Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Hagit Moshe and education in the coronavirus era

The coronavirus outbreak drastically affected projects and plans, forcing Moshe and her staff to find innovative solutions for unanticipated situations.

DEPUTY MAYOR Hagit Moshe worked in Jerusalem’s education administration for years before entering politics (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
DEPUTY MAYOR Hagit Moshe worked in Jerusalem’s education administration for years before entering politics
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Midway through his second tenure as mayor of Jerusalem (2013-2018), Nir Barkat surprised some local political veterans by appointing Hagit Moshe head of the prestigious finance committee.
Her lack of experience in finance at the level of the largest city in the country made this a formidable task for her, particularly facing the haredi representatives at the committee who traditionally held this portfolio. But eventually, she consolidated her position. After a while, they even nicknamed her “our Jerusalemite Margaret Thatcher.”
In the 2018 mayoral election, she openly supported Moshe Lion and after his victory was granted the Education portfolio, a task she declared was tailor-made for her after so many years in the field of formal and non-formal education.
Born in Beersheba in 1971, the youthful-looking Moshe has six children and two grandchildren. After her army service, she studied in Jerusalem and worked in the city’s education administration for years before entering politics. Backed by her husband, himself a high–ranking member of Bayit Yehudi, she ran to represent the party at city council.
Things went smoothly for Moshe in the education administration at first; she successfully navigated between the capital’s different educational streams, obtaining the budgets necessary for financing the relevant educational projects. But the coronavirus outbreak drastically affected projects and plans, forcing Moshe and her staff to find innovative solutions for unanticipated situations.
Moshe met up with In Jerusalem in her Safra Square office to field questions on politics, education and Jerusalem.
As the corona crisis emerged, how did you identify the most urgent problems?
Even before corona, I launched a series of WhatsApp groups for each parents group committee. It was a tool I wanted to use in regular times in order to learn about their needs at any given moment. So the infrastructure was ready for use. When the coronavirus arrived, we found out right from the beginning that the parents and the principals were the most exposed and needed an address to turn to.
What actions did you take at that point?
We started an exhaustive series of Zoom conferences with all the parents committees in every kindergarten, grade school and high school, and with the principals and the professional teams in all the streams across the city.
I remember one specific case when it was decided to open the afternoon programs and there was serious concern and opposition from many parents. Late into the night on a motzei Shabbat, we held a webinar on the issue, with doctors, education teams and parents to examine every aspect of the plan. The idea was that no one involved should remain in the dark, unsure of what is decided and why.
We have to adapt ourselves to the corona situation – my understanding is that it is going to last far into the next school year.
Parents are eager to know what will happen in the coming school year.
First of all, we have added staff. The kindergartens and elementary schools up to and including grade four will learn as usual, full days every day, enabling parents to work. The younger children will be in their institutions all week – three days with the regular preschool teacher and three days with additional staff. We have launched a vast operation to find and identify available structures where necessary – community centers, synagogues that have halls or rooms that can be used for groups of children, etc.
How have parents been reacting?
I see the feedback we receive. There is an amount of concern, even fear – but they trust us. We do not force parents to send their children to school or kindergartens. If they are afraid and prefer – and can – keep them at home, that’s fine with us. But we provide viable and reliable solutions for parents who want to send their children back to school. Within days of launching that program, we reached 70% attendance at all levels and in all the streams.
Are there different responses from the different streams of education?
Yes. On the Arab side they haven’t come back to schools (kindergartens and elementary) yet. They launched the summer vacations by May and are still on vacation. We understand their concern and we don’t put any pressure on them. In the haredi sector, not all of them came back; it is a slow process. The public stream – secular and religious – is back to almost normal, with over 85% attendance.
But now we are in July and it is summer vacation.
Yes, but we have added the fourth grade to the “summer school” program, in order to provide structure for the children and enable the parents to get back to work. The teachers and principals were eager to open the schools to meet the children again.
What specific educational issues are you dealing with in regard to children of new olim?
I met with mothers of newcomers from France. I was very impressed by their level of involvement, their high education, their willingness to do so much for the success of their children.
When we talked openly, issues came out. For example, mothers told me they didn’t know they had to make sandwiches for the children at school. In many cases, the fathers continue to work in France while the mothers and children live here – with zero knowledge about the way things work here. The more we interacted, the more we were aware of the magnitude of their problems. We discovered the lack of integration, language problems, culture shock and even dropping out of schools.
I found out that while most parents could talk in Hebrew, they could not help with homework and the children were at a loss – with no one there to help. Picture a mother with a high level of education in French who she cannot help her son with Rashi since she cannot read it. They were considered “strong families” but they were experiencing serious problems and no one was there for them.
I broadened the scope of my work to embrace more aspects of the needs of new olim. I went to Nefesh B’Nefesh meetings, learned from them, participated in their programs and confirmed that they all have many of the same problems, and in my field, education, I resolved to do more. I brainstormed with my staff in Manhi [education administration] regarding what help the system can offer them – to understand, to prepare homework, to see that the children are succeeding in their integration at school, interacting with the local children, etc.
One of the decisions I took was to add a social worker in each school in the public streams. That exists only in Jerusalem.
Interestingly, we found that while immigrant children generally don’t feel comfortable being singled out as “olim hadashim,” when they participate in our program of encounters (through the Internet) with children of their age in Jewish communities abroad, they relish the coordinator role. Since they know the language, whether English or French, they are no longer the weakest or the stranger in class and this enhances their status a lot.
(The program is a weekly Zoom meeting with classes in Jewish education programs abroad to learn together about various issues.)
September is around the corner. Is the Jerusalem education administration ready for any eventuality – coronavirus or not?
We are ready. We have the bandwidth to spread the children in numerous venues so that all city students can go back to school safely.
How about the budget?
We used part of our budget for all these special programs, but we had no choice. We will provide what is necessary. We just spent NIS 190 million for extensive renovations in all the schools. The schools in Jerusalem today are significantly different from those of the past. The spaces are large and open.
Forget all you remember about a teacher with a blackboard and chalk – we are not there anymore. It’s another world. We are carrying out a revolution in education in the city; we are transforming our schools into the best in the country.
If once people came to Jerusalem because of its history, now they will come for its education system – the most innovative and on the highest levels.