Preserving the integrity of our Jewish institutions
February 16, 2018
By Mel Pearlman
Not everyone in the Jewish community is happy with two recent announcements concerning respectively, the Jewish Academy of Orlando and the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center.
I participated in the organizational meetings back in the 1970s for what was then designated to be the Hebrew Day School of Central Florida. I also served on the board for a number of years. The original intention of the school was to furnish a learning institution of excellence in both secular and Judaic studies. It was built with Jewish money for Jewish students.
During the course of its history, the school had many challenges, including finding the appropriate level and intensity of the Judaic studies curriculum that would satisfy the parents who came from various Jewish backgrounds and levels of observance. The excellence of the secular curriculum was never in doubt. Parental intervention created tension with the faculty and the several successive directors, all of whom ended up with short-term tenures because of these difficulties.
After a crisis in the early ‘90s, which saw many students withdraw from the school for one or two academic years, the school regained its footing. Many, but not all of the students who had sought alternative schools (including Chabad’s Torah Academy in Longwood) returned to the school on the Jewish campus in Maitland. The school ultimately found its equilibrium in the years following the crisis of the ‘90s, and has provided excellent secular and Jewish studies to our Jewish community up to this point.
The recent announcement that the school will now open its doors to the general community raises serious doubt whether long term the school can maintain the high quality of its Judaic studies curriculum. Suppose the number of non-Jewish students becomes a significant portion of the student body and non-Jewish parental and financial pressure is exerted to weaken the Judaic part of the daily curriculum. If that occurs it will be a setback for the Jewish community and a blow to Jewish continuity.
The recent announcement that the Holocaust Center will be moving to a location far removed from the Jewish campus in Maitland to a new and expansive home in Orlando, although heralded by Federation and Holocaust Center leadership, also raises serious questions about the status of the Maitland campus and the Holocaust Center’s mission in the years ahead.
With the diminished presence of the Jewish Academy of Orlando from the sale of one of its buildings (with no guarantee that the new owners will restrict the building’s use for a Jewish purpose), its announcement that it is opening up its enrollment to the general community, and now the ultimate abandonment of the Holocaust Center facilities on the Jewish campus in Maitland, the JCC will be the only other constituent agency, along with Federation offices, as occupants of the once thriving Maitland campus. What is to become of the campus which has served as an important center for Jewish life in Central Florida? Will other parts of it also be sold off?
The Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center has done great work in teaching tolerance and mutual respect to the diverse communities in Central Florida, but its heart and soul is to remember the Holocaust as a unique Jewish experience from which the community can learn these lessons of tolerance, respect and other aspects of human relations. Will the Holocaust as a unique Jewish experience be lost and the Holocaust Center, founded by Jewish survivors, lose its Jewish character in future generations by removing itself from the Jewish campus in Maitland?
In you wish to comment or respond to any of the contents herein you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please do so in a rational, thoughtful, respectful and civil manner. If you wish to respond by ranting and raving, please go into your bathroom, lock the door and shout your brains out.
Mel Pearlman has been practicing law in Central Florida for the past 45 years. He has served as president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando; on the District VII Mental Health Board, as Special Prosecutor for the City of Winter Park, Florida; and on the Board of Directors of the Central Florida Research and Development Authority. He was a charter member of the Board of Directors and served as the first Vice President of the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Central Florida, as well as its first pro-bono legal counsel.