Ra'anana Parents Net School Deal After Prolonged Struggle

Ra'anana parents whose children are getting a Jewish-pluralistic education celebrated a big victory earlier this month, when the mayor signed a deal to give them a building of their own. On September 2, Mayor Nahum Hofree and the TALI Ra'anana parents association agreed to terms for Ra'anana's first TALI school, ending a 14-year search for a permanent facility by the association.

TALI, a Hebrew acronym for "enriched Jewish studies," offers a framework for enhanced religious studies through special curricula, taught through an egalitarian and pluralistic approach to more than 22,000 mostly secular children all over Israel. In Ra'anana, some 455 children study in a TALI track, which accounts for up to a fifth of their curriculum, at various public schools.

The new school for TALI students will be located in the facility that until this spring belonged to the now defunct Ra'anana College. This year, the TALI enrichment program is taught at the city's Meged Elementary School and HaSharon Middle School. There are also four TALI kindergartens in Ra'anana.

The atmosphere in the mayor's office was far removed from the tension of the past several years.

In 2007, the association charged that "Hofree 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."

They said the city had originally set an opening date for 2007, then pushed it back to 2008 and then canceled that target date, prompting the parents to take their cause to the press. The city's spokeswoman at the time denied the city had promised a 2008 opening date and replied that Hofree remained "committed to opening a new TALI school" without naming a potential opening date.

Parents also say that Ze'ev Bielski - who is now a Kadima MK - had verbally promised them a building during his tenure as mayor of the city, though he never signed a written commitment.

"Our many years of effort are finally paying off," said Rachel Oren, chairwoman of the TALI Ra'anana Association, which fought for a building since its founding in 1996. "In our new school, TALI will continue to flourish and grow." Another parent involved in TALI Ra'anana said if it weren't for the association badgering City Hall, the municipality might not have given the Ra'anana College facility over to her association.

Rhode Island native Allison Kaplan Sommer, a mother of three TALI students who moved to Israel 17 years ago, said it was ironic Ra'anana never had a Tali school "because Ra'anana has so many people who are interested in Jewish pluralistic education."

The building allocated for the new elementary school will undergo renovations before a planned opening of September 2011. This Monday, the municipality and the TALI Ra'anana Association are holding a groundbreaking ceremony at the site, on 21 Haprachim Street. The event, scheduled for 4:30 P.M., will be attended by Mayor Hofree and Stanley Frankel, of Detroit, Michigan, whose parents were the founding donors of Israel's first TALI school and who contributed to the new building.

Founded in 1976 by American immigrants in Jerusalem, TALI schools are popular with parents from English-speaking countries, but also exist in cities not usually considered Anglo strongholds, like Rishon Letzion and Kiryat Gat.