Religious Girls' School Teachers Strike in Their Own Special Way

Toward the end of the civics lesson that Pelech High School held yesterday morning in the teachers' protest camp near the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, an 11th grader told her teacher without embarrassment: "It looks to me like your strike isn't working." This defiant approach is the price of assertiveness, a trait fervently developed at the elite religious school for girls.

Liat Barsheshet, the homeroom teacher, was not intimidated by the challenge. "I am also thinking about the direction of the strike," she admitted. "There is an erosion and a feeling of tiredness for me and some of the teachers. I felt it when we were demonstrating on a street corner and a number of drivers honked at us [in sympathy]. So what? But on the other hand I think we need to continue to protest. I believe in people who sound the alarm," she said.

"I believe that there are messages that take time to filter down. You will see, the change will happen slowly."

Appropriately for Pelech's lofty stature, the girls waved signs with rather different slogans than the usual protest placards: "Woe is to the creatures who insult the Torah," for example, a quote from the Ethics of the Fathers. And while they stood on corners and shouted enthusiastically, and drivers added the honking, inside the protest tents they kept up classes on the political aspects of civics, theater and art. The topic of one civics class was the rule of law.

Barsheshet, a doctoral student in sociology at the Hebrew University, started to explain on "patently unlawful orders." She ended the class with a discussion on back-to-work orders. This topic is immediate, real, burning and comes up in discussions all day and night at the protest camp, as well as in teachers' private conversations.

Barsheshet said she was debating whether to protest with other teachers who said it was impossible to force them to teach. A number of other teachers nodded in agreement. "Education must come from choice and love. On the other hand I know that this would be breaking the law. A democratic country would collapse if there was collective lawbreaking," she said.

Pelech, of course, knew how to protest in its own special way. But joining the protests was not necessarily natural or to be taken for granted. Only a week ago, three weeks after the start of the strike, Pelech decided to join the group of militant Jerusalem teachers, and even suggest to pupils to participate more actively in the protests.

Shira Breuer, Pelech's principal, said that there were broad discussions in the teachers' forum and in an assembly with the students before the decision was made. Last night, they attempted to recruit the parents to the cause.

As in all of Jerusalem, the young, ideological teachers took the more activist role. Barsheshet, for example, along with Hana Dreyfus said they could have chosen many other professions, but they chose teaching without hesitation. "Because education is the most important thing," Barsheshet said, adding that during her studies she earned in two hours as a teaching assistant what she makes in an entire month as a teacher.

Dreyfus said she was disappointed when she participated in a demonstration in Tel Aviv during the first week of the strike because there was no representation of religious teachers. She also said she was willing to quit if ordered back to work by the court.

The religious public sat on the fence during teacher strikes in the past.