Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

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Dear Editor:

It was very disappointing to see the Heritage rebuttal at the bottom of Jeremy Scheinberg’s very compelling letter regarding the inadvisability of a Jewish Academy of Orlando (JAO) move and the role of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando (JFGO). First of all, only after Mr. Scheinberg’s letter did you disclose the Feb. 7, 2014, piece written by Stan Roberts was actually written on behalf of the JFGO and was approved by them. How nice it would have been if this would have been disclosed when it was first published! Instead, the Heritage chose to masquerade the piece as journalism when it in fact was an advertorial. I also notice that the Heritage did not contest Mr. Scheinberg’s contention that it decided to distribute the advertorial in a community-wide free issue without any JAO input. Had the writer been interested in the whole picture instead of one side of the story, he would have sought to incorporate JAO input into the advertorial.

Though Olga Yorish’s recent letter about the importance of a Jewish day school education was indeed very heartwarming, the fact that it had zero mention of the JAO was very conspicuous in its absence. The list of community members (without a child or grandchild currently enrolled) that give the JAO an annual gift of $1,000 or more is unfortunately very, very small. The sad truth is that this community provides very limited support to the JAO. In the recent past, the JFGO provided the JAO (then the Hebrew Day School) an allocation of up to $170,000 per year. Now, the JAO gets zero annual allocation from the JFGO and in fact is liable to the JFGO (via the Facilities Management Committee) for nearly a half million dollars a year. Of course, JFGO cannot give away what it does not have. Though I believe that JFGO can become very relevant, they clearly have not been able to effectively communicate their value proposition to the community. This is evidenced by the JFGO’s inability to garner enough donations to make any significant cash allocations to the community or pay down their debt. 

I do support Jeremy Scheinberg’s comments about the Schwartz Plan but unlike Mr. Scheinberg, I do not reject it out of hand. In fact, the Schwartz Plan appears to have many good points and it seems that its backers have a genuine interest in getting the Jewish Community Campus on a firm financial footing. Specifically, I share the same serious concerns of Mr. Scheinberg regarding a JAO move to the JCC building. Nevertheless, we must be realistic and as an absolute last resort, consider it as a viable option. Mr. Schwartz in particular has been a consistent and generous donor to the JAO. He is a true mensch for his unwavering commitment to Jewish education. However, I would point out that if all the backers of Mr. Schwartz’s “bold multi-pronged plan” would follow his own stellar example and each make a modest $1,000 or $5,000 annual contribution to the JAO and attend some of its events, it would not only make a huge difference to the JAO’s financial situation, it would also give a lot more credence to their plan. In addition, how nice it would be if we actually had the community leaders supporting the Schwartz Plan come by the school and visit for a morning news or a Shabbat program. It would help them realize what we are asking them to invest in. 

I have become weary of reading David Bornstein pontificate about how awful the JAO is by not meeting its financial obligations to the JFGO (that same JFGO that provides the JAO with zero allocations). Considering that the title of Mr. Bornstein’s column is “The Good Word,” it is striking how he seems to be completely incapable of writing any “good word” concerning the JAO. And on those rare occasions that he does, the positive is invariably drowned out by a larger amount of negative commentary. This past autumn, when the JAO had its highest kindergarten enrollment in eight years, did he mention that in a positive light? Nope. What about the JAO’s great test scores and high achieving students? Mr. Bornstein gives the school no credit for that either and claims it is because of the “virtually all super bright Jewish kids.” He obviously has an axe to grind based on his own perceived poor experience. Like any school, the JAO is not the right fit for every child or every family. I am terribly sorry that Mr. Bornstein and his family seem to have had a bad experience and left the school nine years ago. If this is the case, it is high time he got over it. For someone who is imploring agencies to look beyond their immediate needs for the good of the community, I hope that after nine years Mr. Bornstein can bring himself to do the same. Since Mr. Bornstein seems to agree that a Jewish Day School is of vital importance to the community, it will be wonderful to see his name on the JAO donor list this year. But more importantly, I hope that Mr. Bornstein can look beyond his perceived bad experience and try to recognize some of the many positives at the JAO. And by the way, Mr. Bornstein, you are also invited to come by and visit though I strongly doubt you will come.

Mike Libow

Winter Park


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