A lesson learned

After finally winning a long battle with the Education Ministry, veteran Jerusalem educator Beverly Gribetz looks ahead.

gribetz 88 (photo credit: )
gribetz 88
(photo credit: )
'What's done is done," declared Beverly Gribetz to In Jerusalem following the recent long-awaited authorization by the Education Ministry allowing her to resume her role as principal of Tehilla, the school she founded in September 2005, when it reopens in the coming academic year. "I don't look back" she continued. "I'm too busy focusing my energies on Tehilla." Gribetz's difficulties began in June 2003, when as principal of the junior-high section of the 145-year-old, Rehavia-based religious girls' high school Evelina de Rothschild, she received a letter from the Education Ministry accusing her of embezzlement, the result of three reporting errors on her time cards which had led to her receiving $940 in over-payment while on a fund-raising trip to the US. She was cleared of the charges in January 2005 and in September of that year the ministry gave her permission to assume the role of principal at any school. But in the interim she had been suspended from Evelina for six months, during which time Manhi (the Jerusalem Education Administration) had announced a tender for the position of principal. Gribetz could not apply while suspended. The role, which Gribetz and the many parents who supported her had anticipated would go to her, went instead to Daniel Zecharia whose traditional educational approach was synonymous with that of former principal Gidon Langman's. Langman, who took early retirement in 2003, was believed to be responsible for leaking the details of Gribetz's reporting errors to the Education Ministry. "Whatever I did was in all innocence," she said at the time. "It wasn't like I snuck out of the country in secret; everyone knew where I was going and why... there were people who could have told me there was a form to fill out but they chose not to. They chose to get me in trouble." Langman dismissed these claims as "ridiculous." "I didn't even want to tell the ministry about the errors," he insisted, "but as principal I was obliged to speak up." He does, however, acknowledge that he and Gribetz had "different ways of educating." Gribetz's liberal-Orthodox, innovative outlook to religious girls' education, influenced by previous roles as junior-high principal at Ramaz (a modern Orthodox yeshiva high school in New York), and coordinator for Oral Torah law at the prestigious, progressive-Orthodox Pelech girls' high school, contrasted sharply with Langman's old-school traditional values. She incorporated a wide range of subjects onto the curriculum, including Arabic, drama and sport. As well as gaining her popularity among parents, Gribetz's progressive policies along with her fundraising efforts on behalf of the school and her successful bid to increase Evelina's intake, transformed the school's reputation, which many parents felt had been steadily declining for 15 years, to one of academic excellence. Despite her achievements, or perhaps because of them, parents testify that Langman went out of his way to challenge Gribetz's authority. "He was constantly trying to stop her work and undermine her decisions," recalls one former parent, "He felt threatened by her because she'd done so much for the school and people credited her with turning it around." Gribetz eventually returned to Evelina in March 2005, but resigned a mere two months later. Her departure paved the way for the establishment of a new religious girls' school based on the progressive values she had tried to bring to Evelina. In June of that year Gribetz met with a group of parents who had supported her throughout her time at Evelina and the decision to create Tehilla was reached. The school would be non-elitist, accepting girls regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds, have a liberal-religious outlook and would strive for high academic standards without academic selection tests. The parents registered Tehilla as a non-profit organization, Gribetz raised the necessary funds for scholarships for those who couldn't afford the fees and on September 1, 2005, it opened its doors to 23 10th graders, most of whom were former Evelina pupils. The excitement was short-lived. Within a week of the opening of the academic year Tehilla received a closure order from the Ministry of Education claiming that it had opened without a license. Following a failed appeal, the school was closed in November 2005, pending an investigation into its license application by the Ministry. In the interim the Tehilla girls were forced to seek alternative education arrangements. The situation was compounded as current Evelina principal Zecharia sent a letter to parents asserting that any student who had not returned to Evelina by September 20 of that year would not be accepted back. In the end some pupils did return, while others found new schools. The closure shocked Gribetz and the Tehilla parents. "Opening a school without a license is not unusual and sometimes the ministry turns a blind eye," says parent Asher Bloementul, whose daughter was one of the pupils who made the move from Evelina to Tehilla. "I think the ministry's tough stance with Tehilla stems from the fact that they see Dr. Gribetz as a threat," he argues. "Her policies such as offering a wide selection of matriculation choices and collaborating with other schools are not in line with the way things are usually done at Jerusalem schools." According to Bloementul this reasoning is also behind the ministry's year-long delay in reviewing Tehilla's application request. "When the appeal was dismissed the judge said that the Education Ministry should investigate our application within four months but it took until July for it to reach the appeals committee [an internal decision-making body] and that was only after petitions were handed to the ministry and third parties intervened," he says. "[The appeals committee] said that the reasons the Education Ministry had given for refusing to grant Tehilla a license weren't valid, which is what we'd been saying all along." In a written response to In Jerusalem, an Education Ministry spokesperson stated that "the decision to refuse the Tehilla school a license in 2005 was made after weighing up organizational and educational matters. Neither it nor the length of time taken to investigate the school's license application are in any way related to Dr. Gribetz's outlook or policies." The spokesperson also maintained that "the time taken to enact the closure order in 2005 was no longer or shorter than would have been the case for any other school." For Gribetz, who is at present compiling a curriculum for her school, recruiting teachers and interviewing prospective parents, receiving a license marks the long overdue beginning of what she and the Tehilla committee hope will be a new and exciting chapter in religious girls' education. "I have great aspirations for Tehilla," she said. "Our goal is to provide the opportunity for religious girls, regardless of their socioeconomic background, to receive a high standard of education in both Jewish and secular studies while catering to pupils' specific needs and allowing each of them to maximize their potential." Opinions of former Tehilla pupils suggest that she is on the right track. "At Tehilla each student's level was acknowledged as the starting point from which they could grow," recalls one of the original Tehilla girls. "As a result of this, even in the short time we were there we all reached high levels of learning."