Sa’ar dedicates 1st Jaffa state religious school in decades

Teachers and parents say the school now provides an alternative to the area’s mixed Jewish-Arab schools.

Gideon Saar at UNESCO 311 (photo credit: Education Ministry)
Gideon Saar at UNESCO 311
(photo credit: Education Ministry)
Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar (Likud) dedicated the first state religious educational institution in Jaffa in decades, at a Hanukka ceremony at the Yafeh Nof school on Wednesday evening.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau and Rabbi Yehuda Salah, the chief rabbi of the city’s Ethiopian community, also attended the ceremony.
The dedication took place before a crowd of parents and young children, still full of holiday doughnuts and cotton candy from the mini-carnival held outside Yafeh Nof, which opened in September, in the heart of Lev Yafo, one of the poorest, most crime-ridden neighborhoods in the mixed Arab-Jewish city.
Itay Granak, director of the Torani Garin in Jaffa, 26, originally from Kochav Yair, has lived in Jaffa for four years and sees the school as a crucial step in “strengthening the local Jewish population.” A Torani Garin is a group of Orthodox Zionist individuals and families who try to effect social and religious development in underdeveloped communities.
“The school is meaningful because it gives Jewish families the possibility to give their children a Jewish education in Jaffa. Before this school opened, all the other schools in the neighborhood were mixed,” Granak said. “It’s a way of preserving the Jewish population in Jaffa by giving them a place for Jewish education.”
Granak said that about 70 percent of the parents were not religious, but were looking for a place where their children could learn “basic Jewish values” in a non-mixed environment. Twenty-five years ago there were seven state religious schools in Jaffa, but they closed one by one, he said.
“Today, all of the state schools in this area are mixed Arab and Jewish, and people are looking for a Jewish education and we give them that answer,” he said.
Granak estimated that around 70% of the families in the neighborhood were on welfare, which he also said had the highest level of crime in Tel Aviv-Jaffa.
The movement of national-religious families and yeshivas into the area has been a controversial issue in Jaffa and other mixed cities such as Acre and Lod in recent years.
Arab activists, politicians and residents have repeatedly complained that the new arrivals are looking to “Judaize” the mixed cities at the expense of the Arab population.
According to Granak, most of the neighborhood’s Jewish and Arab residents support Yafeh Nof, and “the only ones against it are maybe some politicians who see a political bone to pick with it.”
Principal Noam Sasi, 30, said the school gives parents an opportunity that didn’t exist previously in Jaffa in recent years.
Sasi, who is originally from Bnei Brak and has lived in Jaffa for two years, said the school has only firstand second-grade classes, with a total of 35 children. The goal is to have hundreds of students enrolled within a few years.
“Until today, those who wanted to send their kids to such a school would have had to leave Jaffa, for Bat Yam, or outside the Tel Aviv area. But with the increase of the religious population in Jaffa, this school gives them an answer to their needs,” Sasi said.
Parent Dana Levy said she was “completely secular” but enrolled her seven-year-old daughter Agam because “all the other schools in this area are with kushim [blacks, a reference to African migrants] and Arabs. It’s not just a problem of violence, they’re very racist, they hate us.”
She added that her daughter was previously enrolled in a private national-religious elementary school in the neighborhood opened by the garin and she saw a marked improvement in her behavior and ability to concentrate.
“Here you feel the [Jewish] holidays and they learn basic values and how to behave right,” Levy said.