January 29, 2007

(Reb Yudel)

Fisking the Jewish Week - Part I

YudelLine on Jewish Week on Schechter
  1. Initial response on the article and its omissions
  2. Why a even bad Jewish Week article is better than nothing
  3. Fisking the Jewish Week part 1 (Wikipedia definition of Fisking)
  4. Fisking the Jewish Week part 2
  5. Important clarifications
The Jewish Week's article, "Schechter Merger Hits Choppy Waters," can perhaps serve as a textbook example of bad writing and worse reporting in service to a good cause. Let's take a closer look:
Schechter Merger Hits Choppy Waters
Carolyn Slutsky - Staff Writer
So far, so good.
Dorothy Bowser, who served as principal of the Solomon Schechter High School of New York, was removed as co-principal at the new merged school with scant explanation, say New York parents and students.

When the city school merged with the suburban school last spring, families on both sides of the river held their collective breath waiting to see if, like a skin graft, the match would take.

Block that metaphor! Was it a skin graft? Was it a shiduch? Quick: Someone drop a match into the Hudsom!

Apparently, as recent events at the Metropolitan Schechter High School in Teaneck suggest, it has not been the smoothest of transitions.

And it here refers to what, exactly? You mean the merger/skin graft/match was not a smooth transition?

And: Recent events? There are certainly many event that suggest that the merger was not a smooth one, among them the delay in the start of school by several days; the constant modification of the school hours during the first few weeks of school; an announcement -- given only to the students, not to the parents -- of a formal internship program, which was then soon rescinded; the failure to provide an appropriate Judaic studies program for Seniors and -- not insignificantly -- the departure of at least three teachers by midyear.

None of those events, however, are reported in this story.

When the Solomon Schechter High School of New York merged with the Schechter Regional High School in New Jersey last fall,

Last fall? The lead said it was last spring.

 the head of school in Manhattan, Dorothy Bowser, joined with Rhonda Rosenheck and Jay Dewey of the Teaneck school to share equal responsibility in running the new school and maintaining both schools' philosophies.

Note the active tense (rare for this story) which makes the three administrators active players. However, it is the school's board which decided on the merger; and it is apparently the board which has decided on the staffing.

Last week, board president Mary Sanders sent an e-mail correspondence to Schechter families

Good thing she didn't write "all Schechter families," because this family didn't receive a copy of the letter. I haven't yet determined whether other New Jersey families did receive the email.

with an attachment stating that the school was looking for funding for a new facility they hope to acquire or build. At the end of the attachment she broke news many parents and students say stunned them.

"Our need to acquire a suitable new facility brings with it the need to raise substantial additional capital," wrote Sanders. "To that end, we have asked Dorothy Bowser to focus all of her attention on this critical task.

"Effective immediately, Dorothy will relinquish all of her other responsibilities at the School and assume the post of Development Officer reporting directly to the Board. We are looking to secure off-campus office space for Dorothy so that we can expand our development outreach."

What does this mean? Why was this decision made? Sanders isn't quoted here, even to give a "no comment."

Some parents and students from New York, who are a minority in the school, say the decision to reassign Bowser's responsibilities was unfavorable, as they had been promised her support through the merger.

Unfavorable? Disappointing would be closer to standard English.

They also described the move as cowardly, coming as it did in an e-mail attachment.

If the move -- that is, the reassignment of Bowser -- was carried out in a mass e-mail, that would indeed be cowardly. To notify the parent body through an email, which seems to have been what happened, doesn't seem to be particularly cowardly -- that is, after all, how the school communicates with the parent body.

For that matter, I don't see the Jewish Week reporter reciting her article personally to all the Jewish Week readers; was she cowardly for letting us know the news through a web site and snail mail delivery?

Rosenheck would say only that Bowser would be "taking over development function of the leadership for the school" and that Rosenheck and Dewey were "taking operation of the school in terms of faculty, students and curriculum."

You mean, "Asked to comment, Rosenheck would say only that..." That may be all Rosenheck is willing to say about her colleague (and mentor, according to what she told us parents last year) to the newspaper, but an unmodified "would only say" is pretty ridiculous.

And again, why isn't the board being asked about the decision? Was it made by Rosenheck? By the whole board? By a committee? These basics are totally omitted from this story.

Come back tomorrow for more, including cowardly, anonymous and false attacks on me and other Teaneck parents.

January 28, 2007

(Reb Yudel)

Beliefnet: "Torah Journeys" is one of best Jewish books of 2006

Beliefnet blogger Rabbi Joshua Waxman names Torah Journeys: The Inner Path to the Promised Land by Rabbi Shefa Gold as one of the year's best Jewish books:

Rabbi Gold has been a long-time teacher and song-leader in the Jewish Renewal movement, and her recordings of Jewish chant have been a point of entry for many into the words of our sacred texts. Her first book, Torah Journeys, is an exploration of the weekly portion written from the perspective of spiritual growth and development, and contains some remarkable insights and practices that are both profound and accessible.

Ask for Torah Journeys at your local Jewish bookstore, buy it at Amazon, or save 10% and get free shipping from the publisher (limited time only).

(Reb Yudel)

Thank you, Gary Rosenblatt, because even a bad story is better than none

Last week, I both congratulated and slammed the Jewish Week for their one-side story on Teaneck's Metropolitan Schechter High School, where I happen to be a tuition-paying parent.

YudelLine on Jewish Week on Schechter
  1. Initial response on the article and its omissions
  2. Why a even bad Jewish Week article is better than nothing
  3. Fisking the Jewish Week part 1 (Wikipedia definition of Fisking)
  4. Fisking the Jewish Week part 2
  5. Important clarifications
I attacked the Jewish Week reporter -- and will continue to do so -- for sinfully sloppy reporting, in that she only interviewed one member of an unhappy shotgun marriage.

Truth be told, at least this Teaneck family feels that the merger took a diamond and turned it into coal, to steal a phrase from a Manhattan parent quoted by the Jewish Week. (More about theft and Manhattanites in a later post).

But while the quality of the reporting was unforgivable, the fact that the Jewish Week dared report on the situation was a good thing.

A very good thing.

Because on Thursday, following the publication of the article, Regional Metropolitan Schechter began a long-overdue process of talking, screaming and venting.

Here's how the school reported it in their weekly newsletter:

Emergency School-Wide Meeting: Jay Dewey and Rhonda Rosenheck called a special meeting of the "Town" to talk about several key issues. They began by recognizing that there was considerable sadness and grief over no longer having Dorothy Bowser on site and that they realized that many former SSHSNY students felt abandoned, without their "last link" to their old school. Jay and Rhonda also noted that there were several signs of the school community's pain, including an increasing number of losses (probable thefts) of computers, phones, and iPods, and the increasing number of credible reports of drug use. Jay noted the legal and school-based consequences of being caught stealing or involved with drugs on campus. In Q & A, many students expressed feelings of loss and a sense of distrust and betrayal. Some expressed anger at the Board of Trustees for thinking only of the long-run, without weighing the affects on the current students, and at the Leadership Team for focusing on issues other than students' well-being (such as recruitment). Areas of frustration included lack of order, and that they are still awaiting closure on several of their issues, such as length of the school day. The meeting was heated and productive; several students stayed late to share insights and suggestions with Rhonda and Jay.

Reflections from Rhonda and Jay after the meeting -- We were proud of the MSHS students' willingness to engage in difficult discussion with us Thursday afternoon. We empathized deeply with their grief and anger, and found their ideas compelling. Some important suggestions came out of the many spontaneous, more private discussions that arose among students, ourselves, and faculty members afterwards. We and the faculty have already been taking steps to identify root issues and improve school life. A plan of action developed during next Wednesday's Professional Development Day will move the school in an even more productive and healing direction.

Several students asked us to convene more such meetings, but in smaller groups, to allow many more students' voices to be heard. We will schedule the first of those next week. Students also asked us to invite the Board leadership in to talk with them directly, and we will be extending that invitation. Additionally, you -- the parents -- will very soon receive an invitation to attend one of many parlor meetings around the region, so that you, too, have an opportunity to talk with the Leadership Team about your and your child(ren)'s experiences during this difficult year.

I imagine the article served as quite a centerpiece of conversation at the school's winter gala last night as well....

January 25, 2007

(Reb Yudel)

Jewish Week Scoops YudelLine, as expose reveals that the YudelKid's high school suffered from merger

True, the Jewish Week story fails to reveal that Teaneck parents, too, feel combined Schechter sucks.

YudelLine on Jewish Week on Schechter
  1. Initial response on the article and its omissions
  2. Why a even bad Jewish Week article is better than nothing
  3. Fisking the Jewish Week part 1 (Wikipedia definition of Fisking)
  4. Fisking the Jewish Week part 2
  5. Important clarifications
Doesn't note that shotgun merger a result of Ismar Schorch's ego.

Doesn't reveal complicity of board in mismanaging merger.

Neglects fact that three teachers on small staff left mid year. But... it does break the story of the results of the merger of New York's Schechter and Teaneck's Schechter.

Kol hakavod!

January 22, 2007

(Reb Yudel)

Of Faith and Works

Over at God School, Christian missionary -- and one-time ubergeek -- Simon Cozens muses on the transformative power of the Gospel... and then dares crunch the numbers:
I came across an idea when I was at WEC which seems enticing; that Christian witness should not just transform lives but have a transformative effect on society as a whole. Crime rates would fall, marriages would stay together, education would improve, all because there were active Christians witnessing in the area. It's a good idea, but with the new nenkan coming out, I decided to do a little bit of thinking.

According to the nenkan, there were 2.5m crimes in Japan in 2004, so about 20 per 1000 population. This is in a country which has a Christian population of between 0.5% and 3% depending on who's counting. According to this site, the equivalent crime rate in America for 2004 is 40 crimes per 1000 population, in a country where between about 50% and 80% consider themselves Protestant.

So much for that theory, then.

January 19, 2007

(Reb Yudel)

What they said, and when they said it

David Sirota asks what's up with all the liars -- not only the usual suspects like the President and the Narcissus of Connecticut, but the columnists who are supposed to be keeping the politicians honest (yes, he means you, Joe Klein, David Brooks, and Richard Cohen):

How can we expect to change course in Iraq, if a president is given a pass to claim he has never stayed the course in the first place? How can we expect to hold lawmakers accountable if they are never questioned about their efforts to deliberately mislead us? How can we expect the media to be a watchdog if its leading analysts and news framers face no public sanctions when they disrespect the truth or give credence to fringe ideologies?

A country whose national political conversation is dominated by voices that deny their own complicity in national security tragedies; downplay human casualties, and generally make dishonesty mundane, is a nation prevented from reflecting on its bad decisions -- and thus is doomed to repeat such bad decisions in the future.

January 8, 2007

(Reb Yudel)

Thank you, Washington Post, for letting me sleep at night!

As an American whose taxes has paid for George Bush's oedipal war in Iraq, I have my share of blood on my hands.

The Washington Post, it now turns out, has pictures of some of that blood. But in keeping with its apparent charter to "comfort the comfortable and ignore the afflicted," it has decided not to share them.

I would imagine that reflects wise judgment on the part of the Washington Post -- the same wise judgment that led it to support the Iraq war, sob over the death of Pinochet, and presumably applaud the upcoming announcement of the Bush/McCain Surge/Escalation in Iraq.

Anyhow, here's what they're not showing us, courtesy of Richard Blai via Atrios:

Capturing images of war on their digital cameras, as many troops in
Iraq have done, Marines took dozens of gruesome photographs of the 24
civilians who were killed in Haditha, Iraq, in November 2005…

…Among the images, there is a young boy with a picture of a
helicopter on his pajamas, slumped over, his face and head covered in
blood. There is a mother lying on a bed, arms splayed, the bodies of
three young children huddled against her right side. There are men with
gaping head wounds, and a woman and a child hunkered down on their
knees, their hands frozen around their faces as if permanently bracing
for an attack.

…The images are contained in thousands of pages of NCIS
investigative documents obtained by The Washington Post. Post editors
decided that most of the images are too graphic to publish…
[emphasis added]

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January 4, 2007

(Reb Yudel)

Gary Rosenblatt et al peddle Republican Party talking points again

Wondering what the Republican spin is on Congress these days? Look no further than the new Jewish Week editorial, Bipartisan Time On Hill:

The 110th Congress, which convened this week under Democratic control, has the potential to break through the legislative gridlock that has gripped Capitol Hill in recent years. But that will happen only if the new leadership finds ways to build bipartisan coalitions, and not simply use Congress to score political points.

The plain fact is that the nation can ill afford two more years of partisan mud slinging instead of serious legislating. Critical decisions have to be made about tax and spending policies to bring the huge federal deficit under control.

Legislative gridlock? From a Republican House that never allowed Democratic amendments, a Republican Senate that stole away the traditional filibuster, and a Republican president who only once vetoed a bill, and that strictly for show?

The fact is, there was no minimum wage increase because Republicans don't want one. There was no reigning in of the deficit because, well, Republicans want a deficit because they want to bankrupt the federal government. (Excuse me: The correct phrase is "drown it in the bathtub.")

But whence this bi-partisan blather? For a dozen years -- and in particular the last four -- the Republicans made clear their notion that, as they said, "bi-partisanship is just another word for date rape."

Turns out that "bi-partisanship" is... the latest Republican talking point.

Look here and here where Digby dissects some of this; and over Media Matters for more details, including just how partisan (not to mention willfully incompetent) the departed Republican congress was.

So: Happy New Years. And welcome to another year of Gary Rosenblatt's Jewish Week Editorial Page, whose motto apparently is: "Fox Spins, We Retype"