Children on their way to school.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
As a young Modern Orthodox boy growing up in Overland Park, Kansas, my parents, like all other Jewish Modern Orthodox parents that raised their children in similar communities, had only one option for educating their children.
In order to receive a respectable and adequate Jewish education, I attended an expensive private Jewish day school. This decision was a no-brainer for them as the children in the public schools were for the most part non-Jewish and mainly Christian. When making aliya almost 17 years ago, naturally one of the most important decisions my parents needed to make was what type of education my three siblings and I would receive. They were pleasantly surprised to learn that public schooling in Israel is not what it is in Kansas.
Here in Israel, public vs. private means something else entirely. In Israel, the public (mamlachti or national) schools are very Jewish oriented and the religious public schools (mamlachti dati, or national religious) are not only completely subsidized by the government, but also provide a fully enriched Jewish religious education, while also being committed to a high level of secular studies. In contrast there are mamlachti dati “torani” schools with additional Torah study hours, stricter halachic observance and gender segregation. These torani schools charge parents extra money, fostering the illusion that they are receiving more hours and better education since the parents are paying out of pocket. In reality these schools are cutting some of the secular studies from their curricula and replacing them with Torah studies.
They are also in many cases using this money to fund extra classrooms to separate the boys from the girls.
Another advantage of the mamlachti dati schools over the torani schools is that they are inclusive of people from all circles and all walks of life. For this reason and others, they have significantly more experience in absorbing olim and helping the new immigrants with language and cultural challenges. Unfortunately, private education in Israel often means segregated education.
It often means a place where everyone is homogeneous. A place where children who come from a lower level of religious observance or from a different ethnic background are often rejected.
In studies performed by Ne’emanei Torah Va’avoda on all national- religious elementary schools, it was found that only 9% of students studying in torani schools come from low socioeconomic backgrounds, as opposed to 27% in the regular mamlachti dati schools.
This information shows an ongoing filtering out of children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds from the torani schooling system.
This filtering causes elitism within the torani education system. Further studies show that despite the difference in socioeconomic levels between the schools, no significant differences were found in academic achievements or school climate. In fact in many categories the mamlachti dati schools were found to have slightly better achievements and less violence than the torani schools.
Today, as a Modern Orthodox adult living in our diverse Israeli society, the experience and exposure I received at a young age to those who were not always like me is something that I have greatly benefited from. I have my faith and religious values and at the same time I feel a strong connection and responsibility to Klal Yisrael, the entire Jewish People, and the diversity that comes with it. I strongly believe that the religious public schools that I attended shaped me into the person I am today.
The author works at Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah and is studying for his masters in community social work at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.