A Tale of Two Schools

In my well-established national religious neighborhood, we have two national religious, government schools (mamlachti dati) side by side. One consists of only children bussed in from the sephardi, mostly Yemenite neighborhood, and the other only accepts children from the local, Ashkenazi neighborhood. The school for locals ended up admitting quite a few Mizrachim (as sefardim prefer to be called), so please don’t call them racist (!). They used to be in one school. My daughter, graduating now from sixth grade, is in the last mixed class.

This all happened because of competition from private schools, which also get government funding. Parents left the public religious schools in droves for the private schools, leaving in a majority of mizrachim in many classes. It became a vicious cycle. It was couched in language about wanting a more “torani” school, although it was clear that for many of the parents religion was not an issue. Now we have a private school for those parents too. Parents pay about $100 a month for private schools, and public schools have fees also. The main chardal school just inherited an almost-new building from the city in a new, upscale part of our neighborhood. This school actually used to be in the Yemenite neighborhood from where the kids are bussed to the above-mentioned public school. So those families at least used to make a bit of a sacrifice by having to bus their kids to a rundown building. But no longer.

What are the objections to the mizrahim? Well, they are less observant (more mizrahim than ashkenazim who don’t observe Shabbat still want their kids in a religious school) and there is a socio-economic divide as well that is not talked about. Ironically American day schools, at least out-of-town, are far more accepting of non-observant Jews than schools here. Unfortunately American olim tend to fall into the Israeli mindset very quickly. One friend who switched to private school compared it to the public/private school debate in the US, where Jews were blamed for lowering the level of public schools by sending them to day schools. Hello, we’re talking about our fellow Jews here, who were put in transit camps upon arrival in the 50s and forced to send their kids to public schools and have their culture degraded.They have never recovered, and the cycle continues. It’s not the same at all.


  1. Jerusalem Joe says

    Lovely. So these people believe in God, but do not want any part of His creation that is not exactly like them, such as Sephardi Jews?
    Such a thin line between belief and bigotry.

  2. I never quite understood this issue, and I still don’t. I only know that this is stupid, racist, and anyone who perpetuates it is not really religious.

    Sefardim are equals in all ways to Ashkenazim, often more devoted, and just because they don’t meet our religious “standards” is not a reason to reject them. When was the last time an Ashkenazi community so davened slowly, or went to mikva and then a neitz minyan every day? Yeah, that’s what I thought. (I am Ashkenazi, married to an Ashkenazi.)

    We have made a bunch of rules that have no source and then we get mad at people who don’t follow them. Sometimes, I feel like Sefardim are much more authentic. Why do we have to be nasty to them? Do they make us feel uncomfortable about ourselves?