It’s the first day of school in Israel; this year, the traditional date of Sep. 1 nicely coincides with Rosh Chodesh Elul, the preparatory month before the High Holiday season. The day went smoothly enough, even as Prime Minister Olmert faced protests in Nazareth, and Ethiopian-born Israelis protested in Petach Tikva.
President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Wannabes Tzipi Livni (“We want a better country” – Hebrew link) and Shaul Mofaz each made school visits, too (Peres visited the school in South Jerusalem two of my children attend).
Even though we have grave doubts and concerns about the Israeli school system, there are new things and good things occurring – the “New Horizons” program, being adopted by hundreds of schools, aims to provide a more intensive one-on-one experience for israeli schools, where kids are notoriously lumped into large groups (my kids have 35 in their classes; some have 39 or 41)
Another program is a new government-sanctioned addition of Jewish content to secular Israeli curricula.Now I know that sounds like an oxymoron. Isn’t one of the points of having a Jewish state the freedom to teach Judaism and Jewish history and culture as part of the majority, mainstream culture. You would think so. But it hasn’t been so in many secular schools (State-sponsored religious schools and government-recognized ultra-Orthodox schools are different, of course, but they have their own separate sets of problems we’ll deal with another day).
So that’s why a recent law offers some hope for those who see Jewish culture and values as having a meaningful place in contemporary Israeli life. Ariel Picard, a rabbi and director of Hartman Institute’s Center for Education, expressed his hopes for this here (and here in Hebrew). And if you are interested, read about and purchase our course materials (in Hebrew).