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Brooklyn residents protest charter school planned for East Midwood Jewish Center

The East Midwood Jewish Center installed their new Rabbi, Rabbi Sam Levine as protestors outside the synagogue, (pictured here), protested against Urban Dove, bringing non-Jewish school into the temple. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Some members of Midwood’s Jewish community are pushing back against a Conservative synagogue’s decision to rent space to a charter school for at-risk teens. 

More than a hundred people protested outside of the East Midwood Jewish Center Sunday during a celebration honoring the initiation of Rabbi Sam Levine. The protesters worried that Urban Dove Charter School would make the neighborhood unsafe. 

“These are not just poor students, these are students with serious criminal records,” said a protester who only wanted to be identified by her first name Rachel. “I can’t have my kids walking home from school now.” 

Urban Dove Charter School is for academically at-risk students. The schools enrolls young teens, no older than 16, who failed their freshman year in high school. The transfer school uses a sports-based curriculum to help students engage more with their education. Each student is placed on a team, and a coach guides them through classes.

About 300 students, roughly 80% of whom are black and 20% Latino, would move from Urban Dove’s current Brooklyn location in Bed-Stuy to EMJC — which sits in a predominantly white neighborhood. 

The East Midwood Jewish Center installed their new Rabbi, Rabbi Sam Levine as protestors outside the synagogue, (pictured here), protested against Urban Dove, bringing non-Jewish school into the temple.. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

But disinformation spreading around Midwood’s growing Orthodox community has caused a panic.

“That poisons the conversation,” said Rabbi Sam Levine. “It’s causing hysteria that is unwarranted and it is also putting a barrier between them and us for dialogue.” 

Two weeks ago, EMJC hosted a public meeting with Urban Dove Charter School director Jai Nanda to dispel rumors about the school. During the contentious meeting, community members decried EMJC for leasing their space to a secular institution and not a Jewish school.

The East Midwood Jewish Center installed their new Rabbi, Rabbi Sam Levine, (pictured dancing), as protestors outside the synagogue protested against Urban Dove, bringing non-Jewish school into the temple.(Photo by Todd Maisel)

The East Midwood Hebrew Day School and the Midwood Day School were previous tenants at EMJC, but they departed after the schools stop paying rent. Urban Dove was the only school to submit a proposal and offer a down payment during the search, according to EMJC president Michael Schwarz.

During the meeting, residents claimed that there was a lack of transparency and expressed fears about safety concerns.

The protest on Sunday was just another manifestation of the same fears, according to Levine.

“My appeal to everybody is let’s sit down at a table with demonstrable facts, let’s be realistic and look at the actual risk because there is no real risk,” said Levine. “There is no difference between this high school and these kids, and any other group of kids.”

Over 11,000 other high school students walk around Midwood attending Edward R. Murrow, Midwood and James Madison High Schools. 

The East Midwood Jewish Center installed their new Rabbi, Rabbi Sam Levine as protestors outside the synagogue protested against Urban Dove, bringing non-Jewish school into the temple. Here, Lauren Grunsfeld and Stepfanie Zahay show support for Urban Dove as they debate with other members of the community. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Sunday’s protest included a counter-demonstration from a crowd of fellow Orthodox residents who believe the outrage was not painting the community in a good light. Some argued that the real fear was rooted in race, even if none of the anti-Urban Dove protesters said as much.

“To think that 300 kids are going to be dangerous does not make any sense,” said counter protester Martin Samoylov. ” The only reason that so many people are here is because of the kind of people who go to Urban Dove.”

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