Torah Portion Shmini: Prominence and Responsibility

Torah Portion Shmini: Prominence and Responsibility

After the tragic deaths of Nadav and Avihu:

Through those near to Me I show Myself holy,
And gain glory before all the people
Leviticus 10:3

This week we read about Nadav and Avihu; two sons of Aaron tragically killed during a moment of professional carelessness and irresponsibility. The verse above conveys God’s response to the tragedy. According to the renowned commentator Samson Raphael Hirsch, God ‘suggests’ that being a prominent person/leader is not about privilege but about responsibility. Leaders therefore, must consider the needs of the greater community and not merely focus on themselves.

In this spirit, I want to address a challenge we are facing in the Great Neck School District. I recognize that many people reading this column (especially those from North Shore Towers) do not live in the district; yet the issue is worthy of your consideration.

Recently, a school bond proposal; designed to provide necessary repairs to local schools, was defeated by a mere one hundred votes. Although one reason for the defeat was lack of communication about the bond’s particulars, there was another, more alarming reason. Within Great Neck there is a significant Orthodox Jewish community, which does not avail itself of the public school system. In specific segments of that community, there was a concerted effort to get out to vote and to insure its defeat. In a few weeks, voters in the Great Neck School District will be voting on the annual school budget-along with a more modified version of the previously defeated bond (details are on the Great Neck Public Schools website). This time, an even greater effort is being made within segments of the Orthodox community to defeat the budget. In addition, for the two open seats on the School Board, segments of the Orthodox community are running candidates. As they will represent constituents who do not partake of the public schools, their primary objective will be to undermine the public school system and to promote needs of private schools.

The Great Neck Public Schools are regarded as among the finest in New York State. On a consistent basis, the local high schools are nationally ranked. Yet, because a segment of the community has no regard either for secular education or for the needs of the greater community; a major effort is being undertaken to defeat the budget. From my discussions with clergy and with local officials, I am convinced that defeating the budget will not only irreparably harm an exceptional school system, but will lead to a more alarming transformation of Great Neck from a multi-cultured community to a community directed primarily by Orthodox Jewish practice. This concern is not hyperbole; it is a legitimate description of what is presently occurring in the town.
Although my children attended Jewish day schools (two eventually returned to the public schools), I always shared the Conservative Rabbinate’s support for the public school system. In addition to being responsible to our families and to our respective congregations, we rabbis have a responsibility to serve the greater community. Included among those responsibilities is an obligation to support the local school system. Although I certainly support the flourishing of kosher supermarkets, restaurants and synagogues in the Great Neck area, I also recognize the needs of other cultural segments of our community. To this end, I personally (along with many colleagues on an interfaith basis), have worked closely with leaders of both the school community and the political community; to help insure and enhance the quality of life for everyone. The alarming challenges to the Great Neck Public Schools are not primarily about the quality of the school system. Rather, they are about transforming Great Neck into a town which reflects the religious needs of one segment to the exclusion of everyone else.

The growing concern-and fear- being expressed is that the upcoming school vote is not merely about a budget but about the existential future of Great Neck. As a community leader, I share responsibility to labor on behalf of the virtues which characterize our community at large. I share this information with you because such is my responsibility as a community leader, who is unwilling to be a disengaged bystander as the Great Neck area lies under siege. Maintaining the high standards of our school system is not about politics; it is about the life-blood of the town many of us call home.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Klayman


Sunday, April 23, 2017
11:30 am

Hosted by Temple Tikvah
of New Hyde Park
3315 Hillside Avenue


“For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.” – Elie Wiesel