Ultra-Orthodox Town in Israel Rejects 'Modern' Children, Refuses to Bus Them to Outside Schools

Telz-Stone Mayor Avraham Rosenthal agreed to refund families for the cost of public transportation after the Education Ministry intervened, but still refuses to arrange school buses.

Illustrative: A school in Kiryat Ye’arim, 2014.
Emil Salman

Residents of an ultra-Orthodox community outside Jerusalem plan to protest the town’s failure to arrange transportation for children who were not accepted to local elementary schools, mostly because their families were considered insufficiently religious.

Parents and children are to demonstrate outside the town hall of Telz-Stone this week, after efforts to persuade officials to provide bus service for dozens of children who have registered at schools in Jerusalem. These children will have to take public buses to and from the city.

“To tell 40 children ‘go study in another town, fend for yourselves,’ is worse than Immanuel,” said Knesset Member Yakov Margi, (Shas). The chairman of the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee, who is helping the parents, was referring to a controversy a few years ago in the Haredi community over school segregation between Ashkenazi and Sephardi girls.

Most of the children were not admitted to schools in Telz-Stone (also known as Kiryat Ye’arim), due to “unsuitability.” Parents say that working outside the home, violating norms of dress or serving in the army (for men) can brand a family in the community as being too modern.

About 40 children, some as young as 6, are affected. In addition to those rejected for “unsuitability,” one group of parents did not even try to register their children in Telz-Stone’s Talmud Torah (for boys), or Beit Yaakov school (for girls). They enrolled their children in Haredi schools in Jerusalem where the so-called core curriculum of secular subjects is taught on a high level.

According to one father, who is sending three of his children to school in Jerusalem, the local council tried to shirk its responsibility to children who have to travel to Jerusalem from Telz-Stone, which is near Abu Ghosh, about 30 minutes away. Only after the parents approached the Education Ministry did the town decide to pay half of the cost of travel on public transportation to and from, and within, Jerusalem.

The father said that only this week, in the wake of additional pressure, did Mayor Avraham Rosenthal agree to pay parents for the full cost of the public buses. He is still refusing to provide a bus.

Margi told Haaretz that he issued an ultimatum to Rosenthal to provide a bus for the children.

“I spoke with the council head who told me he had objective problems. I told him that I would give him until tomorrow morning to overcome them. It is inconceivable for 6-year-old children to have to travel on public transportation. I told him, ‘it’s your job to place every child in the community.’ The reasoning of the schools of unsuitability is of no interest to anyone, and if there’s no solution, the council head has to provide transportation.”

The Education Ministry said in a response that it was working with the local council “and together much effort is being made to find the best solution for all the children.”

Rosenthal did not issue a response before press time.