Dozens of parents at a prominent Orthodox Jewish high school in New Jersey are furious that their children have been asked, without parental consent, to write letters of support to U.S. President Donald Trump.
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In complaints addressed to administrators at the Frisch School and in private forums, the parents described the letter-writing campaign as an attempt to pander to a president whose policies and statements they consider deeply objectionable.
Several used the term "sycophancy" to describe the campaign, protesting the attempt to "normalize" the presidency through such action.
The parents added that urging students to participate in such a campaign was inappropriate for an institution that prides itself on being apolitical. Beyond that, they argued, the school administration should not encourage such political activity without receiving prior parental approval.
Located in Paramus, N.J., Frisch is the alma mater of Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and one of his senior advisers. Jason Greenblatt, Trump's Mideast envoy, had children who graduated from the school last year.
Many of the school's parents who are deeply opposed to Trump expressed discomfort last month when Greenblatt was brought to the school as a guest speaker.
On Tuesday, students at Frisch received an email from Rabbi David Sher – the school's director of Israel education and advocacy – urging those who "believe that the president made the right decision" to send letters to the White House thanking Trump for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital and for beginning the process of moving the U.S. Embassy there.
The email noted this was part of a broader campaign launched by NORPAC, a right-wing, pro-Israel political action committee.
The students were provided with a sample letter they could copy and paste ("Just remember to sign your name on the bottom," they were told), thanking Trump for his "courageous leadership."
"President Trump, you have displayed leadership and strength among the nations by formally recognizing Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the State of Israel," the template said. "We appreciate your commitment to follow the wishes of the American people and your faithful service as our nation's leader. We are grateful for your unwavering support of Israel, America's greatest ally."
The students were told they could feel free to use the address of their school when emailing their letters to the White House.
Upon learning that their children had received the email, several parents called and wrote Frisch Schools principal, Rabbi Eli Ciner, to complain. In response, he issued a follow-up email clarifying that "this is entirely voluntary and should be done only if you agree with President Trump."
“We often write to our political leaders if we agree, or disagree, with their decisions,” he noted. “This is one opportunity to allow President Trump to hear your voice.”
But many of the parents were not satisfied with the clarification, noting in private forums that their children might not understand the nuance.
In addition, they said that, contrary to Ciner's statement, such letter-writing campaigns were far from commonplace. For example, they pointed out, the students had not been encouraged to write letters protesting recent racist remarks allegedly made by the president. Nor had they been encouraged to write letters of dissent when Trump drew a moral equivalence between neo-Nazi groups demonstrating in Charlottesville, Virginia, and those protesting them.
Asked for comment, Ciner wrote Haaretz in an email: "As a religious Zionist school, we encourage our students as civic minded American citizens, to write to the administration when they agree or disagree with the government's policies regarding the State of Israel. In this particular case, many of our students strongly supported the president's decision recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital, and our AISAC club (the American Israel Student Action Committee) has facilitated their ability to express this support through the NORPAC campaign."