context, and that Ben Gamla, billed as the nation’s first Hebrew-English charter school, violates one of its paramount legal and political boundaries. But supporters say the school is no different from hundreds of others around the country with dual-language programs, whose popularity has soared in ethnically diverse states like Florida.
“It’s not a religious school,” said Peter Deutsch, a former Democratic member of Congress from Florida who started Ben Gamla and hopes to replicate it in Los Angeles, Miami and New York. “South Florida is one of the largest Hebrew-speaking communities in the world outside Israel, so there are lots of really good reasons to try to create a program like this here.”
Friday, August 24, 2007
New York Times: By ABBY GOODNOUGH Published: August 24, 2007