An educational model?

The AMIT Menorat Hamaor High School at the Kfar Blatt youth village offers an alternative for those who do not fit into the typical yeshiva framework

Haredi Activity (photo credit: Ami Ehrlich)
Haredi Activity
(photo credit: Ami Ehrlich)
Wearing a white shirt, dark pants and a black suede kippa, 17-year-old Y. looks like your standard young haredi (ultra-Orthodox) yeshiva student.
However for Y., sitting and studying Torah, Talmud and other Judaic texts all day was too difficult.
“I felt claustrophobic, closed in,” he explains. So to the chagrin of his parents, he dropped out of yeshiva and got a low-paying job as a delivery boy in a supermarket.
But encouraged by a cousin to explore other educational options, he found an alternative to yeshiva that would be acceptable to his parents, since it would allow him to maintain his Orthodox lifestyle without compromise: the AMIT Menorat Hamaor High School at the Kfar Blatt youth village, just outside Petah Tikva.
The school was founded in 2011 to suit the needs of students within the haredi world who, for one reason or another, are unable to study in full-day yeshiva programs.
With an inaugural enrollment of 50 boys from the area’s haredi community, the school now has 100 pupils in grades 10 and 11, with the number of applicants growing every year.
While Torah studies take place for part of the day, the students of Menorat Hamaor receive an education in the secular subjects needed to complete a full bagrut (matriculation). In addition, the school offers a technological track that enables students to receive a diploma in computer maintenance, information technology or motor-vehicle electronics.
According to Joseph Badichi, the school’s administrator, AMIT founded the program in Petah Tikva and Rehovot (with other branches slated to open soon in Beersheba and Beit Shemesh) in collaboration with the Education Ministry and with the support of the Shas Party, after witnessing a phenomenon of yeshiva dropouts who didn’t have relevant educational alternatives.
“There was no solution for these kids,” he says.
“Some were literally wandering the streets. Our goal is to put these kids in a position where they can give back to society by getting a diploma, passing their bagruyot, and [having] options for the future.”
Rabbi Ariel Yitzhak, the school’s principal, says the goal of the institution is to “instill within the students societal values, while allowing them to remain religious [haredi] Jews as well as becoming bnei adam [good human beings].”
He adds that “maintaining a religious lifestyle was a key factor for parents in allowing their children who were either not succeeding in yeshivot, or who had already dropped out, in giving the school a chance.”
Yitzhak says Y’s situation is not atypical; most parents in the haredi world take it very hard at first when their sons are unable to sit and study in yeshiva all day.
But he says more and more families are willing to consider Menorat Hamaor as an acceptable substitute.
“Parents who were initially skeptical and unwilling to be a part of their children’s education were in disbelief at the progress their children were making here,” he says. “Now nearly 100 percent of the parent body is supportive and involved in what we are trying to accomplish.”
ONE OF the main domestic issues on political parties’ campaign agendas in the recent Knesset election was the integration of the haredi community into national society, and the administration of Menorat Hamaor feels that the institution may become a successful educational model that the rest of the country can adopt.
Students at the Petah Tikva branch who come from places such as Netanya, Rosh Ha’ayin and Bnei Brakreceive daily transportation, arriving at school at 8 a.m. The day starts with breakfast and a slew of courses in Judaic studies. Following a hot lunch, there are classes on secular subjects including mathematics, a variety of sciences, and English. Then come the technology classes.
Opening one of the classroom doors on a tour of the gated campus leads to a room resembling a computer junkyard. PCs are strewn about the room, most on their sides, with wires and other parts hanging out. This is an operational laboratory where the students, guided by qualified professionals, learn the ins and outs of computer maintenance and repair.
Some students opt for this course, while others spend their afternoons in a nearby auto-body garage learning how to operate the advanced electronics and computer systems found in today’s cars.
At the end of the school day, students can choose from a variety of extracurricular activities, including private music lessons – guitar or drums – and physical education. Some students use this opportunity to spend time in the campus activity room, which boasts pool tables, ping-pong, hot drink machines and computers.
The day ends at 5 p.m., and the students receive transportation back to their respective homes.
This fall, the school will have its first 12th-grade class, and the question on everyone’s minds – the administration’s, teachers’, parents’ and students’ – seems to be what these young adults are going to do following graduation.
Yitzhak believes there is a plethora of options available to his students after 12th grade.
“Some will continue with us for another two years [in the framework of an AMIT-backed junior college program] and complete ‘grades 13-14.’ Some will go back to yeshiva, while others will join the army, attaching themselves to divisions such as Nahal Haredi, which will allow them to maintain religious observance,” he says.
Another fitting option, he continues – especially appropriate for those gaining an extensive background in maintenance – is an Israel Air Force program called Shahar Kahol (blue dawn), in which soldiers perform maintenance on aircraft.
“I anticipate many of our graduates will choose this path,” says Yitzhak.
One student considering his options after graduation is 17-year-old Elad resident M. With 10 bagrut units already complete, he anticipates finishing a full bagrut and is deciding whether to continue his studies within the AMIT framework, go back to yeshiva or join the army.
M, who is in his second year at Menorat Hamaor, says he left his yeshiva after his rabbis questioned his family’s level of religious observance.
“My parents are ba’alei teshuva [Jews who were not originally observant but chose to become so],” he says. “But because we have a computer at home, my yeshiva had issues with my being enrolled in their program. So I left the yeshiva – on good terms – and came here.”
He says he is extremely happy at school, and that “it has a great atmosphere, with amazing staff, and counselors.”
Badichi explains that students learn in small classrooms, with no more than 25 in a class, and each class is broken down into smaller groups based on academic level. In addition, he says, every class has its own counselor to serve as a role model and provide motivation and support.
IT MAY seem surprising that the AMIT organization, known to be the country’s leading Zionist educational entity, has attached itself to a highschool program serving the haredi community.
But AMIT president Debbie Isaac, who heads the organization’s 40,000 volunteers in Israel and abroad, insists that “there is no national goal more essential right now.”
“Each generation has had its own challenge,” she says. “In our generation, one of the new challenges is educating haredi youth. Making academic and vocational studies available to these students will facilitate their entrance into the workforce, allow them to provide for their families and ultimately contribute to society and the State of Israel.”
Yitzhak agrees that AMIT’s involvement is justified.
“If our students don’t succeed at this age, they will have a much harder time later on in life,” he says, adding, “While AMIT is a religious Zionist network, the cooperation, understanding and mutual respect between the different parties involved is remarkable.”
He cites Remembrance Day as a perfect example of compromise. Whereas in some haredi circles, the annual siren marking a minute of silence in memory of those who fell in battle is ignored, Yitzhak says his students use the opportunity to stand at attention and quietly recite Psalms.
The bottom line, he says, is that “our institution’s mission is to turn these students into good citizens, and we try to give them all the tools available for them to succeed.” ■