Principal of Ohel- Shem High School in Ramat Gan, Adam Kniksberg, said Monday at a session of the Knesset Education, Culture, and Sports Committee, that religious “missionaries” from Bnei Brak, that have as of late become part of the school environment, have started influencing its students little by little.
“They start off by instituting prayer sessions at the school, then move on to lessons in Judaism and keeping kosher at a nearby synagogue, and the end result is, at times, students who leave the school and do not enlist in the IDF,” said Kniksberg.
Deputy Chairman of the Education Division at the Ramat Gan Municipality, Mira Shannon, also expressed alarm at this growing phenomenon. “The secular school body has experienced a ‘religious terrorism’ of sorts since the arrival of these Bnei Brak ‘missionaries,” she said Monday at the education committee session.
This phenomenon had also raised concerned among local parents. Ramat Gan Parents’ Association Chairman and head of the Ohel-Shem school PTA, Danny Goldstein, said that parents at this Ramat Gan school are deathly afraid that their children will become Orthodox and refuse to enlist in the army.
“That would be a disaster as far as I am concerned, akin to religious parents who mourn a child who becomes secular as if he had died,” he said Monday at the Knesset committee session.
“There are three or four ‘missionaries’, that some may call Rabbis, who bribe students at Ohel-Shem into attending Torah lesson with NIS 18 payments. One single mother, who is struggling to make ends meet, told me, in tears, that her child will no longer eat at home because she does not keep kosher,” said Goldstein.
Most students who are goaded into attending the prayer session at school, noted Goldstein, are students from poor families who are in financial dire straits. It is these, and other parents, that have petitioned the city municipality for help in combating the ‘missionary’ phenomenon.
No religious or secular coercion
Ironically, it is a complaint lodged by MK Shlomo Benizri, stipulating that Ohel-Shem does not allow religious students to pray during their lunch break, which helped bring the whole ‘missionary’ issue to the attention of the Knesset Education Committee.
Head of the Education Division at the Ramat Gan Municipality, Moshe Bodega, stated Monday at the committee session, that the school principal does not allow religious students to pray in empty classrooms during lunch, mainly as this can lead to tension at the school, and because of these Bnei Brak Rabbis who try and coerce students into becoming religious.
Chairman of the Knesset Education, Culture and Sport Committee, MK Michael Melchior, said Monday that irrespective of the tensions at the school, Ohel-Shem must nevertheless try and accommodate religious students who need a place to pray.
“I object to religious coercion, but also to secular coercion as well,” he stated. “If the prayer sessions do not disrupt the school there is nothing wrong with holding them, and those students who truly wish to pray ought to be aided.”