All 11th graders will take part in preparations for Holocaust-education trips to Poland, not just students who are actually going on the journeys, an Education Ministry committee has decided.
The director of the International Institute for Holocaust Studies, Aya Ben-Naftali, said yesterday that the move would redress an imbalance in the way Holocaust-education resources are distributed.
"For years we made the mistake of directing all the attention the organizational and educational toward delegations to Poland, while most students were forgotten and received nothing," she said.
Separately, the Israel Defense Forces has prohibited soldiers in delegations to Poland from draping themselves in the Israeli flag. The instruction came after leaders of school groups said the practice showed disrespect for the flag.
Some 25,000 students have gone on trips to Poland in recent years, usually in 11th grade. Preparations include one- or two-day seminars in 10commemorative centers throughout the country, among them Yad Vashem, Ben-Naftali's institution and the Ghetto Fighters' House Museum at Kibbutz Lohamei Haghetaot. Some 25 to 30 percent of 11th graders take part in the seminars (not including Arab and ultra-Orthodox students).
According to the head of the Education Ministry unit that administers the Poland trips, Eli Shayish, around 100,000 students will now take the seminars.
"The decision will allow students who are going to Poland, as well as those who are not, to experience and discuss various aspects of the Holocaust," Shayish said.
He said funding for scholarships for trips to Poland has grown from NIS 1 million to NIS 6 million, and the request process is easier than in the past.
A study by the Knesset Research and Information Center shows that most independently sponsored school trips to Poland are by students from wealthier families.
An official close to the situation said the new policy will affect mainly students from the state secular and religious school systems. "The intention is not to force Haredi or Arab students to take part in preparations for the trip to Poland," he said. "The Education Ministry can only recommend and encourage these sectors [to participate]."
Ben-Naftali said that at one time no formal Holocaust workshops were offered, then a whole grade took them, from which a delegation went to Poland. Today, however, "things are done on an economic basis," which has left children out.
Regarding the flag issue, a few months ago, two long-time leaders of school groups to Poland, Gideon Goldstein and Yossi Cohen, called for teens to stop draping themselves in the flag or tying it around their waists on Poland trips. They said this was "more reminiscent of behavior in soccer stadiums."
The call stirred controversy among group leaders. After some observers claimed that even the IDF allowed the practice, Goldstein approached the army, which then issued the new order.
About two years ago the Education Ministry said the flag was not to be worn as either "a skirt, scarf, cape or headdress." But the directive was never enforced, according to one official close to the matter, "not only because they couldn't, but because of the fear on the part of ministry officials of intervening and deciding on such a sensitive issue."
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