I have seen a very odd trend. While the Phoenix Federation Health and Fitness Company and their VOS JCC have increased their censorship of dissent and deleted me as a friend on Facebook (a type of censorship for sure, preventing me from posting on their site, which is a wee bit infantile to me), the number of hits to my little paean of protest is increasing. The bad news for the management of Federation H&F and Pardes is that the more I get deleted, the more I write, and the more I write, the more hits I get. I am not sure that stifling dissent is going to solve the myriad of financial issues at Federation H&F or at Pardes, but it is worth a try. It is working a bit in Syria. My house did get egged a few nights ago but that has more to do with my son’s choice in girlfriends than my opposition to the Pardes merger. Oh well.
This morning, when I woke up, I went to look at this blog to see how many people read it the day before. There were 137 people who read it yesterday and over 152 people who read it today. Now maybe some of those are people who have read it more than once, but I doubt that it represents a majority because my writing is neither profound nor particularly witty, so I can’t see it as a “must” read with a lot of repeaters.
When I picked up my phone, I had a text message from a member of the Board of Pardes. I have a few friends who serve on Pardes’ Board and I know them to be very good people. I just disagree now with the merger and with Pardes becoming a Pluralistic school because I do not have enough information to make a good decision about whether or not I support it. However, that does not mean that I do not respect these directors as people, they are my friends and it just means I disagree.
The text message said that the word-on-the-street was that I was advocating for parents to take their kids out of Pardes. I told the director to read the blog and judge for himself. The director texted back ten minutes later and said I was doing exactly what he said I was doing. I called the director and said that I disagreed and simply thought the school should be transparent, explain the reasons for the merger, disclose their finances, and not hide behind the oft repeated refrain that “this merger is good for the community.” So, the director said that I should not be suggesting any actions that would be harmful to the school and that telling parents that they should explore their options if they are unhappy is harmful to the school. The director went on to say that Pardes would make their financial statements available to anyone who wanted to review them. I told the director no one should have to ask for this and as a matter of course it should be made public (like the Federation’s information or Jess Schwartz’ information), and that making people ask for the financial information puts many of them in an uncomfortable position. Many people who depend on the Jewish trade for their livelihood can not speak out in the manner that I have, and if I was the owner of Yonah Shimmel’s Knish Factory, I can assure you I would be more circumspect.
Later in the afternoon, I got another text from the same director saying that CBI did not make their financial statements public and that religious non-profits do not make their IRS 990’s public. The point in fact is that Houses of Worship, Churches, Synagogues etc. are exempt from filing IRS 990’s, and Pardes obtained a waiver many years ago because they were originally part of Temple Solel and therefore exempt. I doubt, if the issue was pressed, that Pardes would hold onto their exemption. But, if Pardes does not want to be transparent, that will be to the detriment of Pardes and it will hinder financial support for Pardes. In general, it is very difficult to offer advice to the Captain of the Titanic and doubly hard, if you are like me and viewed as the leper with the most fingers.
I would think that the quickest way to end this discussion once and for all about Pardes’ financial situation would be to make their financial statements available online, like Jess Schwartz does, like the Federation does. Their mortgage is public, so what we know for certain is there is a 4.8 milliion dollar mortgage on Pardes’ current campus. I think that sending a board member of Pardes, who is my friend, on a fool’s errand to tell me in the morning that the statements are available to anyone who asks, only to have that same board member come to me in the afternoon to inform me that religious institutions do not make their financial information public, does not make Pardes more transparent, and the board position on this is both misguided and reflective of the back of their hand that they show to the parents and supporters of Pardes. Pardes is not a house of worship, and certainly now, with their new and improved Pluralism, they are not attached to a Synagogue. This semantic obfuscation just increases the specter of doubt on the whole merger mystery even more and makes everyone wonder what is Pardes hiding?. Markets do not like uncertainty, and either do parents who are thinking about spending $12,000 a year on tuition. My wife asked me the following question today: If Pardes was an Orthodox or Conservative School with 270 kids and merging with a school of 40 Reform Jewish Kids, would the school become Pluralistic to accommodate the 40?
The guessing game: Since we know nothing of the details of the merger other than a vague statement that the school was thinking about strengthening their t’fillah, I am left guessing. So my first push on the buzzer has me guessing that Mitchell Ginsberg offered the JSA Campus to the Pardes Board with the sole condition being that the school drop its Reform Affliation to accommodate the 40 conservative students. I guess that Pardes’ board is so enamored with the prospects of a new campus, that they are going to increase their mortgage load to almost $7,000,000 dollars to move to a school, turning their back on a perfectly good campus, with the vague idea in mind that the mortgage holder will just eat their losses, to be publicly made fools of, jilted for a newer model. I will now select Renaissance painting for a hundred.
No room for debate: I received emails from friends who were teachers, or spouses of teachers, and the refrain was the same; “your writing is on point, but I can not post a comment on your blog because my spouse needs a reference from Pardes.” I know that when I attended the curriculum meeting at Pardes, I was told by a senior Pardes Administrator that I should be kind, shut up, and not say anything against the merger because Pardes had done a lot to help my youngest son. It is precisely because Pardes helped my son so much that I began the blog in the first place.
The myth of hundreds: I have been told that hundreds of people support this merger. I have been told that the Reform Rabbis support this merger. I have not seen one public show of support for the merger. I would love for the Reform Rabbis to step forward, in their position of leadership and from their position of scholarship and advise us as to whether a Pluralistic school is something that is supported by the Reform Movement and whether or not they believe this will be successful here. There is a short article here at this link from Hillel at Ohio University that is a pretty fast read.
Have a great Shabbat.