"Hebrew-English Charter School"—can Anybody Decipher This For Me?

Dual-language French-English immersion public schools have been popular with Canadian elites ever since Pierre Trudeau instituted affirmative action for bilingual Canadians (such as, to pick a random example, Pierre Trudeau). They've proven effective at keeping out the riff-raff, especially less verbally gifted boys.

Here in the U.S., Mandarin immersion schools have become popular as a way to keep out undesirables. For example, remember when Davis Guggenheim drives his kids past three "bad" schools in the beach town of Venice in Waiting for Superman? One of those school has switched over to dual Mandarin-English immersion, and its demographics have switched from 96% Non-Asian Minorities to virtually no NAMs. (See "Waiting for Supermandarin.") 

But a lot of white people seem to actually believe in Mandarin-English programs not just as NAM-repellent, but that their kids will actually learn to speak Mandarin, which would then let them someday announce, "And I, for one, welcome our new Asiatic overlords. I'd like to remind them that as a fellow Mandarin-speaker, I could be useful ..." And that the Chinese will like you for being able to eavesdrop on them. (Do Chinese like white people who speak perfect Chinese? The Japanese, I've heard, are creeped out by the tiny number of whites who speak Japanese without an accent. The Japanese tend to assume that speaking Japanese is a racial characteristic of the Japanese, and thus Japanese-speaking whites are some kind of hellborn mutant.)

A distant in-law of mine in Washington D.C. has put his kids into a dual-language Spanish-English immersion public school. The original plan said it was to have half American kids, half kids of poor Mexican illegal immigrants. But, somehow or other, there was a slip-up and all the Spanish-speaking kids have turned out to be the children of the cultural attaches at the Ecuadorian embassy or of Argentine economists at the World Bank. They intend to get around to fixing that problem, one of these years. 

From the L.A. Daily News:

Hebrew-English charter school in Van Nuys approved by LAUSD 

By Barbara Jones, Staff Writer 

A proposed Hebrew-English charter school in Van Nuys won the approval Tuesday of the LAUSD board ... 

Lashon Academy plans to open in July near Vanowen Street and Hayvenhurst Avenue, operating a dual-immersion program in English and Hebrew. It initially expects to enroll about 290 students in grades K-2, with a target of 660 youngsters in grades K-6 by the end of the five year charter. 

The charter was approved 6-0, with board member Richard Vladovic absent, despite concerns raised by Tamar Galatzan about opening a language-based school. 

"I'm generally supportive of choice," said Galatzan, who represents the Van Nuys area. "This is a choice that parents should make, and it's called private school." 

Superintendent John Deasy pointed out there are several dual-immersion programs operating in Los Angeles Unified to cater to its diverse population. 

"I'm interested to find out who would attend a Hebrew-English program in Van Nuys," Galatzan said, repeating her worries about "private schools masquerading as public schools."


Like Tamar Galatzan, I'm interested to find out who would attend a Hebrew-English program in Van Nuys.

(By the way, my wife's friends who send their kids to Riverside Elementary School with Tamar Galatzan's kids complain that she acts snooty toward them at parent functions, but then she would be a good bet for someday becoming the first Jewish woman mayor of Los Angeles [assuming that 2013 frontrunner Wendy Greuel doesn't convert to her husband's religion between now and election day]. After a stint with the Anti-Defamation League, she's now both on the Board of Education and is a district attorney. Prosecutor is traditional crimefighting stepping stone job on the way to the mayor's office. She seems to be of the Bloomberg/Emmanuel  centrist Jewish anti-teacher's union wing that has been doing well at winning big city elections recently.)

One initial theory was that the Hebrew-English school would be for Jewish parents who want to skimp on paying for their kids' bar/bat mitzvah tutoring. But the school's lengthy application for charter status emphasizes that it will teach Modern Hebrew. Is that used in bar mitzvahs?

Another idea would be that it's being organized by Ultraorthodox blackhatters, who are growing rapidly in numbers in Valley Village just south of Van Nuys. In New York state, as in Israel, it's common for the Ultraorthodox to find ways to get the taxpayers to support them. On the other hand, while it's hard to find pictures of the organizers, they don't appear to be blackhatters. Many of the individuals listed in the plan for the school are women, some of them businesswomen, and they don't seem to wear headcovering (although maybe they are wearing those Dolly Parton-like wigs that some sects favor - who knows? This stuff is complicated.)

A third idea is that it's intended to benefit Israelis. The application says that Southern California is the second largest home outside of Israel to speakers of Modern Hebrew (after New York). If you are an Israeli immigrant in L.A., it would be nice to have the taxpayers subsidize your kids keeping up their Hebrew so they can go back and forth and be affluent binationals. Los Angeles and Tel Aviv are similar cities in many ways, with similar real estate prices.

A fourth theory is that it's being organized by strongly Zionist American Jews who want to strengthen ties between America and Israel. An article in the New York Jewish Week reports:

Two more Hebrew charter schools recently won approval to open in the United States. 

This week the Los Angeles Unified School District Board formally approved Lashon Academy Charter School, which will be located in Van Nuys. The school plans to launch with 290 students in grades K-2 and eventually expand through sixth grade; organizers have not yet decided whether to open this year or in 2014. 

Lashon, Hebrew for “tongue” or “language” is one of six approved schools backed by the Hebrew Charter School Center (HCSC), a group funded by a partnership of Jewish philanthropists that includes Michael Steinhardt and Harold Grinspoon. 

Two HCSC schools — Hebrew Language Academy Charter School in Brooklyn and Hatikvah International Academy Charter School in East Brunswick, N.J. — are already in operation, collectively enrolling approximately 500 children. Three more will open this fall, in Manhattan, Washington, D.C., and San Diego. ... 

Hebrew charter schools are tuition-free, publicly funded (but privately supplemented) schools that teach Hebrew; most also teach about Israeli culture and some secular aspects of Jewish culture. By law, they are open to children of all backgrounds and are prohibited from teaching or promoting religion.


Philanthropist Michael Steinhardt is an interesting guy. He's a legend in the hedge fund business, founding his first fund in 1967. According to his autobiography No Bull, his father, Sol Frank Steinhardt (a.k.a., Red McGee, was a mobster affiliated with Meyer Lansky. Steinhardt the elder was the top fence for stolen jewelry in the New York area. But, kind of like Michael Corleone, the son was sent to Wharton to learn a more respectably way of making money. He is a co-founder of Birthright Israel, which sends Jewish youths in America to Israel.

In an interview with Jewish Philanthropy, Steinhardt, an atheist, offers his views on Jewish education:

Michael Steinhardt: Non-Orthodox Jewish Education is a Shandah

Posted on JANUARY 8, 2010 Written by EJP

In a rare personal television interview, Michael Steinhardt, one of world Jewry’s most philanthropic benefactors and a co-founder of Birthright Israel, expresses scathing criticism of non-Orthodox Jewish life in the Diaspora (though Steinhardt sees himself as anything but an Orthodox Jew). 

In conversation with Mark S. Golub, president and executive producer of Shalom TV, Steinhardt expresses his deep disappointment with the traditional Hebrew School system (“can there be a worse term in the American Jewish lexicon than ‘Hebrew School’ – there were six kids in the 20th Century who liked it!”) and characterizes many of the young people he has met through Birthright Israel as “Jewish barbarians” who have never experienced a Shabbat dinner. 

Steinhardt expresses his anger with those described as “wonderful educators” in the Reform and Conservative movements for having done “such a poor job under-educating our next generations” by failing to distinguish Jewish values from Christian values. To Steinhardt, it is virtually impossible now to identify a non-Orthodox Jewish student at any secular university from a non-Jewish student. 

“I think that many of the trends that we have seen – such as the fact that 55-60% of non-Orthodox Jews are marrying ‘out,’ such as the fact that only 15% of total philanthropy of Jews goes to Jewish causes – are reflective of that fact that non-Orthodox Jewish education in America has been, and continues to be, a shandah – an abysmal failure.” 

Steinhardt also has some damning things to say about Jewish leadership in America, feeling that there has been much too much emphasis on the Holocaust – “an event of extraordinary enormity” – and misplaced fears about anti-Semitism in America. 

“Anti-Semitism has always been far more mythical than real in America; it’s as if organizations have to create the bogeyman of anti-Semitism in order to raise money.” As long as the Jewish community is obsessed with the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, these concerns detract “from our ability to think about the Jewish future – because it’s hard to be focused intensively on the Holocaust and, at the same time, to think about what we want to accomplish and what we want to be in the 21st Century.” 

Steinhardt offers his assessment of Diaspora Jewry: “It is a moribund Jewish world, continuously losing its young people, whose tz’daka has dramatically changed where only a small fraction of total philanthropy is going to Jewish causes; interest in Israel is declining; the number of American Jews going to Israel is not growing; where the culmination of Jewish life seems to be (for the young person) the bar mitzvah – and from there it is all downhill.” 

For Steinhardt, the most effective tool in instilling a sense of Jewish identity in young people is for them to visit Israel. “They grow up there. They feel more Jewish there.” 

This is not to say that Steinhardt is without criticism of Israel. “Its politicians are, writ large, awful; its businessmen are of less than glorious quality; and when you walk down Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv and you look around at these people and you say, ‘This is who you admire?’ I often say it’s easier to be a Zionist in Manhattan than it is in Tel Aviv.” 

But for Steinhardt, Israel has always been his great love – and his “substitute for religion.” 

“While the religion of Judaism is so deeply disappointing – its practice, its verbiage, its inability to reflect realistically upon our lives; I could forgive almost anything vis-à-vis Israel. Israel was and still is my Jewish miracle!”


America really needs a Jewish college football team for guys like this to root for instead of a foreign country.

Anyway, this got me thinking about the common assumption that Mandarin and English will be the dominant languages of business activity in the 21st Century. Why count out Hebrew?