Tel Mond
The Shelanu school in Tel Mond. Photo by Alon Ron
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A group of parents in the Shelanu elementary school in Tel Mond are campaigning against the decision to join the TALI Education Fund network of schools, which is closely identified with the Conservative movement.

The parents say the schools' shift from secular to traditional was done without their agreement, and that new Judaism related classes are being launched at the expense of core subjects.

In response, the school has scheduled a parents' referendum for next week to vote on whether to allow the process to continue.

At the end of the last school year, the parents were informed that the school would transition to the new program over the current year.

Principal Zahava Shtendler said that the move, which was decided upon jointly with the school's Parent Teacher Association, was checked by a team of teacher.

The move's critics say the decision was buried deep in the agenda and that their representative in the committee did not study the issue in-depth.

The network currently includes 86 state schools, most of them elementary. Beyond the seven extra hours of Judaism studies - including studying Jewish sages and the weekly Torah portion - Judaism studies are introduced into other subjects, like Hebrew studies, and in prayers.

"My way of life is secular and the school is supposed to reflect that," said parent Daphna Philosoph. "This is why a state school shouldn't ask children to compose prayers or to do Shabbat candle lighting. The textbooks already used at the school do not legitimize secular lifestyles."

One parent, who agreed only to be identified as Amir, said he was particularly incensed by "the basic assumption are kids are ignorant and can only be saved from crime by studying Judaism. My kids don't need saving, and I don't accept the identification of Zionism and 'values' with religion and tradition ... my cultural heroes were not religious."

Many changes have already been implemented in the school. Parents told Haaretz that second-graders study five hours of Torah instead of the two allocated by the Education Ministry, at the expense of mathematics, Hebrew and homeland studies; religious songs are taught in music classes, and the textbooks on the holidays ask children to describe how they feel when "the house is lit up and the Shabbat candles are burning," and explain the rules for ensuring a sukkah is truly kosher.

The parents told Haaretz they fear their children will be forced to pray. The director of TALI, Eitan Chikli, met last week with the parents. He told Haaretz the parents were being misinformed by "a tiny minority as extreme as Neturei Karta. It's difficult to understand the degree of secular hysterics."

He said the network's material by no means ruled out secular lifestyles, and that only in 30 out of the network's 86 schools prayer was obligatory.

The Education Ministry said that the school decided on the move together with the parents committee, but decided to hold a referendum following the other parents' opposition.