Text size

"Richard Cohen, a columnist for The Washington Post, recently wrote about how proud his graduating class from a school in Queens, New York was of three of its students who went on to win Nobel Prizes, another who became a renowned psychologist and yet another who was a trailblazing women's basketball player." That is how Gideon Levy describes his vision for school achievement in Israel ("Kfir wants you?" - August 10). He contrasts his vision with the fact that Yedioth Aharonoth actually paid tribute to the schools that came in first in the "combat unit and draft evasion index."

The school at which I am principal, Shaked-Sde Eliyahu, is a regional religious school in the Emek Hama'ayanot area near Beit She'an. The school came in first in the "combat unit competition," with 87 percent of its graduates serving in combat units, commando units and volunteer units for soldiers lacking combat qualifications.

I am not ashamed of this achievement. On the contrary, I am proud of it. My school has a success rate of more than 70 percent on the matriculation exams. It has a rich curriculum, varied and creative course offerings, and a broad range of Jewish studies. Most of its graduates, especially students from the religious kibbutz movement, complete a year of community service before serving their full army service or alternative national service.

Richard Cohen is a good Jew who has chosen not to live in Israel. He can write his column in his safe haven. Meanwhile, the graduates of the Shaked School, the Hispin yeshiva and the Sulam Tzur comprehensive school from my area will lay in wait on ambush duty, serve at roadblocks and endanger their lives in all those activities that Gideon Levy so abhors. Service in the Israel Defense Forces is a necessity very much connected to education.

Service in a combat unit isn't just an existential need of the State of Israel. It is also an expression of friendship, love of the land, ambition, leadership, physical and mental stamina and an awareness of collective duty. The Education Ministry should develop, encourage and reward the teaching of values in schools. Values education includes volunteerism, compassion, tolerance of the other, development of humanitarian values and creativity as well as contributing to the state even if it means risking one's life.

Israelis are entitled to know the matriculation rates at their children's schools, but that's not enough. They are also entitled to know about the values taught at these schools. I, too, am very concerned about the results of the army survey. I am concerned that the top 10 schools with graduates in combat units (five religious and five secular) all belong to the rural education school network. I am concerned that the large cities (especially those between Hadera and Gedera) are underrepresented on the list. I am concerned that the things that have been said about the contribution of the "State of Tel Aviv" to the defense of the state could turn out to be correct.

Last Shabbat, soldiers from the army's Nativ course, most of whom are about to be converted to Judaism, were hosted by families on my kibbutz, Tirat Zvi. This week a new group of immigrants whose parents had left Israel joined the kibbutz. And two weeks ago, my kibbutz hosted children from Ilan, the organization for disabled children, for an enrichment summer camp. For many years now, the religious kibbutz movement has taken a leading role in volunteering and community service.

The Education Ministry would do well to continue to encourage and develop values education. Parents and schools would do well to examine educational outcomes from a value and societal standpoint, including enlistment in the IDF. The graduates of "Kochav Nolad" (the Israeli version of "American Idol"), will apparently fight for their right to the recognition and success Cohen has achieved. To our regret, we will have to lean on our sword for many more years and rely on our graduates, who are fighting for the state's existence.

The writer is the principal of the Shaked School at Sde Eliyahu, whose graduates were ranked first by the IDF and Education Ministry according to participation in combat units.