Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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6 Teves 5760 - December 15, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Sen. Joseph Lieberman asks Sarid to resolve Shuvu School Crisis

by Moshe Schapiro

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 and Nazareth.

"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 educational mission."

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 schools.

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 B'Aliya.

"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 schools."

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 recommendation.

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 waiting."

So are we all.

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