City Council Member Farah Louis (D) today walked back from a statement that she reportedly signed onto asking the East Midwood Jewish Center Midwood to cancel a signed deal with a charter school with a mainly black and Latino student body so that a Jewish school can utilize the building.
Louis’ comments come after several hundred members of the Orthodox Jewish community protested yesterday outside the Conservative Jewish (EMJC), East Midwood Jewish Center, 1625 Ocean Avenue, because the center had recently inked a deal with the Urban Dove Charter School to lease their school located at 1256 East 21st Street. The school is attached to the synagogue complex on Ocean Avenue via an underground basement tunnel and a second-floor bridge.
Urban Dove, which serves mainly black and Latino students that are struggling academically, has reportedly agreed to a lease deal that includes pumping $4 million into the synagogue complex. The neighborhood was once a thriving Conservative Jewish community, where the likes of U. S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and other notable Jewish Brooklynites attended the EMJC, but which has fallen on harder times of late with diminishing conservative congregants while the Orthodox community has grown to the point it is bursting at the seams.
Thus, many in the orthodox community feel that the school should have been leased to an orthodox Jewish school, but EMJC officials said they tried to work with the orthodox community, but Urban Doves came up with a better deal that included putting money down.
Several sources confirmed that the politically powerful orthodox Flatbush Jewish Community Coalition (FJCC) was the driving force behind both yesterday’s protest, and a packed meeting on the issue several weeks ago. At the latter meeting, several residents made inflammatory, racist comments, which led to social and regular media outlets branding the orthodox community as racist for opposing Urban Doves.
The FJCC also reportedly successfully lobbied local elected officials including Louis and fellow Council Members Chaim Deutsch and Kalman Yeger, along with Assemblymembers Rodneyse Bichotte and Simcha Eichenstein and State State Sen. Simcha Felder to issue a joint statement in opposition to the siting of Urban Dove in favor of finding a suitable Jewish school for the location.
The FJCC enjoys a particularly strong relationship with Bichotte, and their support for Louis was instrumental in her getting elected in the recent 45th City Council District special election.
But Louis, A Haitian-American, said she never signed onto a statement in support of not having Urban Dove not being cited at the location. Bichotte, also said through a spokesperson that she never signed such a statement. Yeshiva World, the outlet that reported that the lawmakers issued a statement to this effect did not provide a copy of any written statement in their story or to KCP.
“That’s not the truth,” said Louis that she agreed to the statement to find another location for Urban Dove. “I was the person who brought everyone in, including Urban Dove. The position I have right now is to work with everybody and I want to dispell the racist comments and narratives about these children. The whole narrative that these children will bring down property values and cause the community to change I don’t agree with. As a black woman, I have to stand up for these black children. These kids’ safety should come first.”
Yesterday’s protest came while the shul’s former canter, Rabbi Sam Levine was being inducted as the congregation’s new head rabbi in a joyous celebration inside the building. Levine said while he understood the protester concerns he would like to point out there are three big high schools in the area – Murrow, Midwood and Madison with somewhere in the order of 11,000-12,000 high school students in this neighborhood on school days.
“We’re talking about 250 kids in this school that will be released at the end of the day on Ocean Avenue and they’re going to blend in with the rest of the 12,000 kids – going to pizza places, corner bodegas and getting snacks and going to the subway. So I don’t understand how while that block will see some kind of change, I think it will be pretty minimal,” said Levine.
Levine said the EMJC spoke with a number of possible Jewish schools for the site but nobody put money down on the table.
“We need the income on that building so when Urban Dove came along and was financially secure, had resources, we looked at their mission it was absolutely in keeping in what we do here. We a three-year robust interfaith relationship with the Roman Catholic Church on Cortelyou Road and have developed a relationship with the [Muslim] Turkish Cultural Center over the last few years and have a non-denominational senior center for the elderly in the community. We rent our gym and our pool to Orthodox Jewish kids where we have girls only swimming. We try to be accommodating to everyone.
One Orthodox Jewish lawmaker representing the area said, in reality, there is little that elected officials can do at this point. The agreement was made between two private entities and is not subject to government approval, the lawmaker said.