Hassidim invite Sephardi girls to school

Ashkenazi parents said to have apologized, denied they are racist.

Emmanuel 311 (photo credit: Channel 10)
Emmanuel 311
(photo credit: Channel 10)
Slonimer Hassidim who removed their daughters from the Emmanuel Beit Ya’acov school are apparently trying to talk certain Sephardi parents into sending their children to the new school they are planning to open in the town, though the motives behind the move are not entirely clear.
According to a Thursday report in Yediot Aharonot, Slonimer Hassidim attending an assembly at the recently reunified Beit Ya’acov school last week apologized to the Sephardi parents and said they’d had no intention of saying the latter were insufficiently observant, which they had implied during the heated affair surrounding the school that recently reached a resolution.
“We didn’t go to prison because we are racists,” they said, and proceeded to invite some of the parents of girls in the so-called “general track” to send their girls to the new school they had in the works.
Last month, the High Court of Justice imprisoned 35 fathers of girls enrolled in Emmanuel’s Beit Ya’acov primary school for holding the court in contempt. The parents had refused to return their daughters to the school once the separation they had unlawfully established between the more stringent hassidic track and the general track had been removed.
The original petition was submitted by Yoav Laloum and the nonprofit organization Noar Kahalacha in July 2008. The petitioners charged that the mostly hassidic parents had established, without permission from the Education Ministry, a separate school within the confines of the recognized Beit Ya’acov school.
Only those girls who adhered to the strict and Ashkenazi-oriented regulations of the new school were admitted. As a result, the overwhelming majority of students in the new school were Ashkenazi.
On August 16, 2009, the court accepted Laloum’s petition and ordered all elements of discrimination in the school to be removed.
When the Independent Education Center (Hinuch Atzma’i) obeyed the order and removed the partitions, the hassidic-track parents responded by withdrawing their daughters from the school and establishing an adhoc, unauthorized school.
Over the school year, these primarily Slonim parents continued to refuse to merge their daughters with the mainstream girls, arguing that their own religious customs and ways of life differed from those of the other families.
They insisted that their demand for separation had nothing to do with ethnic discrimination.
The court found the parents in contempt of court and ordered their imprisonment.
However, after accepting a proposal by Shas spiritual mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and the rebbe of Slonim, according to which all the girls studying in Emmanuel would come together at the Beit Ya’acov school for three days of lectures by spiritual leaders from all streams, the court temporarily suspended the ruling that had led to the fathers’ incarceration.
While the Slonimers have claimed all along that the separation was a result of religious stringency and not racial discrimination, the Yediot report said that the recent outreach was most probably due to the fact that the hassidim needed a certain quota of students to get the partial state funding for their planned school.
Rabbi Yitzhak Weinberg, one of the Emmanuel fathers who spent just over a week in prison, stressed that while the new school was indeed short a few heads, money was not behind the appeal to the Sephardi parents.
“All along, we said it’s not about race, but the High Court went out against our rabbis, and therefore we went to prison. We will take any student who meets the criteria,” he said.
In response Thursday, Laloum said, “We are glad that the segregating hassidim in Emmanuel have internalized that through the unity of Israel we will bring about the redeemer.”
He also expressed hope that the underlying motivation for inviting these girls would change from being fiscal. Citing the words of Emmanuel’s Ashkenazi Rabbi Yitzhak Barlev, according to whom there is no real difference between the girls, Laloum said that in light of that attitude, “we would hope that the unity would be real, and not only due to budgetary concerns.”

Dan Izenberg contributed to this report.