In early 1999, a group of parents in Jerusalem gathered together out of concern for their children’s education. The late Dr. Aryeh Geiger, along with many of his students and teachers, came to realize the need for a new option in Israel’s Jewish public education system, outside of the polarized religious/secular status quo. At the community’s encouragement, Dr. Geiger left his post as principle of a national religious high school in Jerusalem to found the first pluralistic Jewish high school in the city.
At the students’ insistence, Dr. Geiger approached then-Minister of Israeli Society and the World Jewish Community, MK Rabbi Michael Melchior for guidance about establishing a new Jewish high school in Jerusalem - one that would be open to religious, secular, and traditional Jewish students by establishing inclusive Jewish thinking.
Rabbi Melchior insisted that Dr. Geiger take the temperature of the community and see if there would be enough interest and motivation to start a completely new alternative school. Dr. Geiger then published a small advertisement in the weekly Jerusalem Newspaper Kol Ha’ir (“The Whole City,” also a homophone for “Voice of the City”) asking that anyone interested in starting a pluralistic high school come to a meeting at the synagogue in south Jerusalem where Rabbi Melchior was the head rabbi.
To their amazement, when Rabbi Melchior and Dr. Geiger arrived for the meeting, the synagogue waspacked to capacity and the crowd overflowed out the building. Rabbi Melchior and Dr. Geiger actually had to push their way into the synagogue for their own meeting. Quite remarkably, the majority of people in attendance both inside the synagogue and standing outside were students, not parents. The meeting signaled the high demand for pluralistic Jewish education and by the fall of 1999, Dr. Aryeh Geiger was the principal of Jerusalem’s first Jewish pluralistic High School: Reut High School.
During Reut’s first year, a group of secular and religious parents from Modi’in, along with community member Yossi Pnini (who would become the director of Meitarim), came to Rabbi Melchior’s office at the Ministry of Israeli Society and the World Jewish Community in the Prime Minister’s Office. They were on a mission to start a new pluralistic Jewish school in Modi’in that would serve as a model for more pluralistic schools nation-wide. Having heard about his involvement in establishing Reut, the Modi’in community sought Rabbi Melchior’s help.
At the time, Rabbi Melchior doubted that such a national revolution could take shape in Israeli society. The idea contradicted what he and most Israeli Jews considered to be the country’s social norm - the dichotomy between religious and secular Jews. He feared that it was too late for Jewish pluralistic education in the Jewish State. He also had a number of practical questions regarding the religious character of these schools and the compromises that both religious and secular parents would be willing to make. On the one hand, he expected that religious parents would worry that their children would become secular, that their sons would stop wearing kippot. On the other, he expected that secular parents would worry that the school would be too religious.
By the end of the meeting, Rabbi Melchior made a deal with the parents: if they could put together a group of 60 students in first and second grades, whose parents supported the project and wanted to be a part of it, he promised his full support and assistance. The parents and Yossi Pnini soon returned to Rabbi Melchior’s office, having found not 60, but 70 children, at which point he had no choice but to stand by his word and help them start what would become a national educational movement. By the fall of 2000, Meitarim was established and Yachad Modi’in classes were in session.