Modiin Illit. Sephardim not welcome?
Photo: AP
The Ashkenazi school
Photo: Guy Assayag
Discrimination claimed in Modiin Illit haredi schools
They live in unkempt neighborhoods, study in run-down trailers, and are discriminated against in town's admissions committee. Sephardic residents of Modiin Illit speak out against differential treatment by Ashkenazi establishment in city

While the shocking discrimination in Emmanuel schools has yet to be solved, another case appears within the haredi community. Sephardic residents of Modiin Illit report blatant racism on the part of Modiin Illit Mayor Yakov Gutterman and the ruling Ashkenazi establishment in the city, which they claim discriminates against them in the religious and educational institutions, the city's admissions committee, and the upkeep of their neighborhoods.


Modiin Illit is made up of about 30% Sephardim. However, this is not represented in the city's educational institutions as there are only five Sephardic religious schools versus about 30 Ashkenazi religious schools. The Sephardim indicated that Ashkenazi facilities are housed in impressive buildings, while many Sephardic facilities are housed in run-down trailers as they have been awaiting permanent buildings for more than 10 years.


The Sephardic residents in the city also claim that Sephardic girls seeking acceptance into an Ashkenazi institution encounter many difficulties.


"I already gave up on getting my daughter into a seminary here," said one of the fathers on Tuesday. "She underwent an intense investigation of her knowledge and her way of life, while her Ashkenazi friend was only asked who her relatives are and that was it."


The father said that there are four seminaries in the city, in one of which, he claims, all the Sephardic girls are concentrated. "They feel rejected. Why don't Ashkenazis study there also?"


Even intervention from Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush was of no avail. "We feel degraded and outcast," said one of the Sephardic girls. She does not yet know where she will be studying come the school year, while her Ashkenazi friends have already been accepted to a seminary and assigned to a class.


Demanding intervention 

Yoni Mizrahi, a resident of the city leading the fight against discrimination, said on Tuesday, "Our demand is that a new seminar be opened in which girls can study without quotas or limits. The acceptance committee must be religious and not ethnic based. It is inconceivable that the girls are rejected outright just because they are Sephardic."


The claims of discrimination also relate to the city's religious institutions. Salary reports from various organizations appear to indicate massive pay differences between Ashkenazi and Sephardic rabbis, with Ashkenazi rabbis' salaries sometimes reaching six times the amount of their Sephardic counterparts.


The Sephardic residents also reported discrimination in the city's acceptance process of new residents. They claim that when they sent an application with a Sephardic surname, they were not contacted, whereas, the same application with an Ashkenazi name was invited for an interview with the admissions board.


Someone currently in the midst of the admissions process to the city admitted, "This is how it is everywhere. Every group, even in secular neighborhoods, wants to maintain homogeny. It stems from a desire to maintain an equal level of religiosity, not from racism."


In fact, two years ago, a Sephardic couple whose admission application was rejected filed a court case claiming they were discriminated against. Their petition was upheld in court.


The Sephardim who are accepted as residents in the city are faced with discrimination in finding proper housing. On this point, the Sephardic residents indicate the municipality's refusal to pave a road in the Ganei Modi'in neighborhood, most of whose residents are Sephardic. They note that many of the sidewalks in the area were built with funding from the residents' pockets.


Senior rabbis in the city contacted Shas Chairman Eli Yishai three months ago on the matter.


"There is serious discrimination," they wrote him. "There is an unfeeling double standard between blood. We ask that an end be put to the crushing and humiliation of the holy Sephardic community in Modiin Illit."


The letter has yet to receive a response. "Just like in Emmanuel, Shas just secures jobs and deals with the Ashkenazis and take care of their friends," said a resident of the city.


On Tuesday, the Sephardim decided that enough is enough and placed an ultimatum before the Education Ministry stipulating that should the government office not intervene by enforcing a policy of transparency in the acceptance process and criteria to schools in the city, the residents will take the case to the High Court.


Yehuda Shohat contributed to this report



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