The crisis over buses for Chinuch Atzmai schools may soon be
solved. At a large meeting on Monday the Education and
Justice Ministries were given 48 hours to prepare new
criteria for funding the Chinuch Atzmai transportation
system. The meeting had originally been scheduled for Sunday
but was postponed due to the Prime Minister's condition.
For several weeks the lack of funds for bringing children to
schools in the Chinuch Atzmai network has been a major
concern to the chareidi community. Note that the crisis
mainly affects students who come from peripheral areas, not
the central neighborhoods of the chareidi community.
The mother of three children studying at a Chinuch Atzmai
school set up by Keren Netivot Moshe in Kadima, a moshav in
the Sharon Region, met with the principal, Rabbi Yosef
Knopfelmacher and told him she has been sending her three
children in a taxi to and from school every day since the
school buses stopped running. Each ride costs her NIS 70
shekels. "I work for a living and I will pay all the money in
the world to insure my children are in school and do not drop
out," she told the principal. "I can cover the cost for a few
days, but not for much longer than that. If you don't find a
solution to the transportation problem, I'll have to start
looking for other options for my children, as much as it will
The busing crisis at Chinuch Atzmai schools is one of the
most severe funding problems known in years. At the beginning
of last week bus company owners announced since they had not
been paid for their services for several months they are no
longer willing to absorb losses and, in an unprecedented
step, they stopped transporting students to over 100 Chinuch
Atzmai schools around the country. The move caused major
disruptions, forcing many parents to transport their children
themselves or to send them via public transportation.
Some 20,000 children make their way to school on buses
organized by Chinuch Atzmai and paid for—until
recently—by the Education Ministry. For months anti-
religious figures at the Justice Ministry, led by Amnon de
Hartog, have been withholding transportation funding and when
the bus companies learned that the payments would not be
arriving on time they stopped providing service, despite the
The Chinuch Atzmai school at Moshav Kadima, originally
started at Moshav Tzoran six years ago, is a splendid example
of a successful regional school with hundreds of children
arriving from towns throughout the central Sharon
Region— Even Yehuda, Tzoran, Kadima, Porat, Shaar
Ephraim, Ein Sarid, Kfar Yonah, Yanuv, Ezriel, Kfar Yaavetz
and various neighborhoods in south Netanya. Transporting the
children to school each day is accomplished through a complex
logistical feat involving 61 minibuses. Some children travel
32 miles each way and the ride can take 30-60 minutes due to
all the pickup and drop-off points.
The long bus rides attest to both the parents' and students'
mesirus nefesh to acquire a Torah-based education.
These children come from families that are starting to
strengthen their observance. "Without the buses they have no
way to come," says Rabbi Knopfelmacher. "And that is the
first question they ask us during the registration
period— whether buses are available."
Bus or Bust
The Chinuch Atzmai system serves two separate segments of the
population: the chareidi sector living in chareidi cities and
neighborhoods, and Jews strengthening their observance. The
former will do whatever it takes to send their children to
chareidi schools. "Even if they strike at our transportation
funding, the hot-lunch program or anything else, parents will
tighten their belts and give what they can to provide their
children pure education," says Rabbi Tzvi Baumel, deputy
director of Chinuch Atzmai. "But a very large segment of our
student population is made up of `the people in the field,'
i.e. traditional homes and homes just beginning the
teshuvoh process that are fed up with the ruinous
secular education system and elected of their own free will
to educate their children at Chinuch Atzmai schools alone.
This segment must receive full service. It faces prodigious
pressure and nisyonos. They have fabulous-looking
schools right across the street providing full service and
the moment they stop receiving busing services, we are liable
to come to a situation of children dropping out of the
system, chas vesholom.
"If a child drops out of the Chinuch Atzmai system and
transfers to a government or government-religious
schools— this is a source of sorrow for generations to
come. His whole future is halted in one fell swoop. We have
personally seen children enrolled at chareidi schools who go
on to build Torah-true homes and raise doros yeshorim.
The establishment's ideology on this issue is to stop the
busing, thereby forcing parents to transfer their children to
the defective school system.
"The children have already been home for several days,
roaming the streets, and there are concerns they could drop
out," says Chinuch Atzmai Director Rabbi Meir Luria. "This is
what the State wants to happen to them—for them to
transfer to the secular education system. But in the meantime
parents are sending their children to school through various
means. Some try to walk, even long distances."
Last Wednesday two parents sent their first-grade and second-
grade children to a Chinuch Atzmai school in Holon. They did
not make it to school and the city's entire police force was
dispatched to search for them. Eventually the pair was found,
but this is a heavy responsibility and apparently the State
has decided to absolve itself of responsibility for what
takes place in the chareidi school system.
Problem Goes from Bad to Worse
How did the problem begin? Busing requires a relatively small
portion of the education budget—about NIS 30 million
($6.5 million). Compared to salaries, construction,
electricity, activities and innumerable other expenses this
is a trifling sum. Still, Kadima alone, with its 61
minibuses, costs NIS 5,000 per day or NIS 1 million per year.
Other schools with fewer buses and shorter routes require
less funding for transportation.
The troubles started seven years ago. In 5759 someone at the
Education Ministry decided to reduce the transportation
budget for Chinuch Atzmai. "During this period a meeting was
held at the Education Ministry to discuss who is entitled and
who isn't, but no clear criteria were set," recalls Rabbi
Moshe Gafni, who was been working feverishly over the past
two weeks to find a way to put an end to the busing crisis.
Meanwhile certain local authorities decided not to
participate in funding the buses, and circulars issued by the
director of the Education Ministry stated almost explicitly
they are not obligated to fund busing. Relying on this
erroneous legal interpretation, that Chinuch Atzmai did not
have to be provided the same funding that government and
government-religious schools are entitled to, local
authorities claimed the obligation to provide equal funding
falls on the Education Ministry.
"This is fatuous logic," says Rabbi Gafni, "for when the law
was legislated in 5751  the problem was with Education
Ministry funding, not with local authority funding, and there
was no need to mention the local authorities in the law.
[Therefore the law does not mention the local authorities
explicitly.] On the other hand, just how does the State
intend to provide equal funding to all yaldei Yisroel
when the Education Ministry is not funding the buses? And why
are the local authorities unwilling to provide funding? A few
years ago I went to the Finance Minister and asked for budget
increases. Following extensive efforts and numerous requests
it was taken care of, but the problem started to grow worse
from year to year. In the last 2-3 years, as the local
authorities' situation worsened due to the NIS 3-billion cut
in their budgets, the situation grew much worse and the local
authorities quickly cut the remaining transportation
Establishment Fears Chareidi Education
Rabbi Baumel says the State is well aware of how many
government and government-religious schools closed down
because parents transferred their sons and daughters to Torah-
based schools. "They are jealous, understandably so, and they
are trying to stop us. But the moment they stop busing, the
children can continue for a day, two days, a week, but no
longer than that. There are also many families with an
ongoing debate between the parents—one is in favor of
chareidi education and the other is opposed. But when there
is full service for the children, with busing, the opposing
side acquiesces and is willing to send the child to a
chareidi school. If the service is not provided and the core
of the system is busing, the children will [go elsewhere],"
warns Rabbi Baumel. "I have seen this splendid sight at
moshavim, kibbutzim, villages and outlying communities.
Children waiting in the morning for the bus that will bring
them to Chinuch Atzmai [schools] where they are raised for
lives of Torah and yiras Shomayim. The establishment
is trying to halt this service any way they can."
Extensive efforts to solve the problem were underway for
months until along came Amnon de Hartog, head of the Justice
Ministry's Department of Support Funding, who determined the
State can only transfer funding in accordance with set
"He pretends to be righteous, doesn't even smile, and says
everything must be equitable," says Rabbi Gafni. "Of course
he says that just as [funding] is given to government
[schools], so too must it be given to Chinuch Atzmai. Only he
fails to mention that because of his directives the General
Accountant at the Finance Ministry tells Chinuch Atzmai to
sign contracts with bus companies with half of the money at
its disposal. How can contracts be signed over money that
does not exist?"
During a meeting last week at the Prime Minister's Office
attended by ranking officials from the Finance and Education
Ministries, Government Secretary Yisrael Maimon and de
Hartog, efforts were made to reach agreements for the
transfer of funding needed to continue the busing, but de
Hartog remained staunchly opposed and attacked the chareidi
public in an unprecedented manner. "He used words I had never
heard coming from a government worker—though he wears a
[knitted] kippah—directed against the chareidi public,"
said one of the participants after the meeting. "He is driven
by total hatred toward the chareidi public. I can't
understand how you manage to cope with him."