Ra'anana's Meitarim school opened its fourth academic year this week with a special celebration after winning official recognition from the Education Ministry.
"[The license] means we've arrived," said Ilana Mushkin, chairwoman of the Parents' Association for Pluralistic Education, the association that founded and continues to manage the school. "It's hugely exciting for anyone for whom Jewish pluralism is important."
The school is part of the Meitarim Education Network headed by Rabbi Michael Melchior, chairman of the Knesset Education, Culture and Sport Committee. It is modeled after the cross-denominational community day schools in the United States, offering a broad general education alongside compulsory Jewish courses. While students at the school have done well in matriculation exams, the school prides itself on offering many electives that allow students to choose part of their studies.
The license came after three years of hard work, said Mushkin. "Now, the existence of the school isn't in question, and we can concentrate on the concept of the school."
It takes a lot of hard work, "on many pedagogical, social and administrative levels" to get a school "approvable," Mushkin said. And last year, the uncertainty in the system due to the Dovrat reforms meant that the Education Ministry was holding off on granting new school licenses.
Mushkin also believes that some high-profile activities have helped the school to get approval. Over the summer, the school community took in families from the North. Some 250 volunteers were working around the clock to care for the guests. "That also made people understand that this is a worthy community that deserves to have a school that embodies the ideals it holds," Mushkin said.
This year, the academic options for students have grown enormously. Until now, students had a limited choice of matriculation exams they could apply for, since they were registered as external students and could not study at Meitarim and other Ra'anana schools at the same time.
"My daughter has signed up to Meitarim," Mushkin said. "She couldn't before because she wanted the five-point matriculation exam in chemistry."
Now that Meitarim has an official license, she can study Jewish studies at Meitarim and chemistry at a nearby high school.
The school also had a difficult time raising funds from donors and foundations wary of an unrecognized educational institution. School officials hope that the new recognition will change that.
The institution is also looking to recruit new students. "We're about 60 students now," Mushkin says, "but we expect to grow phenomenally."
With six compulsory hours of Jewish studies each week in every grade and small class sizes, the school believes it has something unique to offer in its area.
It has already accepted students from places as diverse as Elkana and Ramat Hasharon, and from Orthodox as well as secular homes. The school is betting that the potential market for a diverse pluralistic Jewish education will make it a large operation very soon.
Mushkin is already looking toward getting a new building at the end of the school year.