Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

11 Teves 5766 - January 11, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Chareidim? Take a Hike — The Bussing Crisis in Chinuch Atzmai

by Betzalel Kahn and Yated Ne'eman Staff

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 hurt me."

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 grave consequences.

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 [1991] 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 funds."

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 criteria.

"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."


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