AAAs for Shas

Its educational endeavors are worthy of admiration.

shas ovadia yosef 248 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
shas ovadia yosef 248 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
'Could you settle an argument between myself and my wife?" the middle-aged AAA (Anglo Academic Ashkenazi) immigrant asked MK Avraham Michaeli after a get-to-know-the-candidates panel discussion recently. "My wife said you are an MK from Shas, but I said that cannot be. Your bio-sketch says you went to the Bnei Akiva yeshiva in Nehalim; you graduated the Har Etzion hesder yeshiva when Rabbis Amital and Lichtenstein were the heads; you were a captain in the Armored Corps; and graduated Bar-Ilan University law school. So my wife must be mistaken when she says you represent Shas." "Your wife is correct," responded Michaeli. "People commonly think the supporters of Shas are of one mold. But we have a wide variety of backgrounds. As olim you would appreciate the fact that three of the Shas candidates are from immigrant groups: from Georgia - that's me - from Ethiopia, and from Bukhara." Michaeli went on to explain that coming on aliya as a teenager, he acutely understands the problems facing immigrant families. What impresses me is that he does not promise Shas will help in this area in the future; rather he points to achievements already accomplished in his first term as a Knesset member. He got special consideration enacted for teens taking the matriculation exams, obtained additional counseling for immigrant students, prevented the closing of ulpanim and saw to the provision of extra Hebrew tutoring for immigrant pupils. Why did Michaeli join Shas when, with his curriculum vitae you would expect to find him elsewhere? The reason he gives is similar to the reason I give when asked the same question. Through Shas, a medium-large party, he can see solutions expedited. Small parties with fewer than six MKs don't have the clout to get things done, and the three major parties are too big to worry about ordinary citizens' concerns. Michaeli was in private law practice and far from politics when he was tapped by Shas several years ago. He threw himself into the challenges at hand. He not only is at the airport to greet new arrivals from the Nefesh B'Nefesh program, but he follows through to make sure their absorption is smooth. "Through Shas I can get things done!" LIKE MICHAELI, I support a party that doesn't promise for the future, but rather has a strong track record of accomplishments in the past that indicates what it will continue to do in the future. Rather than write about Shas on the macro level, let me give you a micro-example that is multiplied hundreds of times throughout the country. At a time when many children from Sefardi homes were falling between the cracks and not doing well in school, Shas founded a girls school in Netanya 12 years ago with first graders, adding a grade each year until it had an elementary and high school. Beit Margalit was named after the late wife of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Through intensive instruction by dedicated teachers, this Shas school raised the academic level of the "disadvantaged" pupils so that the school's average on nationwide Meitzav exams far exceeds the national average in math, English, Hebrew and science. The principal showed me graph after graph of Beit Margalit scores which surpassed the national average. One reason for the achievements in the Shas school network is found in the Torah reading the week of the election, in which the Ten Commandments are read. The fifth commandment, honor thy father and mother, is not just a theory of filial piety; it is grounded in the specificity that characterizes Jewish law. The Shas schools apply these halachot, creating an atmosphere of "tough love" that requires children to stand for parents and teachers, to address them respectfully (not on a first-name basis), to avoid sitting in a parent's chair. Religious discipline fosters a learning atmosphere that is serious and leads to academic achievement and creativity. The Shas success story in Netanya is repeated in dozens of cities and villages throughout the country. Even for those of us who do not have children in the system, we do have a stake in the education of large numbers of future citizens who are dedicated, determined and productive citizens. The majority of these pupils go on to high school diplomas and professional training; most of the boys do national service in the army; only the very top students remain in full-time Talmud studies. Most of the Shas MKs are veterans; a huge percentage of soldiers voted for Shas in previous elections. Another educational endeavor worthy of admiration is the Haredi College founded by the daughter of Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef who has encouraged both young men and women to pursue academic studies (in separate programs). I was the college's first English instructor, and watched it grow from that first class of 30 young women to a college of several hundred women studying for academic degrees in fields like social work, medical laboratory sciences, economics, and 80 young men starting their degrees in logistics and computers. While Shas's achievements have been primarily in domestic policy, its national foreign policy is probably most congruent with the right-of-center prime ministerial hopeful, so that for those whose preferences are right-wing, by voting for Shas they will be able to get a strong domestic program along with a tough national geopolitical agenda. The writer is the co-author, with Nobel Laureate Roald Hoffmann, of Old Wine, New Flasks: Reflections on Science and Jewish Tradition.