school children israel class 248.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A novel program aimed at enhancing Jewish identity in public schools is showing
significant success after a two-year pilot in Holon, ahead of expansion to
The Hitchadshut program, established by the Panim
non-profit organization and the Legacy Heritage Foundation, has set out to
rectify what is considered by many to be one of the most troubling shortcomings
of the Israeli educational system.
“The educational system has next to no
discourse on Judaism and the significance of being Jewish,” Hitchadshut program
director Lea Wohl- Segal said.
This is despite the fact that five of the
11 goals to the State Education Law, as noted in the updated version from 2000,
pertain to Jewish identity, the history of the Jewish peoplehood, Jewish values
and tradition. Education Minister Gidon Sa’ar had also stated that fortifying
Israeli pupils’ affinity to the land, Jewish heritage and peoplehood would be
one of his primary goals of the recently concluded school year.
in September 2008, Hitchadshut implemented a municipally supported model of
Jewish pluralistic education for some 4,770 pupils in Holon’s public schools,
through activities such as studying Jewish sources, conducting religious
ceremonies and holding communal events. Preliminary work with the 396 teachers
from six elementary and secondary schools had taken place from January of that
A study conducted by Research Success Technologies Ltd. among
nearly 500 youth from the three secondary schools in the program before its
implementation and after its first two years shows a noteworthy shift in the
students’ take on things Jewish.
If at the beginning of the 2008 school
year 37 percent of the pupils said that Jewish identity had a
very significant place in their school, in June 2010 some 65% held that
While in 2008 some 56% noted that they’d like to deepen their knowledge
Jewish tradition and culture to a great extent, 67% felt that way in
desire to learn more about Jewish values also grew from 60% to 76%
Besides work in the schools, Hitchadshut also held activities in
community and youth centers in Holon, including Kabbalat Shabbat
trained kindergarten teachers on methods of using Bible stories to shape
educational agendas, and held a mass bar and bat mitzva ceremony.
was deemed a perfect choice for the pilot, since its population is
representative of all the levels, facets and origins in Israeli society,
it is also well-run by Mayor Moti Sasson, who was recently named one of
world’s top 10 mayors by the UK magazine Monocle.
Moreover, some 40% of
the mid-sized city’s people define themselves as “traditional,” a
can at times fall between the cracks of the Israeli educational system,
divided into religious and secular sectors.
“Traditionalism is a
component in the identity of a significant part of the Israeli society,”
Wohl-Segal pointed out. “A traditional person is attached to the land,
of the Jewish people, the Hebrew language, Israeli literature and so
dichotomy between secular and religious in the public school systems
situation in which the needs of the large expanse of traditional
insufficiently addressed. Additionally, the educational system does not
from a voice of traditionalism in the ongoing Jewish discourse.
Hitchadshut believe that one of the central roles of Jewish education is
provide for the spiritual needs imbedded in the souls of the students,”
Wohl-Segal added. “Our Holon program is testimony to the fact that the
setting can enable a student’s exposure to a discourse around Jewish
in different settings and times.”