New York State Cracks Down on Jewish Schools

My article appears in Education Next. Here’s the beginning:

When the New York Times ran an article headlined “Do Children Get a Subpar Education in Yeshivas? New York Says It Will Finally Find Out,” the newspaper illustrated the piece with a photo of a Jewish school in Queens.

An administrator from that school promptly complained to the Times about its photo selection, pointing out that six of the school’s recent graduates had attended Harvard Law School.

So the Times website swapped out the photo, replacing it with one of a Jewish school in Brooklyn. An administrator there complained too—noting that the school offers 24 Advanced Placement courses, including ones in physics, computer science, and calculus.

The Times then took down this second photo, replacing it online with a picture of an advocate whose organization sued the governor of New York in an attempt to force more secular instruction in Jewish private religious schools.

This episode from December 2018 neatly reflects the years-long policy battle over the curricula in Jewish schools in New York and the government’s role in overseeing them. High-quality educational offerings and outcomes are met with accusations of inferiority. And the Times is paying close, if clumsy, attention.

One can understand why. It’s a good story, of interest well beyond the Jewish community. Jewish schools educated more than 151,000 students in New York State in 2013, the last year a careful count was done. That’s more than the number enrolled in the Philadelphia City or San Diego Unified public-school districts. And taxpayers have a stake in how well the yeshivas are doing their jobs. The Jewish schools absorb more than $100 million a year in city government funds for things such as textbooks, special education, security, and transportation. What’s more, if yeshiva students don’t get the skills necessary to participate in the economy, other taxpayers may be stuck supporting them with subsidized housing and medical care, the schools’ critics contend

Read the full article in Education Next.

Update: The article is mentioned in TorahMusings.com’s “Daily Reyd” and in Mishpacha magazine.

One NRA fights for guns. One for restaurants. Yes, D.C. has abbreviation overload.

My article “One NRA fights for guns. One for restaurants. Yes, D.C. has abbreviation overload” appears in Washington Post Magazine.

Here’s the beginning:

It was the malapropism heard around certain corners of social media. When Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) asked Ben Carson recently about REOs — real estate owned properties — the housing and urban development secretary appeared to hear a reference to cookies, i.e., Oreos. While the incident quickly became a referendum on Carson’s knowledge of housing policy — he would later dismiss the episode as gotcha politics, telling ABC News, “Give me a break,” perhaps a subconscious Kit Kat allusion — it did point to a frequently overlooked hazard of life in Washington: Acronyms and other abbreviations, a second language for many wonks, can be confusing, problematic or simply embarrassing.


Just ask officials at George Mason University, who in March 2016 revealed a new name for their law school: the Antonin Scalia School of Law. The acronym ASSOL was mocked on social media, and the school was swiftly renamed the Antonin Scalia Law School. Officials with what is now called ASLS, who declined to comment, evidently weren’t concerned that the new abbreviation also refers to Advanced Stroke Life Support, audiology and speech-language sciences, the Association for Scottish Literary Studies, adult symptomatic lumbar scoliosis and the New York Library Association’s Academic and Special Libraries Section

2019 Catholic Press Association award

I’m excited to announce receiving a first-place 2019 Catholic Press Association award for my National Catholic Reporter arts coverage. Read more here about all the other awards NCR won.

What does a libertarian art show look like? The Cato Institute is finding out.

Cato Institute exhibit. Photo: Menachem Wecker

My article “What does a libertarian art show look like? The Cato Institute is finding out” appears in Washington Post Magazine.

Exhibit suggests ‘peaceful pluralism’ among ancient Jews, Christians and pagans

The Magdala Stone, a limestone box unearthed from a first-century synagogue in Migdal, Israel. (Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority/Yael Yolovich)
The Magdala Stone, a limestone box unearthed from a first-century synagogue in Migdal, Israel. (Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority/Yael Yolovich)

My article “Exhibit suggests ‘peaceful pluralism’ among ancient Jews, Christians and pagans,” about the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibit “The World between Empires: Art and Identity in the Ancient Middle East,” appears in National Catholic Reporter.

Why dragons keep getting bigger

My article comparing dragons portrayed in Game of Thrones and in depictions of St. George in medieval manuscripts appears in Catholic Herald.

Tikvah podcast

Jonathan Silver interviews me on the Tikvah podcast about my Mosaic magazine piece about the Jewish Museum.

More about the original essay, and responses to it, here.

Mister Rogers’ Jewish neighborhood

My article “Mister Rogers’ Jewish neighborhood,” about an exhibit of Jim Judkis’ photos of Fred Rogers, appears in Religion News Service.

Book chapter: Religious Pilgrimage and Sacred Relics as Empathy Builders

My book chapter “Religious Pilgrimage and Sacred Relics as Empathy Builders,” co-written with Ari Gordon, appears in the book “Designing for Empathy: Perspectives on the Museum Experience” (Rowman & Littlefield/American Alliance Of Museums, 2019), edited by Elif M. Gokcigdem. To order the book, click here.

To read the chapter, click on the link below to view or download.

Is religious kitsch offensive? The answer is in the eye of the beholder

My article “Is religious kitsch offensive? The answer is in the eye of the beholder” appears in Religion News Service.

Update: The RNS article has also run in National Catholic Reporter.

  • Selected articles

    NMAAHC "The Imitation Game: Are museums being clear enough with the public about what’s real and what’s fake?" Washington Post Magazine. March 3, 2019.

    Bobby Fischer gravestone "Searching for Fischer’s Legacy." Chess Life magazine. March 2018. (PDF file).

    Jules Olitski star "A Memorial That Knows Its Biblical History." Wall St. Journal. Sept. 22, 2017.

    CIA art collection "Infiltrating the CIA’s Secret Art Collection." Playboy. Jan./Feb. 2017.
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