Justice, Justice You Shall Pursue
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook said, “I don’t speak because I have the power to speak; I speak because I don’t have the power to remain silent.” From the beginning of my work with Rockland Clergy for Social Justice, I have felt the powerful call to speak out against the injustice being done to the children, their families, and the educators of the East Ramapo Central School District. In speaking out about the constitutionally given right to an education for all children in Rockland County, I have joined my voice to an interfaith coalition of Rockland clergy, to the congregants of the Orangetown Jewish Center, to all Jews who pursue tzedek (righteousness), and to all people of conscience.
Rockland Clergy for Social Justice (RC4SJ) is an interfaith coalition of Jewish, Christian and Muslim faith leaders who began working together over a year ago with a single unifying focus: the 9000 public school children of East Ramapo who are not receiving an adequate education that will prepare them to be successful citizens of our country.
Today RC4SJ held a press conference at the First Baptist Church of Spring Valley to support the courageous work of State Legislators Ellen Jaffee, David Carlucci, and Ken Zebrowski. Since November, when special monitor Hank Greenberg presented his findings on the dysfunctional school district, they have been working to write legislation to ensure compliance with state and federal law, financial integrity and transparency and functional school governance. Our press conference, planned weeks ago to announce RC4SJ’s upcoming lobbying trip to Albany on March 3, coincidentally happened at the exact time that our county legislators introduced their bill. http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2015/02/8562498/rockland-pols-introduce-east-ramapo-oversight-bill
The bill shows the commitment of Jaffee, Carlucci and Zebrowski to implementing both the spirit and letter of Hank Greenberg’s recommendations. To read the bill as it has been introduced, click here: http://open.nysenate.gov/legislation/bill/A5355-2015.
When I spoke at the press conference today, I began by recalling my feeling of dedication to 9000 children when I stood on the very same dais last year. 9000 seemed like a very large number, a compelling reason to stand up and speak up. Today, however, those 9000 children have become personal. Through my volunteer experiences together with fellow OJCers at the Kakiat School Early Childhood Center, I have come to know the children we are fighting for. Kindergarten children who need a full day of education receive instead two hours a day, one half hour of which is taken up with breakfast or lunch. The valiant, dedicated administrators and teachers at the ECC work to provide learning to children, who number thirty in a class without an aide. 9000 is not just a number. 9000 is Kiran, a bright, precocious five year old who would be reading chapter books already if he had more education hours. 9000 is Tyron, a child who has fine motor difficulties. I help him at the learning centers to hold scissors straight and cut paper. I wonder who helps him on the vast majority of days when I am not there. 9000 is Rosie, an imaginative little artist. My heart sinks when I think about Rosie entering grade school without art or music to continue fueling her curiosity. 9000 is not a number. It’s personal. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6CxColw3FnI
RC4SJ will be traveling once again to Albany on March 3, hoping to build on today’s momentum and seeking support from other legislative leaders and the Executive Chamber in Albany for the bill introduced today by Jaffee, Carlucci.and Zebrowski.
Last Friday, Governor Cuomo came to East Ramapo and bravely announced that he expected to sign legislation before June of this year. He said that he is grateful to special monitor Hank Greenberg for providing us with facts. I agree that having facts gives us with the leverage to create change. But facts are only the beginning. To see this through to a happy ending for the public school students of ERCSD, we will need passion, dedication to justice and clear vision of a moral high ground.
“Tzedek, tzedek, tirdof. Justice, justice, you will pursue.”
Rabbi Paula Mack Drill