While most Israeli Jews feel a strong connection to Jewish culture, religion, and the Jewish people, they have been forced to choose between the religious state-run schools and the non-religious secular state-run schools. As a result, the disunity and tensions between religious and secular Jews have continued to polarize Israeli society. The education system has failed to serve those Jews who want their children to grow up with a deep understanding of, and commitment to a democratic and multi-cultural Jewish society.
Children in Meitarim schools are taught values such as Jewish peoplehood, tolerance, and humanism and receive an education where there is no contradiction between Judaism, pluralism, and democracy. Students from orthodox, traditional, conservative, reform and secular backgrounds are enrolled in our schools. Many Meitarim schools are located in the periphery, and are often populated with children from low socio-economic classes and an array of ethnic backgrounds, as well as both native-born Israelis and recent immigrants. The pluralism aspect of the schools often extends beyond religious identity to children with special needs and learning disabilities.
Never before have all of these students had the opportunity to learn together for the entire school day. The two-track school system segregated children from an early age and created a divided society where Jews from different religious backgrounds rarely interact with each other. Meitarim schools are reuniting Israeli Jews by becoming the new Jewish community center, or an Israeli version of a JCC, in their respective communities, serving as a channel for social change. Parents get to know each other through activities within a Jewish context, and form meaningful relationships with other Jewish parents who may be completely different than themselves. Additionally, parents learn together in Beit Midrash learning programs located at the schools, and have also formed their own synagogues based on the schools’ pluralistic values.
Meitarim places a very high priority on accepting children of all backgrounds in its schools, including those with severe mental and physical disabilities. This concept of integrating students with disabilities, though uncommon in Israel, has been adopted into the Meitarim mission. This integration not only benefits the students with disabilities, but instills inherent sensitivities that students learn by forming relationships with children they may have never before encountered.
Reut High School in Jerusalem graduated the first student with Down Syndrome in Israeli history who passed State matriculation exams. Currently, two out of the 12 classes in the school are designated for severely disabled children, with special needs children integrated in all of the classes in the school. This is just another example of pluralism meaning much more than one’s Jewish identity.