Reforms praise Education Ministry for openness

Reform Movement in Israel is noting with satisfaction the growth in the ministry’s support for their programs in public-school system.

On the backdrop of growing criticism from liberal circles against the Education Ministry over what they perceive as a rise in nationalistic values, the Reform Movement in Israel is noting with satisfaction the growth in the ministry’s support for their programs in the public-school system.
The upcoming school year will be the second year in which the movement will receive funding of approximately NIS 200,000, as part of the Ministry’s “centers for enhancing Jewish education,” explained the head of Israel’s Reform Movement, Rabbi Gilad Kariv.
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In the past, the providers of these educational services were from the national religious sector. But after a long dialogue and court petition, the Education Ministry changed its criteria to include pluralistic bodies as potential service providers, Kariv said.
On Monday, the Education Ministry approved a new program for teaching citizenship, enhancing Jewish values and the connection between Judaism and democracy.
Last week it was revealed that, as of the upcoming school year, new ministry regulations stipulate that kindergarten children will begin their Sunday mornings with raising the flag and singing the national anthem.
The decision is part of the ministry’s goal to strengthen the Zionist and Jewish values of Jewish students in Israel.
Other pertinent initiatives include visits to the Cave of the Patriarchs, and students “adopting” the graves of fallen soldiers. Meanwhile, critics of these moves have slammed them as part of a worrying move toward nationalism.
Another recent decision of Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar is to add the subject of Jewish culture to the junior high schools.
Nine different bodies, including the Reform Movement, had their programs approved, and the schools will be able to choose from among them.
Kariv called the acceptance of the programs “a breakthrough.”
“After many years of legal action against the Education Ministry to change the regulations so that the criteria can include pluralistic movements, we are finally beginning to work together with the ministry. More and more elements in the ministry are internalizing the duty and educational interest of having pluralistic Judaism in the schools, to enable a broader variety of players – including Reform – to act,” said Kariv.
“We can definitely begin to mark a trend of pluralistic movements, including the Reform Movement, becoming more integrated in the educational system.”
To Kariv, the ministerial emphasis on Jewish and Zionist values were all the more reason for his movement, and other similar ones, to enhance their presence in the schools.
“This is an important means to ensure that education to Jewish and Zionist identity will be open, and not dogmatic. We nurture Jewish identity, while leaving enough space for questions and varied outlooks,” he said.
“The fact that today a discussion over values is taking place makes our presence all the more important. I’m happy to say that we are now seeing the fruits of our labor – and as the years will go by, we will seek to enhance this trend.”
According to Kariv, the trend is both a result of their court actions, as well as the constellation in the ministry, headed by a Likud member whose deputy is haredi.
“There has definitely been a seeping of the values emanating from the High Court of Justice regarding Jewish pluralism in the educational system in the same years the Education Ministry is trying to strengthen and enhance Jewish education in the elementary schools. Both elements come together,” said Kariv. “There are currently encouraging signs of openness in the Education Ministry toward our activities.”