Modern Orthodox protest J'lem haredi 'discrimination'

Katamonim residents demand state religious school in their area.

Katamonim protest 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Katamonim protest 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A few dozen modern Orthodox residents of the capital's Katamonim neighborhood protested on Tuesday, saying the only religious elementary school in their neighborhood is predominantly haredi even though the area's residents are a mix of modern Orthodox and secular. The dispute is the latest in a series triggered by the growing haredi presence in non-haredi Jerusalem neighborhoods. "In a neighborhood that is a mix of secular and modern Orthodox residents, there is not one state religious school, and instead there is a school that for all intents and purposes is haredi, for pupils who do not even live in the neighborhood," said local resident Rachel Azaria, who is running at the head of the joint secular-modern Orthodox "Yerushalmim" list in the November 11 municipal election. She said the gender-segregated elementary school Darchei Noam operated as a haredi institution even though there were only 10 to 14 children per class, forcing modern Orthodox families to send their offspring to study in other neighborhoods. "It doesn't make sense that there should be 13 kids in each class in the school, when hundreds of kids in the neighborhood have to go out of the neighborhood for school," said local resident Estherlee Kanon, who sends her seven-year-old out of the neighborhood to attend second grade. "The city keeps promising but nothing happens," Kanon said. "We do not want to send our kids to a school with haredi teachers," said Tamar Cohen, whose four children also attend schools elsewhere in the city. She said she was angry with the city for failing to live up to its commitment to establish a modern Orthodox school in the neighborhood. The Jerusalem Municipality said Tuesday that the city school system had accepted the requests of some Katamonim parents to send their children to schools elsewhere, and that they would consider a request to establish a state religious school in the area based on need. "The city school system is willing to consider the establishment of an additional state religious school in the neighborhood, after thorough preparations are carried out to determine the needs of the population in the south of the city," Jerusalem Municipality spokesman Gidi Schmerling said in a statement. Azaria, who is modern Orthodox and heads Mavoi Satum, a prominent nonprofit organization for women denied a Jewish divorce, said the National Religious Party, which was a partner in Mayor Uri Lupolianski's predominantly-haredi city council coalition, had proven to be an "abject failure" in meeting the needs of modern Orthodox residents. "You can say what you want about the haredim, but they know how to take care of their people," she said. Nearly 40 percent of the more than 220,000 pupils in the city school system attend haredi schools, compared to 27% who study in state secular and religious schools, according to the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies. The remaining children study in Arab schools. Among the nearly 150,000 pupils in the city's Jewish schools system, 58% study in haredi schools and 42% in state religious or secular schools. The dispute comes weeks after a Jerusalem municipality plan to construct a haredi kindergarten in the predominantly secular Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood angered residents concerned that their quality of life would be harmed, and that their neighborhood would join others in the city that have turned largely haredi. The kindergarten project has been temporarily frozen pending final city approval.