kklfrance ilan halimi.
(photo credit: )
The Neria Ulpana (religious girls' school) in the Negev city of Dimona is a very special place, but a chance visitor to the building and schoolyard may not realize that this school is famous for its outstanding educational achievements and social cohesion. The Ulpana, which boasts 170 seventh to twelfth graders, is located in a former elementary school and a budget has never been allocated to fix the schoolyard. Now, thanks to Friends of KKL France, the schoolyard is soon to be repaired and renovated in memory of Ilan Halimi, who was brutally murdered in Paris in February 2006 by a group of Muslim anti-Semites, who are presently on trial in France.
The Principal, Dr. Rafi Vaknin, spoke to us about the Ulpana's history and goals. "The Ulpana was founded seventeen years ago and we moved to this location four years ago. The girls from ninth grade and up stay in dormitories and at present we have 100 girls here who also remain two weekends each month, so the outdoor area is really important for them. KKL-JNF is very involved in Dimona, for example, they planted the Ben-Gurion Forest and landscaped the city entrance so it feels very natural for KKL-JNF to take an interest in our school."
Rabbi Ilan Daniel, one of the heads of the Ulpana, explained that the school places special emphasis on developing the girls' characters and life-skills. "Although we are at the top in terms of educational achievement, we believe that education must be comprehensive and include a thorough preparation for all aspects of life. That is why our school is in great demand."
The Ulpana was founded and headed by Rabbi Avraham Turgeman, a local resident who is not embarrassed to describe himself as an "incorrigible idealist." "The girls in our school come from Dimona, Yeruham, Mitzpe Ramon and from the villages around Hebron. The encounter between urban and rural girls is mutually beneficial and ensures that no one remains in an isolated social bubble. Dimona is in the Negev, very distant both geographically and also culturally from central Israel. One of the goals of the Ulpana is to put Dimona on the map of Israel's outstanding educational environments.
"I have been here twenty years and with God's help plan to be here for at least another sixty! I want this place to be green and pleasant with trees and shaded corners. When the government refused to help, someone suggested that we speak to KKL-JNF - an organization sometimes prepared to fill gaps left by the state. Representatives of the Southern Region visited the school about a year ago, and now, thanks to the support of KKL-JNF France, plans have already been drawn up to renovate the grounds, including pergolas to provide shade, lawns, landscaping, an outside classroom, tables and benches. In fact, the day the KKL-JNF people visited, I mentioned that the entrance to the school was through an old driveway whereas we needed a gateway that would lead directly into the school grounds. The very next day, KKL-JNF bulldozers were here flattening out the land, and thanks to them, we now have separate entrances for vehicles and a sidewalk and gate for pedestrians.
"Our Rabbis tell us that a beautiful environment expands a person's consciousness. To me, the need for green surroundings and vegetation is axiomatic. Thanks to KKL-JNF and its French supporters, the school's physical surroundings will soon provide a suitable parallel to its scholastic and educational purpose."
We met Moriah Levy, Ronit Daniel and Avial Hazut of Dimona, and Tehia Moyal of Yuval, eleventh graders who just finished one of their many matriculation exams. Moriah, who is studying ecology, told us that since she is in classrooms most of the day, "I just really need some green grass, to look at and to relax upon." Avial added that the only places outside where the girls can sit are two benches and the steps. "We love the school and really don't want to complain, but it would be so nice if there were some shaded seating outside." Ronit added that the school is really a great place, but "if we had some nice outside space and facilities, it would become just perfect!"
The school's seventh graders were no less enthusiastic about the possibility of having friendly greener grounds. When we told them that KKL-JNF would be renovating the school's outskirts in the near future all the girls were very excited and shouted the Israeli version of "hip-hip hooray" for KKL-JNF! 13 year-old Miriam Ben Shalom remarked, "look how neglected the yard is now! I love my school but I'm embarrassed when my friends or family walk by." Her friend, Hadar Assaf, added, "Please tell the staff at KKL-JNF that if they need any help working on the renovations, we're ready anytime. Is this really going to happen?"
The answer to her question was provided by Rabbi Turgeman: "KKL-JNF is so excited about this project that it's contagious - I'm even more excited than I usually am about the school's future and we're all looking forward to the dedication ceremony. I cannot imagine a better or more life-affirming way of honoring the memory of Ilan Halimi."
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