Great(!) news: a very special school

A major milestone for our Israeli family

In Israel, the education system consists of three tiers: primary (grades 1–6), middle school (grades 7–9) and high school (grades 10–12). The major decisions about schooling have to be made for 1st grade and 7th grade.

Last December, I wrote about applying to elementary (grade) schools for our daughter who will be entering 1st grade next year. In January, we officially submitted our preferences to the municipality. Then we waited.

The application process requires families to request four different potential schools for their children, and at least one of the four most be “local” (i.e. a neighborhood school). Three of the four of the schools we applied for are officially “State-Orthodox” schools. One of them is officially registered as “State-Secular”, and that’s the one our daughter was accepted to.

If you would like to know about the different tracks of Jewish education available in Israel, I’ve written about this in a previous post. And, as always, I would be happy to answer your questions.


State-Secular & State-Orthodox

As I mentioned above, the two categories of Israeli schools that are relevant to our family are “State-Secular” and “State-Orthodox”.

State-Secular

State-secular elementary and high schools provide a general studies education, including a minimal amount of Tanakh (Bible) study. Some of these schools offer a limited Jewish enrichment program.

State-Orthodox

State-Orthodox elementary and high schools offer a dual curriculum of Judaic and general studies. There is a commitment to both a Torah-observant lifestyle and to the values of religious Zionism.

Nota bene:

Most people in Israel would translate ‘State-Orthodox’ as: ‘State-Religious’, but this is not quite accurate. For historic and political reasons, the non-Orthodox Jewish denominations have a very limited footprint in Israel. For this reason, the Hebrew word ‘dati’, which means: ‘religious’ has long come to mean: ‘Orthodox’ in the minds of Hebrew speakers.

In reality, an individual could be a ‘religious Conservative’ or ‘religious Reform’ Jew, and(!) one could also be a ‘non-religious Orthodox’ Jew. This is why I more precisely call Israel’s ‘religious’ schools ‘Orthodox’, for they only represent a limited range of Jewish religious expression.


The exception to the rule

Why is it, you may ask, that David and his wife decided to apply to one State-Secular school and three State-Orthodox schools? For that matter, why is he so happy about his daughter having been accepted at that particular State-Secular school?

I’m so glad you asked.

The State-Secular school that’s not secular

Despite observing Jewish holidays in a traditional manner and keeping a kosher kitchen, and despite my wife and I, of our own accords, having chosen to live traditionally religious lives, we are both religious pluralists. (More on this here.)

Ultimately, despite our misgivings, we decided that providing our daughter with a substantive Jewish education (which neither of us received), outweighed our concerns about religious coercion. The three State-Orthodox schools we applied to are just about as religiously openminded as possible; and, probably, we would have been happy “enough” with any of them.

The 4th school, which is now our daughter’s school(!), is officially State-Secular, but it prioritizes rigorous religious education no less than any State-Orthodox school… and it’s non-coercive! For us, there is no question that this unique school is the best of both worlds – our daughter will receive a substantive religious Jewish education, without being expected to believe in a particular theology.

The mixed student body

It gets better. So much better.

This school deliberately strives to maintain a student body that is 50% Secular and 50% Orthodox. In Israel, this is practically unheard of. Generally, Israeli children are educated in either the “Secular” track, the “Orthodox” track, or an “ultra-Orthodox” track.

At our daughter’s school (it’s actually hers now!), the student body is mixed, and classes and activities are run in such a way as to deliberately encourage dialogue between the students and their families. The families at this school are deliberately building a Jewish community together that is not defined by religious practices and preferences.

Mixed-sex education

It gets better.

Since this school is officially State-Secular, and since 50% of the students come from Secular families, the classes are coeducational. At some State-Orthodox schools, boys and girls are separated from one another as early as 4th grade; none separate them from one another any later than 7th grade.

Coeducation is not the worst thing in the world, and I know many people who prefer it, but I am not among them and neither is my wife. We would have accepted it as the default if our daughter had been accepted into any one of the three State-Orthodox schools that we applied for… but now we don’t have to.

Additionally, at State-Orthodox schools, girls are required to wear skirts, which I am not in favor of requiring. There are religious reasons for this, which I personally do not buy into… but, again, now we don’t even have to worry about it! (My wife, of her own free will, wears skirts nearly all the time.)


We are so lucky

No matter what, we would have considered ourselves lucky had our daughter been accepted into this school for all of the above reasons. However, we don’t just consider ourselves lucky – we are lucky.

You see, unlike most schools, our school opens enrollment for preschool, rather than 1st grade, and most of its preschoolers remain for 1st grade, which means: an incoming 1st grader can only get accepted into the school if one of the preschoolers drops out. Then, if one of the preschoolers does drop out, the school holds a lottery to determine who will take their place, and there are a lot of applicants.

Beyond this, the younger siblings of all former students are automatically accepted, and the school is not very large… and let’s not forget that they strive to maintain a student body that is 50% Orthodox and 50% Secular… 50% female and 50% male…

In any case, when we included this school on our list of four potential elementary schools, we never expected that our daughter would be lucky enough to be accepted there, but she was.

I am, to say the least, very happy.

Momentary heartbeats, or: Silence

Jerusalem, Israel

We live in Jerusalem, our apartment at an intersection on a major thoroughfare, the central north-south artery running through the city center. This is convenient for a family with no vehicle; a bus stop rests just outside our window, making the Jerusalem downtown readily accessible.

As you can well imagine, we constantly hear the sounds of traffic from our home. Ambulances, police cars, honking, stop announcements from passing busses… Our landlord told me that he could never live in such a noisy place as this (his grandparents were the ones who purchased and once lived in this apartment). Nevertheless, none of this bothers us – we’re used to noisy city life.

Right now, at 1:40 AM, the bus stop sits empty, visible under the street lights. Little Israeli flags flutter above it, stretching over the thoroughfare, as Israel Independence Day was just two weeks ago. The soft rumbling of car engines is heard, a reminder of humanity’s footprint. The day’s heavy winds have given way to a chilly night breeze, but it’s strong enough yet that I decided to pull the window closed immediately after snapping a photograph.

Stillness in motion
Silence is momentary
Israel's heartbeats

d’Verse haibun Monday:

‘The present moment’

The d’Verse prompt: Let us now bear witness to the present moment! However you experience it, write a haibun that expresses the present moment.

Half a dozen of the other, or: Jew

Tassels swinging as they walk
to the Wall on Saturdays;
      perhaps not. It depends,
      you know. Some wear frock 
      coats so you wouldn't
      know it; 
      plus- tassels probably don't swing much under heavy polyester.
I went abroad
to teach a group of secular Jews
      from Russia 
      in Georgia. The
      country. I wore my skullcap (that's
      not what I call it) and
      only ate kosher food. They asked me all about ultra-
Orthodoxy. I'm no authority. No
insider. Most of that community sees
      me as no 
      different than secular
      Jews, perhaps "worse".
      Complicated to explain 
      without getting into theology.
Hard to explain even
to Jews. Moving
      on - 
      I live 
      with them in holy Jerusalem;
      a large group assembles on Saturdays
      near my former downtown apartment to block
traffic. My secular father found
this fascinating, as he did
      nearly everything; my wife 
      found it degrading. Me too.
      Most who protest weekly 
      wear those frock coats,
      indicating membership in a Hasidic sect. Those who
wear modern black
business jackets  
      are of the "Lithuanian" ultra-
      Orthodox persuasion, which, only several centuries ago,
      vehemently opposed
      Hasidic ways. 
      Now they're united in Israel's parliament 
against serving in the 
defense forces, despite 
      living under their protection.
      Difficult not to let
      bias show like my epidermis.
      I'll try
      to stick to the facts, Sir, Ma'am. That's what I am
here for. Not so sexy
writing about Jews; not
      something the world cares to know about.
      Write what 
      you know. 
      Some, mostly Hasidic,
      will never, ever see my words online because their rabbis 
forbid Internet access. Oh.
Those tassels are actually fringes,
      tzitzit in Hebrew, 
      which I wear, sometimes
      for months at a stretch, until I tire
      or struggle
      through a religious crisis. Those frock coats?  
Bekishes. Never worn one, nor
do I 
      want to. It's ironic (
      epidermis)
      that they adopted the dress of non-
      Jews in the Czarist 
      era and claim today that it's authentic Jewish garb.
Nonsense. 
I wouldn't wear that, even to cover
      my epidermis, 
      but I'm not trying 
      to. Ultra-Orthodox 
      women don't wear pants and cover their hair upon marriage. 
      Some wear wigs; but some heed rabbis who rule:
INAPPROPRIATE!
Personally, oh-
      never mind. Just the facts, Ma'am, Sir.
      My skull cap is a kippah; that's
      Hebrew. Means
      dome. Many call it
      yarmulke. That's Yiddish. The majority who speak Yiddish
are Hasidic. The majority  
who speak modern Hebrew
      are Israeli.
      Jews' exteriors once mattered more
      to me. I saw wisdom in beards;
      now I have one;
      it's meaningless. I once asked a rabbi why he didn't have one.
He'd never thought
about it; I felt foolish. Still
      do. If tzitzit are concealed 
      by bekishes, you'll 
      note ear locks swinging as they 
      walk to the Wall on Saturdays;
      perhaps not, but most Hasidic males have them. I 
don't. I do
have insight into their 
      lifestyles, as I've studied
      them; we share
      a heritage and religious texts.
      The rub is that most 
      of the world sees me and assumes I am one. I
am.

d’Verse

Open Link

For today’s d’Verse open link, I’ve decided to share a free verse poem that I wrote ten months ago, not long after I created this blog.

I rarely write free verse, although I think I should do more of it… but I struggle with poetry that doesn’t have any rules attached to it. What is it exactly that makes the above staggered sequence of words a poem?

Peaces, or: Jerusalem

I.

     You, wholly holy; we, ever so lowly
     Slip on limestones bearing your name
     Winter winds whip our brollies
     As we boldly, with folly
     Venture out to the streets in the rain
     Yet your sun's more unworldly
     Harsh gold rays broil slowly
     Through the Mid Eastern summer's domain
     And though your fate seems lonely
     We who are yours know
     Only
     The truest of passions are pain

II.

         I-
       Live you and love you
     I'm in and I'm of you
     Your hilltops have
     ruined my knees

         I've-
       Found naught above you
     But should I unglove you
     How bloodied would your
     knuckles be?

III.

     Yerushalayim
     a city of two
     peaces 
       at war 

     peace 
       rooted 
     in wholeness
     completeness completely
     sundered and some dare
     to brandish those plowshares

     not plowing, not sharing, not caring
     that their swords were beaten
     out of shape for a reason
     not for men to be beaten
     broadsided by the flat sides
     pierced through to their insides
     ruptured

     ruptured 
     peaces begging 
     begging begging isn't
     peace the beginning
     isn't
     
     peace
       rooted
     in wholeness

     begging isn't

IV.

     Plead 'next year in Jerusalem'
       That loss to our children remain unknown

     We've yearned ev'rywhere and always
       Here we belong; the Jews' hearts' one true home

     Your rhythmic rhymes stretch space and time
       A new bridge of chords; an old wall of stones

     Plead 'next year in Jerusalem'
       That loss to our children remain unknown

V. haiku

     Could she possibly
     lose you, blissfully skipping
     downhill to preschool?

Today, for d’Verse’s “Open Link Night”, I’d like to share a poem that I wrote last July, a few months after creating this blog.

I decided to share this poem mostly because I’ve been in a reflective and sharing mood recently.

This is me, Friends – an Israeli Jew living in and loving Jerusalem.