The petitioner is the mother of Rachel (not her real name), a seven-year-old girl who tried to get accepted to the Beit Yaakov school in the town of Elad, but was rejected, along with 59 other girls from Sephardic origin.
Last year, 221 pre-school girls, including Rachel, applied for the 1st grade at Beit Yaakov. Of the 93 Ashkenazi girls who applied, 90 were accepted (97 percent), while of the 130 Sephardic girls who applied, only 70 got in (54 percent).
The school’s method for determining whether an applicant is from a Sephardic origin was simple. In her deposition to court, Rachel’s mother described a questionnaire she was asked to fill out as part of the application process. It included questions such as, “What is the mother’s maiden name?” “What is the grandparents’ surname?” and “In which synagogue does the father pray on Shabbat?”
‘In which synagogue does the father pray?’ (Photo: Dudi Vaknin)
In the petition, the mother’s attorneys claim that the school’s application process lacks transparency, and that “admission does not rely on clear and objective criteria, but rather on family ties and countries of origin.”
‘Everybody is aware of this problem’At the beginning of the legal process, the parents of some 30 girls who had been rejected by the school were willing to join the battle, but as the date of the hearing at the district court approached, all but two dropped out. According to the attorneys representing Rachel’s mother, Rauven Hamburger and Pini Basis, this was due to strong pressure exerted by the school, alongside promises that their daughters may still get admitted to the school, promises that were never met.
Eventually, the district court denied the appeal, which was signed by only two petitioners, claiming that “no discrimination had been proven.” Rachel’s mother now hopes that the High Court will do her daughter justice.
“I hope that this war will not be in vain, because it is the war of many others as well… Everybody in the haredi society is aware of this problem and how severe it is. The problem is even worse at the seminars, but here we’re talking about six-year-olds!” she stated.
Despite everything, Rachel’s mother still wants her daughter to attend Beit Yaakov, and not schools affiliated with Shas or Chabad. “I want the school to have as much supervision by the Education Ministry as possible, and that when my daughter grows up she will enjoy the highest level of education,” she explained. “I want her to grow up in a place that is not only Sephardic, in a school that teaches at the best level. Both me and my husband were educated this way, Ashkenazim and Sephardim together.”
‘Schools use discrimination to appear more Aryan’
Rabbi Yoav Lalum is leading a public battle against discrimination in the haredi school system, along with other rabbis, and supports the legal battle of the school girls from Elad. Several months ago he set up a website that enables parents to report cases of discrimination they experienced.
Haredi school for girls (Photo: Dudi Vaknin)
“Schools that use discrimination and a process of selections are seemingly more ‘Aryan.’ These schools think that if they don’t use a selection process, they will be considered less prestigious. The Sephardic students fall victim to this approach,” he explained.
“The spiritual leadership of the Lithuanian-Ashkenazi public strongly objects to this ugly discrimination,” Lalum said, and pointed a finger at the Degel HaTorah movement, which according to him “refrains from fighting the phenomenon, and even supports it in different ways.”
The Education Ministry said in response: “The Department for Non-Official Recognized Education annually publishes regulations and instructions concerning registration and application to non-official recognized education institutions. The guidelines are clear, and any institution acting against them is violating the regulations. In cases of violation, the Ministry uses all the measures at its disposal to prevent discrimination between the applicants. The case in question in Elad is currently being discussed in court, and the Ministry will provide its response in court.”
The “Independent Education” center declined comment.