Parent, teacher and student organizations criticized on Friday the decision of Minister of Education Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi) to postpone the Lag B’Omer vacation by a day in early May to avoid desecrating Shabbat.
The Lag B’Omer vacation had been scheduled to take place on Sunday, May 14, after lighting bonfires on the eve of the holiday, according to the Jewish calendar, but in the past few days, Haredi and religious figures asked Bennett to postpone the day off so that the bonfires would be lit on Sunday evening, instead of Saturday night, for fear of a mass desecration of Shabbat by people lighting the fires before sunset on Saturday. Bennett acceded to their request Friday morning.
Later on, it became clear that on the computer matriculation exam (the “Bagrut”) had been scheduled to take place on Monday. Following the minister’s decision, that exam will have to be postponed. The Ministry of Education said that the new date would be set at the beginning of the week.
Yaara Yeshurun, head of the organization Parents Working for Change, commented, “For years, we have been told that vacation cannot be moved in the middle of the year. All of a sudden: Bam, it’s moved inside a second without consulting the parents. What does this mean? The vacation schedule was planned in advance; it’s just not acceptable.”
A computer teacher who was told that the matriculation exams would be postponed complained, “It’s really irritating. They could have opened the calendar and seen things ahead of time. How can this be done now? How can they move a matriculation exam and not even tell us to when? Where’s the Ministry of Education’s time management?”
A pupil from Kiryat Bialik said that “there is a sense of lack of consideration for students and teachers. They’re moving dates, setting inappropriate matriculation dates and not listening to what is happening on the ground at all. We’ve been preparing for the test for the past two years.”
The Chabad Lubavitch movement, which had already planned events on the day, also expressed criticism, saying that it was too late to postpone those events due to contracts wigned with performers and venues.. Some 400 branches of the movement throughout the country are holding a special event on the Lag B’Omer holiday, attended by 250,000 students on vacation.
Avi Kaminsky, Chairman of the Israel Union of Education Directors in Local Municipalities, said that after a conversation with the director general of the Education Ministry it was clarified that “there has indeed been a mishap” and stated that better care would be taken to avoid such “surprises” in future.
He said that the data indicate that about one million residents in Israel are Shabbat-observant, “and some of them have young children. It only makes sense that these pupils will also celebrate Lag B’Omer and not at 9:00pm (after Shabbat ends). As both educators and public figures, we are committed to enabling all children in Israel to celebrate.”
The Teachers’ Union agreed to postpone the holiday, provided that the decision was also made by the teachers’ organization, the student council and the parents’ organization. In addition, the union noted that a teaching employee who had booked a vacation in advance would not have it cancelled or the time deducted from their salary.
(Translated and edited by J. Herzog)