This week in Jerusalem 415131

Peggy Cidor’s round-up of city affairs.

school supplies (photo credit: INGIMAGE PHOTOS)
school supplies
(photo credit: INGIMAGE PHOTOS)
Back to school
Some 268,000 children of all ages – from kindergarten to 12th grade, in the public, religious and Arab school systems – went back to school on Tuesday, with Jerusalem comprising the largest number of pupils in the entire country. Those in the haredi stream began the school year on August 16, which was the first of the month of Elul.
One of the items on the municipal education administration’s agenda is increasing the number of schools using tablets instead of books and notebooks. The decision to introduce tablets is one of Mayor Nir Barkat’s initiatives as holder of the education portfolio, entailing the distribution of 4,500 tablets among 17 schools (all junior high schools for the moment) – 1,000 for the teachers and 3,500 for the students.
Not all the parents and members of the educational staff are pleased with this change, however. Some fear misuse of the devices or exposure to radiation, while teachers may also be apprehensive about using the devices in front of the children, for whom it comes more naturally.
In any case, 259 schools and 640 kindergartens have opened their gates to the holy city’s children for another year of studies. Education administration director Moshe Tor-Paz asserted that the plurality of the city’s education system was its strength, and expressed a desire to see more integration among the different sectors.
Kind of purity
Is NIS 7.7 million an excessive amount to pay for the renovation of a Jerusalem mikve? Two city council members – Laura Wharton (Meretz) from the opposition, and Aaron Leibowitz (Yerushalmim) from the coalition – agree with each other that it is indeed too much for a ritual bath in a relatively secular neighborhood.
That neighborhood is Kiryat Hayovel, where tensions between secular and haredi residents already exist.
Leibowitz, an Orthodox rabbi, is not opposed to the renovation in and of itself, but he has suggested that such a high level of investment should be reserved for primarily religious or haredi neighborhoods, and said maintenance work should be sufficient for the one in Kiryat Hayovel. Wharton, meanwhile, is entirely opposed to the renovation, and declared at a meeting of the city council’s finance committee on August 26 that such a sum for a mikve encapsulated Barkat’s erroneous priorities – namely, caring too much about his ultra-Orthodox associates in the coalition.
In any case, the ritual bath in question was built in the early 1960s and does not meet the Health Ministry’s standards regarding accessibility for the disabled.
The ‘other’ is not me
Sometimes, good solutions create new problems. This is what happened after preschool teachers’ assistants – thanks to the intervention of municipal employee association president Zion Dahan – acquired the status of direct employment (as opposed to being hired by a contractor).
Eighty-three such assistants who had been working in the haredi education system through a contractor for 15 years recently underwent the upgrade and are now in the direct employ of the municipality’s education administration.
However, not everything about this new status is for the best, in their view. Since these assistants are haredi, they were unhappy to discover last week that they had all been placed in secular kindergartens, and refused to work there. The assistants came to Safra Square to meet with Shas city councilman Zvi Cohen, who holds the haredi education portfolio, and asked him to intercede at the education administration.
According to labor laws, it is the municipality’s prerogative to decide where to send the assistants to work. At the same time, their daily routines and working knowledge might not be a good fit for secular kindergartens, let alone the assistants’ personal preferences.
For the moment, the decision stands, though Cohen has made some efforts to find a better solution for all sides.