Israeli Teachers Union Backtracks After Asking Preschool Teachers to Work Voluntarily on Holiday

Union earlier said numerous teachers sought to operate their preschools on Tuesday's Lag B'Omer holiday, originally marked as a day off, for the sake of the children

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Preparations for reopening a preschool in Jerusalem, May 2020.
Preparations for reopening a preschool in Jerusalem, May 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

The head of the Israeli Teachers Union reversed course after calling on preschool teachers across the country on Friday to operate their kindergartens on a voluntary basis during the Jewish holiday of Lag B’Omer, which takes place on Tuesday.

"Despite the volunteer spirit and the dedication you showed, and in light of the scandalous conduct by the treasury in recent hours, there should not be volunteering on Lag B'Omer," said Yaffa Ben David, the union's secretary general, after the Finance Ministry asked the teachers to treat Tuesday's holiday, originally marked as a day off, as a regular working day.

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Earlier, Ben David and Anat Dadon, chairwoman of its preschool teacher department, said the appeal was prompted by numerous requests by teachers seeking to open their kindergartens, and emphasized that it was not a mandatory order.

The preschools are scheduled to reopen on Sunday after being shut down for two months during the coronavirus crisis. Many parents have expressed objections over the fact that there would be no school on the third day back because of the holiday. Referring to requests to stay open, Ben David and Dadon remarked that they would allow it in light of the special circumstances. Still, they said, anyone wanting to use the day off could do so.

The letter sparked criticism among preschool teachers and educators. D., a preschool teacher in the north, who had already informed parents that she would keep the preschool open this Tuesday, said the union's announcement did an injustice to the teachers. “Most of the preschool teachers I know thought of it themselves without being told to volunteer, without considering their salary,” she told Haaretz. “Clearly the good of the children comes first. It’s my mission. All who like their work will do more than what they are asked.” Nevertheless, she said, “[t]he announcement puts pressure on the teachers. Now they’ll start comparing. ‘This one is prepared to give of herself and this one isn’t. That’s not right, in my eyes.”

She said her position is that it would have been better to decide from the start that facilities would reopen on Wednesday rather than Sunday to prevent instances in which children don’t meet their teachers each day during the first week back. “It would have prevented a lot of chaos,” she said.

Beit Shemesh Mayor Aliza Block also criticized the letter, saying the decision pits teachers against parents. “Volunteerism is a laudable value but not a policy,” Bloch said. “The decision to change policy should be at the state level and not at the preschool level. It’s not right in terms of education, values and governance to put the valuable group of preschool teachers under undue pressure."

Some teachers welcomed the move. Hadas Shoshana Cohen, a preschool teacher in Yehud, said it was appropriate because teachers intend to work that day for the benefit of the children. “It’s okay to appeal to our heart. We chose to work with children,” said Shoshana Cohen. “When they ask people to do something good, they respond. It’s a legitimate request. It does us good to know we answered the call. I am no bleeding heart. I am aware of who is pulling the strings and what the problems are.”

Meanwhile, some local authorities, including Givatayim and Kiryat Bialik, announced that they would operate their preschools on Tuesday, even if the teachers opt to not come in. In contrast to the teachers, whose Lag B’Omer vacation is anchored in their contracts, preschool assistants are contractually obliged to work on Lag B’Omer, when they are expected to come in and organize things around the school.

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