Students at a local Herzliya high school were startled by the large yellow sign hanging above their heads as they entered school on Tuesday morning. The sign called for the division between sexes in the classroom, forcing girls to sit on the right while boys sat on the left. Even a Mechitza – a Halakhic partition used to divide men and women in places of Jewish worship – was placed at the entrance to the school, in order to emphasize the notion of separation among the hundreds of students who attend the school.
The first few minutes of the morning seemed typical enough – the students, most of whom reacted with sleepy apathy to the change. As he predicted, Principal Yaakov Nahum’s students followed the rules, and separated themselves along gender lines.
It was the parents, however, who smiled knowingly at the sign as they dropped their kids off at school, understanding the rationale behind the move. However, a few of them refused to believe that the school had turned into an institution that divides men and women. One mother even photographed the sign, and threatened to report the new changes.
Nahum, who has served as principal for the last 11 years, recalled how some parents wondered whether the school officials had gone crazy. “The idea is educational,” he says, hoping that the idea will “strengthen students’ consciousness of the issue.”
The students understood the lesson from the get-go. “Are they serious? Do I have to do this?” asked one female student out loud as she passed through a divided entrance to the school.
Students at the main entrance even started a cynical protest, holding up signs that read “Women are inferior” while others yelled slogans decrying the school becoming more religious. One student even asked the principal if “the girls won’t sing anymore. One student even joked about committing a “price tag” attack in response to the division. His friend responds: “Don’t you understand that it’s nonsense? They don’t actually mean it.”
After several small protests broke out in the morning, most of the students line up as commanded: a row of tables for girls, another three for the boys. Whether it was planned ahead of time or not, the lesson plan in this particular classroom has to do with societal schisms. The teacher, Menachem Sela, is explaining the differences between religious, gender and political schisms. “What is a schism?” he asks, before responding: “A disagreement over interests, or over the image of the state.”
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