Petach Tikva School Scandal: Abject Racism or Media Lynch?

When I first heard about 100 Ethiopian immigrant children being denied places in religious schools in Petach Tikva, I was obviously appalled. Racism is alive and well in Israel, unfortunately, but I couldn't imagine it had gotten to the extent of actually denying children places in schools. In order to fulfill the requirements of the conversion authority, the children must be enrolled in religious schools.

3 semi private schools in Petach Tikva- Lamerhav, Da'at Mevinim and Darkei Noam- have now said that they will take 50 children into the first grade and the rest they will accept into "Kittot Klita"- separate remedial classes. Gidon Saar, the education minister, does not accept this solution because he doesn't want the children "ghettoized" into their own classes. Shimon Peres has called for demonstrations against the school (you can see his call not once, but twice, in this Haaretz article). Again, as I said, when I first heard of this, I, too was horrified. But after reading up on it over Shabbat, I've come to the conclusion that this is an attempt to attack and demonize these religious private schools.

Over the last few weeks, efforts to find a compromise were made by various representatives of the municipality. One suggestion, proposed by Moti Zaft, head of the religious schools department, was to form special classes for the Ethiopian children to help them close the pedagogic gaps between them and the rest of the students, the main reason cited by the private schools for their unwillingness to accept the immigrant pupils.
Another suggestion, which was accepted by the city's non-official recognized religious schools, was to split up all the children equally among all the schools.
So far the Ministry of Education has been adamantly against the idea of forming special classes for the Ethiopian students.Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar said he unequivocally demanded that the students be put in regular classes and that segregated classes where like "small ghettoes."

The schools are offering (or are willing to accept? Different paper have different versions) a sensible solution- how are new immigrant children expected to keep up in regular math, language and Torah classes if they are just entering school? (My husband thought at first that this was an attempt on the part of the schools to keep up their standings on state tests, that these weren't really new immigrant children- but if they're still going through the conversion process, obviously, they are still relatively new).

If the schools were smart or at least a bit media savvy, they would simply accept the kids into regular classes and remove them for remedial work as needed.

Also, it's unclear from any of these articles why they can't be accepted into regular state religious schools in the city. I found it interesting this is the complete opposite from our experience here in Raanana. Here, there was a quota on the number of children from Ranaana that Darchei Noam was allowed to accept, in order to protect the state religious schools, which is logical from a public policy standpoint. The school had to turn away 18 families, at first, because of this quota. We were one of them, until we used our Jerusalem address to circumvent this (they had no problem accepting children from outside of Raanana.) The mayor here is very against private education and does his best to stifle its growth.

In Petach Tikva, the municipality seems to depend on these schools to educate religious children- otherwise, why can't these children just be accepted into the state religious schools system?

There were a number of other articles in Haaretz and Jpost lamenting the spread of private and semi private education, about the weakening of the public system and what it means for the future of Israeli education. As I said before, I fully understand this on a public policy level. However, on an individual level, I was horrified that the mayor was trying to force me to send my daughter to a public school when I wasn't sure that was the best place for her or us. I think school choice is part of being a modern developed Western nation. I think it's foolish to assume every child should go to public school.

I hope a solution is found within the next 72 hours and the school year in Petach Tikva can start peacefully for everyone.

Eeek, My Tanach Professor's Son!

I had this guy's father as a Tanach professor in Stern. Professor Havatzelet wasn't particularly awe inspiring and many times he repeated the same lessons a few times in a row. But he was a very sweet man.

Summer Activity Alert

If people are still looking for things to do with their kids in the Merkaz area, I highly recommend Park Kfar Saba. Parking does cost 15 shekel in public lots but there is plenty of free street parking if you're handy with a map.

The park is only in its first stages, but they have some really beautiful mitkanim (playgrounds? jungle gyms? Not sure how to translate that) based on a combination jungle/ Noah's Ark theme. There is even a mini wooden climbing structure for toddlers which my crawling 14 month old enjoyed immensely (and it was small enough that I didn't have to climb up and rescue him for the too-high slides like most other mitkanim)

The park also has a great "sprinkler park" where kids can splash play in a series of about 30 jets of water. I can't guarantee how hygenic it is, but we went last week and I don't think my kids got any sicker than they were before (they had a few sniffles).

The park also has a pretty area for barbecuing and a great giant sculpture exhibit.
There are also have lawn bowling courts if you're into that.

Sorry, I didn't bring my camera. It was enough wrangling three kids back and forth there myself.

Another place we plan to check out is Mekorot Hayarkon (the source for the not very clean Yarkon river, pictures at right) But I heard good things about this site and since it's so close to us and looks very stroller friendly, I thought I'd try that with the kids this week as well. Update: Sorry, this site is not free. 25 shekel for adults, 15 for kids.

If you have a daughter between 4-6 who loves fairies and anything sparkly and pink, I recommend an outing to see Princess Lillifee- it went down big with my two daughters. I got a nice 15 minute nap in there, so I can't really complain myself. :D

Israel's 'Scary' Religious Army

Salon has an article about Israel's "activist" military rabbis. All of the stories that really inspired me from Gaza incursion, of rabbis inspiring the troops with tefilot and divrei Torah before going in I guess don't play as well to the rabid liberal Left.

Apparently they don't appreciate Chief Rabbi Rontzki's habit of expressing his views:

Rontzki has been accused of speaking out against military service for women -- he denies it -- and after Bamahane, the army magazine, profiled a homosexual major, Rontzki wrote to several senior officers to protest.

But what really gets the goat of Yesh Gvul, the defender of Israeli human rights (who knew we had our own group?) is this:

"Under Rontzki's command, the rabbinate is giving the conflict a religious overtone, and they are also using their free access to soldiers to work toward political goals," said Michael Sfard, an attorney for Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights group. Those goals, critics like Sfard say, include making sure the West Bank, claimed by the Palestinians as part of their future state, remains in Jewish hands for good.

What I think is most interesting about this article is the sincere attempt on the part of the author to try and convey valid reasons for why the rabbinate might be more activist (there are more religious soliders in the army now) but how it utterly fails to convey how most traditional Sfardi soldiers probably appreciate the strengthened rabbinate. Yes, I'm sure it might make some secular soldiers uncomfortable. But I would imagine that on the night of the incursion, they were probably in the very small minority (don't have any proof for that, which is why I imagine it).

So Far Away

Well, that vacation seems a lifetime ago.

So far, since we've gotten back, I've dealt with a bout of almost swine flu (my baby came down with a fever the day after we came back, so the dr. sent us right up to the swine flu clinic with masks. A few days later, we found out it wasn't.); we currently all have matching hacking coughs and the baby has an ear infection.

I'm also in full kita aleph shopping mode. Here in Israel, you have to buy all the books! So different from the US, where we always got books and workbooks from school on the first day.

And my husband has been away all week! But he's miserable too because he's only gotten to sleep in a bed on night out of the the last four.

Anyway, a few things that I've read that have caught my eye:

This excellent Modern Love column. A really amazing example of a woman's courage and strength while trying to keep her family together. It sounds trite, but really, it's true!

I cannot believe this news about that woman who killed 8 people on the Taconic Parkway in NY last week. I was truly horrified by all the miserable kid-related news that came out of the US last week, but this latest update really takes the cake. I really have no answer to Lisa Belkin's question how can a mother drive drunk. I have no idea how a mother can strap 5 kids into a car that drunk. :(

I was with Michael Pollan halfway through this article about how no one cooks in America anymore, until I started choking on all the pretension. Also, I really have to correct him when he includes frozen vegetables among other processed conveience foods that have replaced real foods used in cooking from scratch. Frozen vegetables are usually just veggies and they usually have more vitamins that old, worn out fresh veggies. But I did appreciate his remembering watching Julia Child on WNET in the afternoons with his mom because that's exactly what I did when I was a child! One of my first memories was sitting at the coffee table in our living room watching Julia Child and copying out Sesame Street picture books onto yellow legal paper. I was already protoblogging at the tender age of 4!

and, a recipe. Take that Michael Pollan! Some of us still like to cook:

Chard and Chicken Pilaf

2 Tbs oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic chopped
1 bunch Swiss chard, washed and chopped
1 pack mushrooms, cleand and quartered
2-4 pargiot or 2 chicken breasts sliced
1 small container (2 Tbs) tomato paste
1/4 cup red wine
3/4 cup water or chicken stock
1 cup rice (brown, white or I used a grain mix of pearl barley, buckwheat and brown rice)

Sweat the onions, add the garlic, saute about a minute (careful not to burn garlic). Add chard, saute until cooked down. Add mushrooms and chicken, saute another minute or two. Add tomato paste and wine and stir around some more. Add water or chicken stock, stir through and add rice. Add salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, and cover. Cook about 15 minutes for white rice, about 30 for brown or mixed grains. Check after around 15 minutes and add water if it seems like it needs more.