Haredi School in Zichron Yaakov Shut Down Over Refusal to Enroll Two Boys

Local council, Education Ministry ordered closure after continued ostracizing of the brothers and harassment of their family.

Rami Chelouche

The gates of Talmud Torah Zichron Gavriel in the town of Zichron Yaakov were chained shut yesterday morning in an exceptional move by the local council with support of the Education Ministry, following complaints that two pupils of Middle Eastern origin were being harassed there.

The school is an Ashkenazi Talmud Torah, but it has a substantial enrollment of children of Mizrahi, or Middle Eastern, background – some 40 percent, according to school representatives. The two boys in question, brothers aged five and six, are from a Mizrahi family.

According to the Haredi website Kikar Shabbat, the school did not want to accept the children because the family’s level of observance was not in keeping with the school’s demands. For example, the principal said, the father uses a regular cell phone, not a kosher one without Internet access. The school, however, was forced to accept the children by the Education Ministry.

Over the past two months the children have been teased and harassed incessantly, and were even prevented from entering their classroom, until the Education Ministry inspector responsible intervened, about a month ago. Since then, parents have been taking other actions to protest the acceptance of the boys. Several times, for example, the boys would come to school and find an empty classroom.

Parents who object to having the boys in the school have also harassed the family. According to local residents, graffiti was sprayed on the walls of their home, the grandfather’s door was sealed with silicon, and flowerpots around the homes were smashed.

Local Council Chairman Eli Abutbul said that a “pulsa dinura” curse – a Kabbalistic death curse – was invoked against the family.

“This is happening in my magical community, in which heroic chapters in the history of the State of Israel were written,” Abutbul said. “Unfortunately there is a benighted minority that tries to undermine important values of Israeli society, and I am battling this.” He added that if there is no change in the school’s attitude toward the two boys, it will remain closed.

Residents said that when the boys came to school on Tuesday, their classroom was empty. One of the teachers called the parents and told them to pick up their children; after they were taken home, the rest of the children came back to class. Yesterday morning, Abutbul ordered the school gates chained shut, after he understood that the Education Ministry planned to close it.

Na’ama Tzoref, a local council member, said, “We hope that this unusual step will bring about dialogue and a true connection. My heart goes out to the family and the children who are carrying this justified struggle on their shoulders.”

Attorney Uri Keidar, who represents the school, said that this was a very conservative school, nearly half of whose students are of Mizrahi origin, so that claims of discrimination are baseless.

“The school is conducting a process regarding the acceptance of the two pupils, and the Education Ministry ordered the school to accept the pupils. Even the ministry rejects claims of discrimination,” Keidar said. “The school is not fighting the Education Ministry decision; on the contrary, it accepted the pupils and is working with the Education Ministry inspector to bridge the gaps in the classroom.”

According to Keidar, the problem is only in one class, but to close the whole school without warning, and to leave children who had been bused to school out in the street, was negligent and constitutes collective punishment.

The Education Ministry said, “Given the conduct of the institution and after it had been warned several times, the ministry has, since yesterday, acted to issue a closure order against the school.”