Sunday, August 31, 2008

Chareidim vs Secular - allocating unused classrooms

JPost reports:

The latest episode in the saga of the lack of educational structures for haredim in the city is taking place in Kiryat Hayovel. About a week ago, the municipality placed two caravans in a public plot on Rehov Warburg to serve as kindergarten classes for haredi children. It didn't take long for the area's largely secular residents to voice opposition, with the chairman of the neighborhood administration, Kobi Cohen, saying he felt "betrayed, humiliated and outraged" by the development.

"For years I have been known for my tolerance and my unshakable attitude that a child is a child, no matter whether he is haredi, secular or Arab. Every child in this city deserves the best affordable education and I have credentials for having acted accordingly, including many cases where I had to convince my constituency, who were not exactly ready to accept those compromises," says Cohen.

"But this time they've gone too far. Rabbi [Deputy Mayor Yehoshua] Pollack acted like a thief in the night, exactly as if his only goal was to upset the tenuous and fragile relationship between haredim and secular in this neighborhood," continues Cohen. "You can quote me on this: As long as I am chairman of the neighborhood administration here, neither Pollack nor any other haredi will force on us any caravan or any other solution that doesn't suit us."

The struggle to secure educational structures for haredim is not a new one. Since the creation of the state, the haredi education system has operated largely independently of local, regional and national guidelines, setting its own curriculum and securing some of its own funding - including for the construction of its schools. Trying to raise donations to keep pace with the number of pupils enrolled, haredim often find themselves without classrooms for their children.

The result has been a trend of last-minute, interim municipal solutions - including offering empty classrooms in otherwise non-haredi schools and areas - which over time become permanent arrangements, arousing the anger of secular residents.

"It's as if they [haredim] have some special watchers units - as soon as registration is on the decline at a school in a secular area, they come [to the municipality] and request one or two classrooms, and once they obtain it, they come back and ask for the entire building," says Meretz city councillor and Comptroller Committee head Pepe Alalu.

"Don't get me wrong," he adds. "They [the haredim] genuinely suffer from a lack of classrooms, it's just that they are not acting as if they really want to solve the problem - I would say it is the opposite."

According to a municipality-commissioned report drafted in 2006 by planning specialist Moshe Cohen, the process of taking over state school buildings is part of a systematic plan to entrench haredim in secular areas.

Page 24 of the report reads: "Haredi institutions might serve as groundbreakers to create new haredi communities in surroundings where they had no foothold before. The haredi institution - usually a yeshiva - will be set in a surrounding where there are no other haredi institutions or haredi dwellings, but the location of that educational institution, in this case a yeshiva, will become a source of attraction for additional haredi families to join in."

The report was never released or debated by the city council.

IN RESPONSE to queries from In Jerusalem, Dor Fuchs, head of the construction department of the haredi branch of Manhi (Jerusalem Education Administration), said there was no way he or anyone at the department could know exactly how many classrooms were lacking for haredim. "Since the haredi education system is recognized but unofficial, anyone can open a school or a Talmud Torah [haredi elementary school]. The only thing needed is a safety permit for insurance purposes," he explains.

"So if after one or two or five years a haredi principal says he has three times more children in his institution than when he opened it, mainly because after a while he gets fewer donations from abroad, and he now needs public money, there's nothing we can do about it" other than to allocate more money, he continues. "This education system is not planned, [problems] are not always anticipated and we always have to face situations on the ground, usually emergencies for lack of classrooms.

"Every admor [head of a sect] wants his school or his Talmud Torah, and there's no law that forbids it."

Fuchs says that according to Manhi figures for the haredi sector, about 90,000 pupils are expected for the coming school year. "But the problem is the [lack of] educational structures," he says. "In the regular education system, there is no need to build a new school every year - there are already existing buildings and the most that might need to be done is annual renovations.

"We [Manhi] have an estimation, and I stress it's only an estimation, that we're lacking about 500 classrooms [for haredim] for this year," he continues. "But there's no way we can tell what it will look like next year. It's also because the key to calculating the space needed for new schools is different for haredi schools and secular and religious state institutions.

"The average [non-haredi] school at the Education Ministry is 1,400 square meters for 16 classrooms. For reasons I cannot understand or explain, the construction department at the ministry allots only 750 sq.m. for a 16-classroom [haredi] school."

The result, says Fuchs, is that at haredi girls' schools it's not unusual for there to be more than 45 pupils in a class. "So when we know, for example, that the Ort School in Ramot, which can hold 1,500 pupils, stands half-empty, and has been for a few years since fewer secular pupils are registering there, while we are experiencing such a difficult situation, it's not hard to understand why we keep on asking to be given these empty classrooms," explains Fuchs.

"And what's more, as far as the Education Ministry is concerned, that's exactly its position: It doesn't care if the empty classrooms are in a haredi, religious or secular area; it says that if you have pupils without classrooms on the one hand and empty classrooms on the other hand, please make use of them before asking for more money to build."

Pollack has a more straightforward take on the situation. "One thing is clear," he says. "We have babies. You, the secular, obviously are busy doing something else - you're not having babies - so we need the place for our kids."[...]


  1. I think that the city should utilize those unused classrooms and then figure out what kind of a shortfall of classroom space exists. I also think that the secular population should stop wining and start having babies. They already have the jump advantage in numerical superiority. That however will not last forever with their current birthing rates. Also most of Israel's problems are demographic.

    18 year old chassidim who avoid the army and start a family or at least search for spouse to start a family with are doing a vital service for Israel's national security. They are helping to ensure a Jewish majority in this country.

    This is opposed to secular israelis who spend the ages of 18 to 25 or thiry years old searching and breaking up with and researching for a boyfriend/girlfriend. Eventually getting married and having a couple of kids. Yes with higher birthrates the religious are going to take over everything. This is not some sort of sinister rabbinical plot. This is life.

  2. I think the relevant part, however, is perceived Chareidi encroachment on secular areas. imagine you're a chiloni person living a chiloni lifestyle in a chiloni neighbourhood. One day it's a classroom full of Chareidi kids. The next, they're throwing rocks at you on Shabbos as you drive to your friends and tossing bleach at your wife because she doesn't dress "tznius".

    I'm not saying that this is an inevitable progression or that it even ever happens but this is the perception in the eyes of the Chiloni population and their fears need to be addressed.

  3. I agree with Garnel, however I think that the secular in Israel are making themselves extinct relative to the religious population just because they have lower birthing rates. If in Kyriat Yovel couples were having a lot more children. There would be no discussion as to why Chareidim are getting space there for their kinder gardens. That space would be used for their own children.

    This is more than just the issue of neighborhoods. Secular people resent the growing power that the religious have in the government. Well that is just the result of simple demographics. They need to stop wining about the growing minority in their midst and start maintaining their majority. Yes, they need a lifestyle change.

    It is true that the religious owe the secular Israelis a kores hatov for providing all of us with a relatively comfortable and secure place to live. However the continued long term survival of this country (if G-d forbid the moshiach does not come in the interum) ultimately will not rest on them.


please use either your real name or a pseudonym.