Although nearly 15 years have passed since the death of poet Yona Wallach, her work is once again at the center of public debate. The Education Ministry has banned Edna Resh, a literature teacher at Rabin High School in Kfar Sava, from teaching Wallach's sexually explicit poetry, particularly "You Are (He Is) My Girlfriend." The poem was censored after parents complained about its "sexual content" - including words such as "homo," "cunt" and "penis."
Resh wanted to get her 12th-grade students accustomed to reading Hebrew poetry, and they say she succeeded. "Suddenly we have a teacher here who really came to teach, who manages to communicate a thirst for knowledge and the learning experience," Mor Turjeman, one of her students, told Haaretz reporter Or Kashti.
Resh is correct. Seventeen-year-old students at a secular high school can handle terms and concepts that are part of their lives when the concepts are taught through literature. Studying the poem "You Are (He Is) My Girlfriend" can educate them about artistic freedom and freedom of expression.
But in the eyes of senior Education Ministry administrators - the supervisor of literature education and the director of human resources in education - the teacher is worthy of denunciation. Without clarifying the issue with Resh, the ministry ordered the school to stop teaching "those poems." The intervention by the human resources director, Zion Shabbat, is particularly troubling, as he expressed contempt for Wallach's work and implied he would take action against Resh after determining whether teaching the poem was "legal or not."
It's difficult to shake off the impression that the senior ministry administrators are acting in accordance with what the right-wing government wants - especially Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, who is trying to institute outdated values in schools. In the past, former deputy education minister Miriam Glazer-Taasa of Likud coarsely attacked Wallach and her poem "Tefillin," calling the poet "a beast in heat." It seems the Education Ministry's conceptual world has not changed since those dark days, with ministry officials once again igniting a culture war.
Sa'ar's lukewarm response to the incident - in which he assured the teacher that she "wouldn't be harmed" but supported the poem's censorship, justifying it with the ambiguous statement that "there are various restrictions" - is inappropriate. The teacher who wanted to breathe life into literature classes should be praised, not condemned. Resh's students, who came together to defend their teacher and protest the Education Ministry's interference in the curriculum, can teach the censors in Jerusalem what democracy is all about.
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