Testimony of Jesse Hervitz to Texas Legislative Committees on Tax Credit Scholarship Legislation

Posted on April 12, 2013

Mr. Chairman, Mr. Vice Chairman, distinguished Committee members.  I am here today representing the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.  The Orthodox Union is the largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization in America, representing nearly 1,000 synagogues, Jewish day schools and communities across the country.  The Orthodox Union serves Jewish communities in Austin to Houston, San Antonio and Dallas more.

I made the trip to Austin today to respectfully ask you to report favorably on House Bill 3245 on behalf of our synagogues, day schools, families and most importantly, our children.  Let me first say thank you for taking the time to hear from supporters of this important bill.

There is a common saying within the Jewish community, “it is our sense of humor that has kept us together for thousands of years.” It is certainly true that humor has been woven into the Jewish experience through periods of immense persecution and forced exiles and has undoubtedly served us well through the years.  However, I firmly believe that it is our unified commitment to educating our children, the next generation and our future leaders that has truly kept us together and allowed us to prosper in spite of persecution and mass geographic shifts.

The Jewish people of Texas, and those around the world, only last week concluded the seven day long holiday of Passover.  Passover is a national commemoration of the Jewish people’s Exodus from Egypt; a joyous celebration of our formation as a people and perhaps the most seminal moment in Jewish history.

When we gathered (recently) for our Passover Seders, the traditional Passover meal on the first two nights of the holiday, we were commanded not to focus on the adults in the room, but rather concentrate our effort on one thing and one thing alone:  In Hebrew, “v’higadita l’vincha”, “to teach our children”.  We are commanded to spend two long nights together as a family telling over the story of the exodus the young—to educate the next generation of Jewish Americans about their heritage, where they come from, and where they can go if given the right tools.

We use perhaps two of the most important nights in the Jewish calendar year, to teach our children of the paramount importance of education, and the role it must play in their lives.  This deeply rooted commitment to education, while crucial to our existence as a Jewish people, is actually what connects us to the many advocates and parents—both religious and secular—joined here in this room today asking you to support this important piece of legislation.”

The Jewish community is a strong supporter of education in all forms including the public education system. In fact, most Jewish people in Texas and around the country attend their locally assigned public school.  On a personal level, my mother and sister are proud products and now educators in the public school system.  Even though my parents sacrificed so much to send me to a nonpublic Jewish day school, I have been instilled with a great appreciation for public education.

But when a traditional public schools simply isn’t a viable option for a family or when it can’t for whatever reason, serve an individual student’s educational needs, it is up to parents like Natalie Levi and community leaders like Rabbi Langer, who care about education and its link to their children’s future to speak up.  And more importantly, it is the responsibility of state legislatures to pursue public policy that prevents those children from falling through the cracks.

It is my hope that the education system, whether it be public or private, charter or homeschool, urban or rural, Democrat or Republican will strive to serve every child’s need so that they are given the best opportunity to reach their full potential.

House Bill 3245 and Senate Bill 23, The Texas Equal Opportunity Scholarship Act are not the one answer to this difficult task and they do not claim to be.  What they do claim and will deliver, is a brighter future for the children it has the potential to serve—children of limited means whose parents deserve a choice in their education. In this often tumultuous political environment, please think of the thousands of children’s lives this program seeks to improve and report favorably on House Bill 3245 and Senate Bill 23.  Thank you.