Class struggles

Instead of building new haredi schools, the municipality is increasingly allocating secular school structures to haredim.

Haredim 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Haredim 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
There's nothing like old habits to connect you to tradition. Take a struggle over a secular school, which overnight becomes a target for haredi neighbors, who complain that their children do not have adequate schools. Indeed, too many haredi children in this city study in inadequate structures, from rented flats to warehouses and even shelters. Surprisingly, however, all too often haredim in the city council are to blame for the situation, as they are slow to approve the building of new haredi schools. "It is much easier for them [haredi city councillors] to request [the use of] buildings [in areas] where registration is dropping. In so doing, they obtain two results: ready-made buildings and more secular residents who flee to other neighborhoods or leave the city," says attorney Ze'ev Landner. Landner, who some 10 years ago led the battle for suitable schools in Ramot, is today a candidate on the list headed by city councillor Meir Turgeman, who supports the struggle against handing over to haredim the plot behind the Boyer School (on the border between Kiryat Hayovel and Bayit Vagan), which began a few weeks ago. The battle in Ramot was long and exhausting, but ultimately, it was lost and educational institutions were handed over to the ever growing number of haredim in the neighborhood. Another result was a massive exodus from Ramot (also because of the struggle over the separate hours in the public swimming pool) of secular residents to areas such as Mevaseret Zion, Modi'in and Tel Aviv. More than 10 years have passed and it seems little has changed. Boyer parents and administrators have organized a series of activities to express their disapproval of the plan to allocate a plot behind the school for haredi pupils, including attending last week's city council meeting. True, this time we're not talking about a school in which registration of secular pupils has fallen to the minimum, but of an undeveloped plot the principals of Boyer expected to use for their school in the near future. After all, Boyer is the only school in the city where registration hasn't dropped, on the contrary. One of the leaders on the haredi side in the Ramot battle was Rabbi Eliezer Simhayoff, today a deputy mayor and head of the municipal Finance Committee. Simhayoff (Shas) says he doesn't understand what caused the outcry around the Boyer plot. According to him, Boyer doesn't have to worry - nobody's going to move them out. "We just want to offer the plot they have there for other institutions in the vicinity, like Talmudei Torah [haredi elementary schools] or kindergartens for religious kids. What's wrong with that?" Simhayoff says that there is no plan to take over the Boyer School. "We just want them to realize that they [secular residents] are not alone in this city, and it is our duty, at the city council, to take care of the interests of all residents, including haredim sometimes." Asked if requests for new buildings for haredi institutions have been submitted as well, Simhayoff recalls only two cases, but insists that "the times where we waited for a secular institution to fall into our hands is over. We don't need that anymore." Members of the opposition at city council who support the staff and parents of Boyer say that the lead-up to elections has made the situation more tense. "Boyer is located in an area that is becoming more and more religious, even haredi," explains Turgeman. "In other circumstances, I'm not sure I would have supported them [staff and parents of Boyer], but this issue [of using secular educational institutions for haredi pupils] has become so serious, that we have to respond. "My personal position would be that we should agree that haredim won't try to live in secular neighborhoods, just as secular residents in this city wouldn't dream of renting or buying an apartment or opening a school in a haredi neighborhood. But that's not the situation on the ground at the present, so we have to fight back."