Special Activities for Israeli Sixth-graders: Sports for Boys, Ceremonial Baking for Girls

On the line with Einat Amoyal, school principal in Hod Hasharon

A challah ceremony in Rishon Letzion.
Tomer Appelbaum

Hello to Dr. Einat Amoyal, principal of the Magen Elementary School in Hod Hasharon. Nir Gontarz from Haaretz here. How are you?

Very well.

Listen, I was told that on April 27 your school will conduct a special activity for sixth-graders. The boys will engage in team-building sports activity, the girls will perform the ceremony of “separating challah” from dough [hafrashat challah, a ritual in which dough is set aside as an offering]. Can that be?

Yes, but first of all, who are you? Whom do you represent? I don’t speak with journalists just like that.

I’m a journalist, I work at Haaretz.

And through whom did you get the information?

Someone forwarded me an email that you sent. Why is that important?

It is important. Because I don’t reply, like that, randomly, to journalists. These things didn’t go through me. I’m sorry that parents turn first to the press.

I have the email here, you signed it, so what do you mean it didn’t go through you?

I’m the signatory to an email about activity that was decided upon by the school parents. The parents of the sixth grade initiated this activity by themselves.

Ah, without the teachers. Interesting.

Together with the school’s homeroom teachers.

Well? Then it’s a school activity in every respect.

It’s a joint activity of parents and homeroom teachers. As part of the [bar- and bat-] mitzvah year. It’s an activity that has absolutely no religious character.

It’s a separation of the challah.

It’s a time for personal-emotional dialogue.

With the challah?

It’s a suggestion of parents who said, ‘Listen, when the girls are having a personal-emotional dialogue, it’s totally not of a religious character.’ We all live in a Jewish-Israeli culture, which everyone can take according to their own interpretation, their own place. And at the same time we also engage in an activity, a team-building activity for the boys based on cooperation. Many times, within the framework of our Life Skills lessons, we conduct a dialogue that is for boys separately and girls, separately.

The boys to sports and the girls to separation of challah in the kitchen.

There are subjects that are easier to bring up [first] separately and then deal with them in a mixed group.

Dr. Amoyal, there are two issues here. The first is: Why is challah even being separated in school?

It’s some kind of tradition. I, as a mother of a child in a secular elementary school, went through that activity, and it was totally not with a religious emphasis.

So with what emphasis did you separate challah?

There are Jewish traditions and you take them according to your interpretation as a secular person. It’s perfectly legitimate.

In your eyes.

No one vetoed it. Absolutely not.

Isn’t religion supposed to be separated from school?

Excuse me? The separation of challah ceremony is not religion. It’s culture. It’s a matter of worldview. I see it as culture. There are many customs in the Jewish culture that you may not even know you are observing. Just like that. It’s a matter of interpretation. My commitment is to expose the students to a range of cultures. I also expose them to the Arab culture.

How?

We have activity that talks about the subject of, uh other Arab cultures. For sure. I want a student who is exposed to all kinds of cultures and will have the capacity to do some sort of through his identity, what’s right for him. I am committed to giving him exposure. Activity of this sort has social value.

And it’s impossible to do some other activity for the girls that has social value, other than through the challah?

But that was not a choice It came from the parents. It was the mothers’ suggestion.

Mothers might also want the morning to open with the reading of a chapter from Psalms. What kind of answer is that?

Uh alright as long as it is related to the program of Jewish-Israeli culture, which is a recognized program of the Education Ministry.

Of Habayit Hayehudi.

We do it by way of a values-based program that connects to the “Key to the Heart” [a year-long Education Ministry program to teach social values] – it’s totally consistent with the curriculum.

I’m 42, I went to school in nearby Kfar Sava, and content like that never entered either middle school or Katznelson High School.

Things have changed.

What does that mean? Did you separate challah as a schoolgirl?

I’m also 42, a graduate of De Shalit High School in Rehovot, and they did it to us in high school. Just before a trip to Poland, of all times, we had an activity on that subject.

You separated challah before visiting Auschwitz?

In a different context. There were no religious elements in it. It’s a matter of worldview. If we look at the whole tradition as a religious matter – then woe is us. I say that also as second generation of a Holocaust survivor. Woe is us. My mother did that activity as a school principal.

Second generation of challah separation.

Other secular schools organize that activity for girls. And do you know where they take it?

Where do they take it?

To a place of very personal dialogue between mother and daughter.

And there has to be a challah in the middle? There’s no other way?

Possibly. Possibly. I don’t say no. It’s definitely possible. But what arose here was a suggestion of parents, which I and the teachers welcomed, and we decided to go for it.

Okay. The second issue that arises is

I have to end the conversation. It’s absolutely not

Just a second. I want to know whether you think it’s right for the boys to have sports while the girls separate challah. Haven’t the days of girls in the kitchen and boys doing sports passed?

It’s team-spirit activity. It’s not that you get a ball. It’s sports-related cooperation.

Don’t the girls deserve that, too?

The girls have a sports day with the boys. I will be very happy if you give a complete picture, not a partial one, and if you don’t remove my comments from their context.

I don’t remove anything from anything. I was also told that you asked parents for money to fund Jerusalem Day activity.

This year it will be 50 years since the unification of Jerusalem. That’s this year’s theme.

Why at the parents’ expense?

The program is one of a school trip. A school trip in the Jerusalem area. That’s the activity.

Don’t get upset, but Jerusalem isn’t really unified between east and west.

Ah, fine. I have to end this conversation. I thank you very much.

And I you.