Aschalo Still Doesn't Know Where He Will Be Studying

The 2009-10 school year opens tomorrow, but Aschalo Sama of Petah Tikva, who is to start first grade, still does not know which school he will be attending.

His parents have already made all the necessary preparations, buying him a new backpack, notebooks and pencils. But they cannot answer the question he has asked them repeatedly over the last several days: What will happen on September 1.

"A lot of my friends don't know where they will be going to school," Aschalo said yesterday.

Outside the building in the Amishav neighborhood where Aschalo's family lives, about 20 children of Ethiopian descent spent hours yesterday in the nearby playground. Only two or three adults were present, as the other parents were at work. "It's okay," said a 10-year-old girl at the playground. "I'm watching the children."

The Sama family immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia about a year ago, and the Petah Tikva municipality assigned Aschalo to Morasha, a state religious school in the city, for the coming school year. But officials at the school have questioned Aschalo's father about his (the father's) religious observance.

The elder Sama said he told them he had converted to Judaism, but they persisted in their questions about his religious practices.

He also said school officials had told him that in keeping with an agreement reached last year between the municipality and the city's state religious schools, his son would be accepted only if an older sibling were already attending the school.

"We went back to the municipality a few weeks ago, and since then, we haven't received an answer," Aschalo's father said.

"I don't know what will happen tomorrow," he added. "It looks like I won't be going to work. I can't leave Aschalo alone. Maybe I will have to teach him myself.

"Every time he asks me where he will be going to school, it's hard for me to respond. I see that it bothers him a lot. I don't understand why they are giving us the runaround. We are all Jews. I want them to explain to me exactly what the problem is."