Religious Chabad Movement Teaching Its Brand of Passover to Secular Israeli Schoolchildren

While parents have complained that their kids are being indoctrinated in impromptu lessons held ahead of the holiday, the Education Ministry says it ‘trusts schools’ judgment’ in selecting workshops

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A schoolgirl holding a Chabad leaflet on Passover traditions that was handed out in lessons provided by the right-wing religious movement.
A schoolgirl holding a Chabad leaflet on Passover traditions that was handed out in lessons provided by the right-wing religious movement. Credit: \ Moti Milrod
Yarden Zur
Yarden Zur

The state secular school in Tel Mond devoted its first-grade art class to a different topic this week – the Pesach holiday. Students learned about the holiday customs and tried baking matza.

The class was taught not by the teacher, but by the local representative of Chabad House, which is part of a proselytizing, extreme right-wing religious movement. The parents discovered this only afterward.

“When I picked my daughter up from school, she pointed out a young man with a yarmulke and ritual fringes and said he was in her class, and so was Elijah the Prophet,” recalled K., a Tel Mond resident. “From her knapsack, she took out the matza she baked in class and a leaflet titled ‘Pesach – a Holiday of Redemption.’ It explains that on Pesach, we clean the leaven from the outside and also the leaven within us, so that the Holy One, Blessed Be He, will redeem us.”

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Similar incidents occurred this week at state secular schools throughout the country, with parents learning only by chance that Chabad representatives were teaching their children.

The leaflet handed out in Tel Mond said that having Elijah’s Cup on the table “bolsters our faith in the coming of the Messiah and reminds us of our nearness to redemption.” It also said that after lighting the holiday candles, “We request redemption by declaring, ‘Long live our master, teacher and rabbi, the King Messiah.’”

K. said that just she as she wouldn’t go into a religious school to teach about secular values, “They shouldn’t teach first graders, who have no critical sense, in a state [secular] school. After such an incident, I have to explain to my daughter that there are people who try to impose their views on us, and that she needs to think 10 times about what she’s taught in school.”

C., the father of a first grader in Ra’anana, discovered that a Chabad rabbi was running his daughter’s matza-baking activity only when he asked the teacher directly.

“We got a note requesting permission for the girl to leave the school for an activity at the adjacent religious school,” he said. “Nowhere did the word ‘Chabad’ appear.

“The problem is that they don’t present this activity transparently to parents, and far enough in advance so that everyone can decide whether or not to let his child participate,” he added.

H., the mother of a first grader from Rehovot, said that even if it were done transparently, she sees no reason why a religious person from outside the school should teach her daughter about Pesach. “This is material her teacher could teach,” she said. “Why do they need to give Chabad this power?”

R., the father of a first grader from Kfar Sava, said the activity appeared on the school calendar merely as “matza baking with Yossi.” Only when he asked did he discover that Yossi was from Chabad – whereupon he demanded that the school offer an alternative activity.

“I don’t feel comfortable with a Chabad guy running activities for my daughter,” he explained. “This is missionary activity. I didn’t send her to a state religious school. I don’t know if this is laziness on the staff’s part or deliberate abstention from teaching this kind of material, but I’m the one who ultimately has to sit with my first-grader and talk about questions like whether there is or isn’t a God.”

Similar incidents occurred at schools in Jerusalem and Rishon Letzion.

“Throughout the year, we get calls from parents who say Chabad is entering their children’s classrooms, and it peaks at Rosh Hashanah and Pesach,” said Ben Lev-Kadesh, who is in charge of education for the Secular Forum. “This activity sends two bad messages: that secular people need to ask the ultra-Orthodox how to celebrate the holidays and be Jews, and that everyone should observe the commandments and kashrut on Pesach. ... We urge parents to protest and not allow missionaries to enter their children’s classrooms.”

Moni Ender, a spokesman for the Chabad Youth Organization, said that in recent years, a growing number of schools have invited Chabad representatives to run educational activities about the Jewish holidays.

The purpose of these activities, he added, is “to topple the walls of hostility and fear within society and to understand that we’re all members of one people with a shared heritage. It’s a great pity that there are still people who see reality in black and white, and who see Judaism and traditional values as a matter for religious people only.”

The Education Ministry declined to answer Haaretz’s questions about how it supervises Chabad activity in schools, saying only, “School principals have the authority to expose students to diverse enrichment programs as they see fit, in line with the character of the community and the spirit of the school, and the ministry trusts their judgment.”