national-religious school system - Nir Kafri - 18112011
Girls and boys lining up separately for school buses at Tel Aviv’s Zeitlin School, part of the national-religious school system. Photo by Nir Kafri
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Parents of some 400 children in the state religious school system have banded together to protest what they view as the extreme bent the system has taken.

"People are angry over the issue of women [prohibited from] singing in the IDF, but our outcry is over the prohibition against kindergarten girls singing," Ariela Miller, the mother of three children in the Orthodox state school system, told Haaretz.

"Children are habituated to rabbis being the only source of authority, much before educators. No wonder that when they come to crossroads in life, they cannot use their own judgment," Miller said.

Unlike Miller, most of the parents are afraid to reveal their names for fear of a negative impact on their children's schooling. One activist, who works for the Education Ministry, said she was summoned for a talking-to and told to stop her activities against the Education Ministry.

Another mother said that the main extremist influence was coming from organized groups of Orthodox people moving into a community with the purpose of increasing religious observance in that community. "But make no mistake, the Education Ministry is a full partner and is pushing them forward," she said.

Parents are brimming with examples of increasing extremism in state religious schools. One father who has children in Tel Aviv's Moriah school said: "On the last Memorial Day, some of the girls did not sing in the ceremony because 'it is not modest,' and they have already begun talking about the fact that at the end of the year event the fathers won't be able to see the girls perform and that there will even be separate events for boys and girls."

Another father said the school principal has no choice but to accede to the demands of the parents of the ultra-Orthodox group that has moved in, "and if an instruction is not implemented, it comes later from above - from [the Education Ministry's] supervisor."

The father added that when he complained he was told that if he did not like it, he could take his daughter to another school.

A mother from a state religious kindergarten in Kiryat Gat said that when she asked if a date had been set for the class Hanukkah party, the teacher said the event was being organized by the Orthodox residents' group, and that fathers would not be invited because "it is not modest for girls to dance and sing in the presence of the fathers, which would [also] prevent the mothers from dancing."

Classroom hours have also been changed unrecognizably, the father of a child at the Shilo school in Kiryat Ono says. When the parents first received the schedule of classes, it seemed alright, he said. "Only later did we realize that there are sacred studies disguised as secular studies: homeroom, for example, is suddenly being taught by the school rabbi, who certainly doesn't deal with civics, but rather with Jewish law."

The father said his daughter showed him a book that the school had purchased for the children, which he said was "completely ultra-Orthodox." The father said the male figures in the book were depicted with ultra-Orthodox skullcaps and sidelocks and on the page teaching about showing respect to parents "there was only a father, no mother at all."

A project to further classic Israeli literature at the Tomer kindergarten in Ramat Hasharon by subsidizing the purchase of books was scrapped last year, a parent said, after the group of Orthodox people who had moved into the community to further its religious observance said Haim Nahman Bialik and Lea Goldberg were "not modest."

A mother of a child in the Tomer kindergarten said the group of Orthodox residents "impose censorship instead of the Education Ministry" in checking the plays the school was paying for the children to see.

A parent from the Moriah school said: "One fine day they decided to separate the children on the bus: the boys in the front and the girls in the back. Recess is also taken in different yards."

Parents from Kiryat Gat said that on the first day of kindergarten they were given a flyer in which mothers were instructed "to come to the kindergarten in modest dress (skirt or dress, no pants and certainly not without sleeves )."

Before the beginning of the school year at the Morasha school in Petah Tikva, a group of parents petitioned the High Court of Justice over what they perceived as forced gender separation beginning in the first grade. "The High Court ordered the situation to remain as it is until a committee studies the issue," Idit, one of the mothers said. "But the High Court doesn't know that it is being tricked, because last year we were forced to separate them under the assumption that it was for one year, so leaving the situation as it is means continuing the separation."

The Education Ministry responded: "State religious education provides solutions to a variety of communities and the various groups studying in its framework. Discussions are underway to study the matter in all its aspects."