Rejected by Haredi School, 6-year-old Sits at Home

Since the beginning of the school year, M.B. has been staying home instead o f going to first grade like the rest of the children her age. M's ultra-Orthodox father, D.B., is standing firm: Until 6-year-old M. is accepted into the Beit Ya'akov school in their town, Rosh Ha'ayin, she will stay at home.

Maybe her plight will prick the conscience of the principal, embarrass the municipality and the heads of the independent education network and lead to her acceptance.

Last year D.B. registered M. for Beit Ya'akov, the only ultra-Orthodox girls' school in town, as he had done for her elder sisters. To his surprise, her application was rejected. Principal Gita Weiss had decided the family did not suit the spirit of the school.

"Is it possible that we were okay all those years and suddenly we're no longer religious?" B. asks. "It's slander and libel," he continued. B. says the real reason is that his two older daughters are studying at the Migdal Or boarding school, a non-Haredi institution in Migdal Ha'emek. Weiss refused to comment.

B. began his journey into the ultra-Orthodox world about 15 years ago. His sons, aged 16 and 18, are studying at yeshivas in Bnei Brak, while the older daughters studied at Beit Ya'akov. A massive bookcase in their home is filled with religious texts, and pictures of religious personages decorate the walls.

While his wife is willing to send M. to another school now, B. is not willing to consider any other options. He recently refused the municipality's compromise offer to send her to the Shas school in Elad and pay for transportation on condition that Weiss accept her into Beit Ya'akov next year. Why should my daughter have to go out of town to study, B. asks.

The affair reached the attorney general and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, after an emergency municipal council session failed to yield results.

About two weeks ago, the ACRI filed a High Court of Justice petition asserting discrimination against girls of Mizrahi origin at Beit Ya'akov seminaries, in a case that has no connection to M's. The issue of discrimination in ultra-Orthodox educational institutions is making waves in the Haredi community.

According to Alona David-Golan, a Shinui member on the Rosh Ha'ayin city council who convened the emergency session on the B. case, there are about ten instances in which children have not been accepted at the Beit Ya'akov school for no cause.

It happened four years ago to Sigal Ashual, an ultra-Orthodox accountant from Rosh Ha'ayin. At the time she had three daughters studying at Beit Ya'akov. Ashual wanted to send the eldest to Ulpanat Darchei Noam, a national-religious school.

"I wanted my daughter to have a high-school diploma," Ashual explains. "I knew the principal wouldn't like it but I didn't know how much. Two days before the start of the school year I was called in for a meeting. She told me that if I transfer my daughter then the other daughters should transfer to a state religious school, too. I told her, 'Their books are covered and their uniforms and schoolbags are ready. How can you do such a thing to my girls?' And she said, 'No problem, bring Avia back to school.'"

The Ashuals brought their case to a rabbinic court, which found in their favor, but Weiss ignored the judgment. The daughters currently study at a state religious school.

In a response, the Rosh Ha'ayin municipality said the independent educational network (Beit Ya'akov, in this case) is under the jurisdiction of the Education Ministry, not the municipality, but noted that the city council attempted to arrange a compromise. The municipality is currently attempting to enforce the mandatory education law, "and if we have no choice an indictment will be issued."