Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, who has served as
honorary chairman of Shuvu since 1990, sent a letter last
week to Education Minister Yossi Sarid demanding that he
revoke the planned closures of two Shuvu schools in Nahariya
"Needless to say," Lieberman writes, "this situation has
generated profound concern among Shuvu-Return's many
supporters and in the United States. I would be grateful if
you would take a personal interest in this matter, and do all
in your power to resolve this crisis in a manner that will
allow the schools to remain open and continue their
Lieberman's appeal comes in the wake of a massive letter-
writing campaign by American citizens protesting the Israeli
Education Minister's intent to shut down the Shuvu
Though the Education Ministry last week granted the schools a
30-day reprieve, postponing the closures until January 15,
2000, the municipalities in the region have been following
through on their threats of lodging criminal charges against
Shuvu parents and students. Police have called in a number of
parents for questioning, and several were charged stiff fines
of 2,000 shekels (almost $500) for sending their children to
Shuvu's "illegal" schools. For many Russian immigrants the
fine represents a huge sum of money, yet none have succumbed
to these scare tactics.
The municipalities are attempting to pressure parents into
transferring their children back to the public school system,
which is undergoing a severe drain due to the growing number
of students flocking to the Shuvu schools.
Several Knesset members echoed the wave of American
opposition, including Moshe Gafni and Avrohom Ravitz of UTJ,
and Deputy Minister of Immigration Marina Solotkin of Israel
"The Shuvu school system is the only ray of hope for Russian
children to get a sense of Jewish identity and learn about
their roots," Solotkin said, "and now Sarid is intent on
taking that away from them."
Avrohom Ravitz was even more explicit in his criticism of
Sarid and the Education Ministry.
In an interview with Vesti, Israel's largest Russian-
language daily newspaper, Ravitz said, "Shuvu is the only
educational system in the country that combines a high
standard of secular studies with Jewish values. The charges
against Shuvu are only the tip of the iceberg -- the real
reason they are harassing the school system is that the
government does not want immigrant children from the former
Soviet Union to learn about their heritage. There are
political reasons for this. How ironic that the very same die-
hard liberals who extol democracy and freedom of speech are
the proponents of this attempt to shut down Jewish
Yated has contacted the Education Ministry numerous
times and asked for a response, and finally we were handed
over to Yuri Spricket, the Education Ministry's press
secretary assistant for the Russian media.
Spricket said that the Education Ministry wants only to act
in the best interests of the children and is therefore taking
"careful steps" in the case because it understands how
difficult it is for children to have to switch schools in the
middle of the year. But on the other hand, she said, the
Shuvu schools should be held liable for breaking the law.
When asked why the Shuvu schools are being singled out when
dozens of other schools typically open their doors before
receiving licenses, she said the school would not be closed
down until the objective educational expert called in to
determine whether the school should remain open makes a
Spricket also said an objective educational expert will
determine whether the municipalities' complaints against the
school are justified.
What exactly are those complaints?
"The municipalities say that the schools are, you know,
bringing the children back to teshuva," she said.
One of the growing mountain of protest letters and faxes
piled up in Shuvu's headquarters in Yerushalayim struck a
deeper chord than all the rest. It was written in a child's
scrawl, and it came from a schoolgirl living in Lakewood,
N.J. All it said was:
"Dear Minister Sarid: Why do you want to close down our Shuvu
schools? Please answer me. Please write soon. I'm
So are we all.