An ultra-Orthodox School in Modi'in? No Way, Say Residents

Nahal Tsofar Street in Modi'in's "C" neighborhood represents an Israeli middle-class dream: a peaceful, cobblestoned street, where 30 families live in private homes, beautified by green lawns and chirping birds.

Nahal Tsofar Street in Modi'in's "C" neighborhood represents an Israeli middle-class dream: a peaceful, cobblestoned street, where 30 families live in private homes, beautified by green lawns and chirping birds. As in the rest of Modi'in, secular and religious residents live side by side, contributing to the civic atmosphere that has prevailed since the town's inception.

But another element moved in a few weeks ago, and will likely make the street far less peaceful. According to Ofer Glantz, the councilman in charge of education, an ultra-Orthodox group purchased the house at 10 Tsofar St. and wants to establish a school there. Advertisements announcing the new ultra-Orthodox school have already been posted around town, and pamphlets were distributed in mailboxes. Activists from Lev LeAchim, the large ultra-Orthodox organization that specializes in transfering children from state-run to ultra-Orthodox schools, knocked on doors, and meetings were held in homes to promote the school as espousing Jewish values. Not a word about ultra-Orthodox values.

Attorney Revital Gottlieb, a religious woman who lives next-door, is concerned about the prospective school. "I struggled to get here, to live in this house. And I won't allow the Haredim to pull a fast one and establish a school in a residential area," she said.

Gottlieb will be happy to know that City Hall shares her view. Glantz, also religious, is not in the least opposed to religious education, but he intends to combat the activity of Lev LeAchim because the population in need of an ultra-Orthodox school in town is negligible. He is also worried that the school shortage in the neighboring ultra-Orthodox town of Modi'in Ilit will prompt an attempt by ultra-Orthodox to move their kids to Modi'in.

"We won't allow Modi'in to become a second Petah Tikva," Glantz said, referring to the phenomenon in that city of national religious education splitting into various networks, leading to the closure of state religious schools. "Our municipality will fight the organization and won't allow it to open a school, because it is a law-abiding municipality."

This municipal stance is apparently why the ultra-Orthodox organization LeMaan Achi in Modi'in Illit chose to open its summer camp, aimed at Modi'in kids, at the nearby Kfar Daniel pool, rather than in Modi'in. Newspaper and direct-mail ads for the camp, opening next month, promised a swimming pool and a plane ride over Israel. Not a word about the ultra-Orthodox organization heading the camp.

Whoever is familiar with Lev LeAchim's operations knows the takeover of the house on Tsofar street, or the camp in Kfar Daniel, are not by chance. Although another organization it running the camp, Lev LeAchim is very active in its registration drive. Lev LeAchim, which prides itself on having coordinators throughout the country, is simply reacting to Israel's urban and social development in recent years and is mobilizing accordingly.

According to Lev LeAchim's spokesman and member of the board of directors, Chaim Fuchs, Israel's new neighborhoods are the organization's latest front for its most important activity, registration for ultra-Orthodox schools. That is "a struggle for the values of Israeli society," he said. "All of the new neighborhoods to which young couples are streaming are this year's objective," he adds, and unwillingly lists neighborhoods and expansions in Gan Yavneh, Gderot, the Tel Mond bloc, Kfar Bilu, and more.

In early summer, Lev LeAchim began a widespread campaign around the country, including in Modi'in, to register children to various ultra-Orthodox schools intended for potential recruits, i.e., those who are secular, traditional, even national religious. In the past, these networks, such as Shuvu and Netivot Moshe affiliated with United Torah Judaism, or Shas' El Hamayan were natural rivals. In recent years, however, budgetary threats and detrimental political upheavals led these streams to cooperate and view Lev LeAchim as the operational branch for school registration. Thus, Uri Zohar was recruited, as usual, for the big campaign as the ultimate star acceptable to both Sephardim and Ashkenazim. On a widely distributed CD-ROM, Zohar invited parents to discuss the dismal state of education.

Lev LeAchim's coordinators also began directing parents to summer camps usually held at ultra-Orthodox schools. The organization views summer camps as a preparatory program that increases the potential number of school registrants.