Parents rarely see their children demonstrate to go back to school. But on Monday, the Conservative Movement's Noam youth group attracted some 160 participants to an all-day event at the Fuchsberg Center for Conservative Judaism in Jerusalem to create dialogue on the strike at secondary schools across the nation.
"Everybody's talking and nobody is involving the most important people: students," said Nof Gur, an 11th-grader from Misgav High School in the Western Galilee who chaired the event. "But we have something to say and we need to be heard."
Gur and her peers recognize that the strike that began 12 days ago could continue for much longer. Matriculation exams are on the minds of many students in their last two years of high school.
"I'm not nervous now, but everyone is different. Some people will need these weeks that we are missing," said Nitai Giron, an 11th-grader from Boyer High School in Jerusalem.
Though there has been talk of holding students back a grade if the shutdown continues much longer, it seems more likely that the lost time will be made up next summer.
"It would screw up the elementary schools and the army, because there would be no recruitment," said Nadav Lawton, an 11th-grader from Hugim High School in Haifa. Though relieved that he is unlikely to have to repeat a grade, the prospect of extending the school year is also unpleasant.
Noam's rally united three major youth movements - Noam, Manoa and Telem - as well as university students. The aim was to stimulate dialogue and to bring a more powerful voice to the government. The day of events also spurred debate regarding the effectiveness of the strike itself. Students were encouraged to discuss their views with one another.
Some students, such as Giron, support the strike. "Teachers are in a bad position, with 40 students in a class. They can't teach, they're not paid enough. Striking is the only option," said Giron.
Others disagree, such as Avigal Cohen from Jerusalem's Pelech high school. "I don't think this is the right way," she said. "There has to be a better way that won't hurt the students."
A third faction takes the middle road. "Striking is a legitimate tool to get what you want, but the longer it goes on, the less efficient it becomes," Gur said. "Once people get hurt it's not a good thing."
Giron views the strike as emblematic of larger issues and a cultural mentality. "Without hurting anyone, you can't get what you want. That's Israel," Giron said.
Seminars were held on subjects such as "The student struggle and the future of the education system," led by the chairman of the student assembly at Hebrew University's Givat Ram campus, and "What differentiates brainwashing from education?" led by Rabbi Haya Roan-Beken.
The day centered around a panel discussion with representatives from the Secondary Schools Teachers Organization and the Education and Finance ministries.
Noam had high hopes going into the panel, but many students left the session with less than they had expected.
"Nothing is changing. It needs to be discussed, but I feel like everyone here is only trying to see from his own point of view, not open their minds," said Ayelet Rosenberg, an 11th-grader at Reut High School in Reut, near Modi'in.
"I feel more frustration," agreed her peer, Kalia Har-Tuv. "A little salary change? The whole system needs to change. And everyone keeps saying they are 'doing what they can,' but nothing will really change."
Glimmers of optimism filtered through the haze of frustration. "I feel successful in that more people know what the situation is, what the teachers are saying. I still think the strike is not the best way, but it may be the only way," said Sophia Persky, a 12th-grader from Reut.
There are lessons being learned, despite the lack of classes. "We are organizing ourselves, learning those skills," said Lawton. "And this is teaching us to stand up for what we believe."
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