Ra'anana Parents Fume Over Failure to Open TALI School

Ra'anana parents are accusing Mayor Nahum Hofri of reneging on his promise to open a local TALI school that would belong to the nationwide network of 70 schools providing a pluralistic, Jewish education for secular pupils.

The parents are preparing a plan of action to hold the mayor to his word, after the school's opening was indefinitely postponed. The school was set to open in September 2008.

"Hofri reneged on his promise to open a new TALI school, which he made to the TALI parents committee both during the 2005 mayoral campaign and after," said Allison Kaplan Sommer, who is acting as the media liaison for the group of TALI parents.

City representatives denied the claims. Hofri did not personally repond to the accusations made.

Overall, the TALI network encompasses 120 public-secular schools and pre-schools. For the past 12 years, the network - which is favored by many parents from English-speaking countries - has operated a separate TALI program within Meged Elementary School in Ra'anana. In addition, the city has four TALI kindergartens. According to its Web site, the program's goals are "the development, promotion, and enrichment of Jewish studies within the general Israeli Educational system."

TALI (a Hebrew acronym meaning Enriched Jewish Studies - Tigbur Limudei Yahadut) began in 1976 as a pedagogical initiative by a group of parents who immigrated from the U.S. and settled in Jerusalem. The parents, affiliated with the Conservative movement, set up the first school in French Hill.

"For three years now, we've been working with the city to open the school," says Rachel Oren, who coordinates Ra'anana's TALI institutions. "We were told the deadline would be 2007. Then, in the spring of 2006, the city pushed it to 2008. Recently, we were informed it won't happen next year either." Oren says an opening date has not been annouced.

City Spokesperson Ayelet Gradman said Hofri "remains committed to opening a new TALI school" that would receive the pupils from Meged's TALI program, but did elaborate on the date.

Gradman denied that the city ever promised to open the school by 2008. Stressing the fact that the Ministry of Education has not yet approved the new school, Gradman said: "The city is continuing its efforts to find a suitable building for when the ministry gives all necessary approvals."

But Oren says the necessary approval is expected as early as next month.

"We were ready to go before the approval committee. Unsuitable candidates are disqualified beforehand. Demand in Ra'anana is increasing, so there is absolutely no reason why it shouldn't be approved."

Oren told Anglo File that she "still hopes" Hofri will follow through. She added, however, that the parents "will do everything they can as citizens" to fight against shelving the school or further delays.

The parents committee says a course of action has not yet been decided, but Anglo File has learned a public campaign for change was discussed in a meeting earlier this week.

"He [Hofri] has been stringing us on for years because he wants to be reelected, [but] he has decided not to honor his commitment," a mother said.

Kaplan Sommer says it was former mayor Ze'ev Bielski who made the original promise to open a TALI school, before he resigned his post to head the Jewish Agency. Bielski, who was seen as immensely popular, supported Hofri's candidacy. "Now both Bielski and the TALI school are nowhere to be seen," says Kaplan Sommer.

Hanna Schwartz, a mother of four and one of the founders of the TALI Ra'anana initiative, says that unlike other organizations, the parents committee has always preferred working with the city instead of turning to the media.

"It has got us nowhere so far, so the time for sitting and trusting is over. We can't wait anymore, because we might not achieve our goal otherwise."

According to Schwartz - who, together with her husband, David, supported Hofri's nomination and even hosted a talk between Hofri and Anglo voters during the campaign - Meged's TALI program has reached full capacity. "We're forced to send kids away. Parents are forced to enroll only some of their children because we don't have room [for the whole family]," Schwartz said.

Kaplan Sommer says availability is expected to diminish next summer, as the city's four TALI kindergarten classes graduate.

Although she says the parents will "apply pressure" on the municipality and the Education Ministry, Schwartz said the TALI program is crucial to immigrant absorption.

"We get frequent requests from parents from Canada, the U.K. and U.S., asking us about the TALI program. Some of them move here specifically because of it."

One such example is Sharon Rembaum, who chose Ra'anana as her home a year an a half ago when she was still in Los Angeles. She says she would be "bitterly disappointed" if the school never opens. Rembaum, a mother of three small children, added she wouldn't vote for Hofri if he failed to open the school that drew her to the city.

"I believe many of Hofri's former voters would leave him if he fails to deliver," Oren added.

Schwartz, who immigrated from the U.S., says her friends and family sometimes ask what would make her leave Israel.

"I tell them it wouldn't be because of the security issues or the economy," she says. "But the education of my children is a different story."