Elad ultra-Orthodox School Rejects Sephardi First-graders

The ultra-Orthodox Beit Yaakov school in Elad is refusing to accept girls into its first-grade class if they attended the Agudat Yisrael preschool, where most of the children are from Sephardi families.

The school belongs to the Ashkenazi independent school system that is funded by the Education Ministry but has broad pedagogic freedom. The parents of one of the girls filed an administrative petition against the school earlier this week at the Tel Aviv District Court. Until a ruling is handed down, the girl will be staying at home.

"We are sticking our neck out for a large number of families in Elad who cannot get their daughters into Beit Yaakov," said the girl's mother on Tuesday.

This week the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a similar petition against the Emanuel Local Council and the independent education system over the segregation of Ashkenazi and Sephardi girls at the local Beit Yaakov school.

When the petitioning parents tried to register their daughter, L., for first grade this year, they said they were required to fill out a questionnaire asking for information such as "the name of the synagogue where the father prays" and "parents' country of origin." The petition, filed by attorneys Ronen Milrad and Shneur Tsoref, states that most of the questions are invalid.

Last year L. attended an Agudat Yisrael preschool. The petition indicates that Beit Yaakov's administration decided not to accept any girls from Agudat Yisrael preschools, and that the parents were told their daughter would not be accepted to Beit Yaakov anyway "because her brother attends a Sephardi elementary school."

L.'s parents received the official notice rejecting her registration on June 16, and three days later filed an appeal to the Education Ministry. According to the petition, the appeals committee did not convene until August 6, and decided only a few days before the commencement of the school year that four girls whose registration had been rejected must be accepted to a Beit Yaakov school in Elad. In the meantime, the administration of the independent school system had decided to accept L. to a Beit Yaakov school in Rosh Ha'ayin, because "the classes in Elad are completely full." Only L's parents filed a petition.

L.'s father is studying to become a rabbinical court judge and her mother used to teach in an independent school. A source close to the family commented that L.'s rejection was based on ethnic discrimination.

"The school administration thinks the Sephardi families are meek and won't fight back," said the source. "The school is thumbing its nose at all the Education Ministry's directives that forbid discrimination. This is an embarrassment to religion."

"The petition is currently being heard by the court," responded an Education Ministry spokesman, "and the ministry will act in accordance with a [court] ruling." Attorney Menahem Yanovsky, who represents the independent school system, was unavailable for comment.