Editorial: The Right Choice For Our Community At FJA

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If the disagreement among those who care about Frankel Jewish Academy (FJA) were only about the school’s governance, curriculum and interpretation of its bylaws and mission, then it would be no greater than the periodic friction that can be found in many school board rooms.

While the disagreement would be uncomfortable, with the accompanying doses of hurt feelings, mistrust and threats of financial retaliation, ultimately, the focus would be on the product — what’s best for the students — and parents would decide if the value being received is worth the investment in tuition and time.

By any reasonable measure, Frankel Jewish Academy’s product has been and continues to be very good. Its students are knowledgeable, curious Zionists who are poised to be the future leaders of our community. Though only in existence for 13 years, it’s hard to imagine a time when our community didn’t have a high school of this caliber providing an option for those who otherwise wouldn’t be sending their sons and daughters to one of our Orthodox day schools.

But the internal discord at Frankel Jewish Academy in West Bloomfield, festering for more than two years, especially as to who is qualified to teach Judaic studies, overlooks a fundamental fact: the Detroit Jewish community and its Federation was the school’s midwife.

From strategy and planning to physical plant and unprecedented funding, there would be no Frankel Jewish Academy without the community’s hechsher — seal of approval. Coupled to this was a belief that the new school would be additive and not undermine another beneficiary of the community’s vision and dollars by encroaching on its modern Orthodox legacy — Southfield’s Yeshivat Akiva, whose high school has lost some would-be Akiva ninth-graders to the newer Academy.

So, while the parties at FJA continue to confront each other without any discernible progress on the most pressing aspects of their disagreement (one side has sought judicial intervention from the Oakland County Circuit Court), they also are choosing to erode the very fiber of our community’s uniqueness — its ability to think and act as one for the good of all.

This disagreement is infecting the broader Jewish community, pushing some of our community’s best and brightest leaders into opposing corners while straining, if not shattering, friendships. If peace isn’t made soon, it runs the risk of permanently sapping the unifying strength of Federation and diluting its Annual Campaign message.

Founding headmaster Lee Buckman shared his vision for the school in an Aug. 25, 2000, Jewish News cover story. Rabbi Buckman said he saw his role as a “catalyst for building a community that shares a common vision and is willing to enter into conversation with each other. I believe that disagreement is actually a way to build community, because if you’re not willing to engage in debate with other people, essentially what you’re doing is denying the legitimacy of their position.”

The College of Cardinals is sealed into the Sistine Chapel and not allowed to leave until it selects a new pope. A similarly secluded venue should be secured by our community, with the parties involved in the FJA dispute locked inside. They shouldn’t be allowed to exit until they hammer out an accommodation that also takes into account the community’s overall best interests.

Many of their parents and grandparents were pioneers in building and shaping a Detroit Jewish community that could choose peace over war and the common good over self-interest. It’s time for them to make the right choice. 

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