Parents and children from the "Neve Israel" school in Maaleh Adumim have been holding daily demonstrations since September 1, protesting their mayor's refusal to provide a school building for their new school.
The school, part of the Navat Israel network, was founded five years ago and has already received recognition from the Ministry of Education - but it has not yet received a permanent building, despite the fact that the Ministry has ordered it be given one.
During the morning demonstrations, parents, teachers, and children stand quietly, speak amongst themselves, pray, learn, blow the shofar (ram's horn), and say selichot (supplication prayers). After two hours, the gathering breaks up, with each class finding a local synagogue to learn in for the rest of the morning, all hoping that soon they will have their own school building.
"When children asked to use the municipality's bathroom, the policemen standing there said they could not and that they needed to go to the nearby mall, five minutes away," said Paula Stern, grandmother of a boy attending the school, told Arutz Sheva. "I want you to understand how polite these children are. They came over and asked to use the bathroom, and I told them to say, 'Good morning police officer,' so they all said, 'Hello, good morning, police officer' and the police officer just melted and he shook hands with every single boy."
"Afterwards the boys asked if they could use the bathrooms, and he said no, so they asked, 'Why?' and the policeman said: 'It's complicated, it's because of the conditions of the approval [for the demonstration].' They asked where they should go instead, and he told them to go to the mall, so they went to the mall.
"After they left I went up to the officer and asked why the children couldn't use the bathrooms - it's a public building belonging to the municipality, their parents pay taxes, and the building in essence belongs to the city's residents. The officer said: 'Benny [Kashriel] said so.' I said: 'Benny doesn't decide, the law decides.' They didn't allow the haredim to use the bathrooms, but they did allow everyone else."
Stern added that Kashriel, who has been serving as mayor for over 25 years, ran uncontested in 2018's elections, and many of those who once ran against him left the race and later left the city."The claim is that they don't want to change the status quo, and a haredi school will change the status quo. But in reality, they've been trying for years to open a theater on Shabbat (Sabbath), they're always trying to start running public transportation on Shabbat, and they themselves are trying to change the status quo. These parents aren't interested in any of that, they're not asking for anything and they're not trying to change the status quo, they just want a proper school for their children and to educate their children as they wish, just like every other parent," she said.
Over 140 children, from preschool to fifth grade, attend Neve Israel, but only the preschoolers have a proper building. Since Navat Israel is a network of girls' schools, the girls - who number approximately as many as the boys - have been traveling daily to the Navat Israel school in Jerusalem's Neve Yaakov neighborhood.
Last year, the boys traveled to Jerusalem each day as well, on a school bus which cost 25,000 NIS ($7085) each month and was funded entirely by the parents. This year, the parents have decided that they are not willing to endure this nightmare again - both because the children are so young, and because the roads are dangerous - and insist on receiving a proper building.
"There are at least 20 boys who would joint the school but their parents just can't deal with this anymore, they can't handle the uncertainty that repeats itself every single year," Stern said. "The girls travel because the network this school belongs to is a network of girls' schools, so there's a solution for them. Neve Israel is the first boys' school in the network."
She also noted that both the boys and girls learn the core curriculum.
The parents, who have tried for five years to start a new school that reflects their religious views, have been prevented from doing so by Kashriel. The new school has received four temporary registration numbers: for the boys' preschool, the girls' preschool, the boys' school, and the girls' school, and is recognized as an independent institute of education. The Education Ministry has also ordered Maaleh Adumim's municipality to provide a building for the school.
At the beginning, parents were told that the issue is "being dealt with," and they later were offered a plot of land in the Mishor Adumim industrial zone - a location which all agree is inappropriate for a school. Nevertheless, the parents agreed to the location and agreed to construct the school entirely on their own bill, not wanting to make problems. However, it was soon discovered that the municipality would not grant them the plot, since it was not zoned for a school.
Meanwhile, the school received a preschool building, as well as permission to construct temporary buildings in the preschool's yard, at the expense of the play areas. They were later told by the Education Ministry that students could not use the preschool site, since it was not intended for grade school classes.
The municipality also refused to allow the school to use a nearby preschool, which is being used as an office for a part-time business. Instead, they were told to send their children to "Yitzhaki," a school run by a religious management, but which serves a non-religious population.
"We have nothing against them," said A., who is father to a son in fourth grade and a son in kindergarten. "We love them, we respect them, they're totally fine. We just want a different school for our children."
From there, the school rented a synagogue, to the tune of 15,000 NIS ($4251) a month, all out of pocket. A few months into the school year, however, the Education Ministry ordered the school to leave the synagogue, since the municipality had not given permission for it to be used as a school.
"Now we're starting a new year, every child going into first grade is excited for a new school, a new classroom, new teachers, a new pencil case, there's a lot of excitement," A. said. "We have nothing - our children have no classroom, no pencil case, they sit in the sun and later on in a synagogue, because they don't have their own classroom. Even the preschool is affected: Last year the municipality made improvements to every preschool in the city, and covered the sand with fake grass. We were the only ones left out. We didn't even get the fake grass. When we asked for a budget for it, we were at first told that they're working on it, and then we were told outright: 'You won't get it.'"
"He told us: 'Anyone who demonstrates against me won't get anything from me.' But the reason we're demonstrating is because for several years he's been completely ignoring us. Even at the demonstrations we felt like flies."
Most of the parents are second- and third-generation residents of Maaleh Adumim, who love their city and want to raise their children there.
"If we wanted to live in Bnei Brak or Meah Shearim, we would move there," A. said. "If we stay here, it's because we want a mixed city. We're not complaining that there is no separate swimming or that there aren't a lot of other things. The parents' battle is the result of several long years of being completely ignored. There is no other haredi school in the city, other than Yitzhaki, which is only run by haredim, and caters to those who are not religious."
"We don't block roads, we have no problem with them opening a theater on Shabbat, we don't care about any of those things. The only thing we're asking is for a proper school for our children.
"Eighty percent of the fathers served in the army, including in combat units. They served in Israel's wars, they lost some of their friends, they still serve in elite units and in the security forces, and a large portion of the mothers did National Service. We all pay taxes, and every family has at least one parent who works and a significant number of families have both parents working. Most of our extended families still live in Maaleh Adumim, some are completely secular, and most of the parents opening the school are newly religious."
A. also noted that Kashriel often repeats his mantra that "we will not have Beit Shemesh here" and that he does not want to increase the city's haredi population. However, the "haredi" population in Maaleh Adumim does not ask that others refrain from driving on Shabbat, does not oppose the opening of a theater on Shabbat, does not ask for separate swimming, and does not ask for anything - other than a building for their new school, or a plot of land to build a school on, from their own funds.
City councilman Avraham Nagar requested that the municipality's Director-General provide documents proving that the municipality's use of educational buildings for other uses was approved by the Education Ministry. In response, the Director-General said: "Don't pull me into politics."
It later became clear that of 17 preschool buildings being used for non-educational purposes, the municipality has received approval to use only four of them for those purposes. Meanwhile, the buildings are used for the city's hygiene department, psychological services department, as a veterinary, for a supervisor, and for four afternoon clubs open only two afternoons a week. In one of the neighborhoods, a school building was turned into a "center for cyber studies," but only one classroom is used for that purpose, while the rest of the building serves as offices for the city's psychological services department.
Yitzhaki, the school proposed as a solution for the problem, has twelve classrooms, but it has two classes for each grade level, up to grade 7. Another school suggested as a solution has refused to allow Neve Israel to use its building, and the proposed "solution" included only a single classroom for all five grades. And when nine students from a different school asked to be transferred there, they were told the school was full.
Last Tuesday, when parents asked to meet with Kashriel, he said: "There's nothing to talk about, I'm not willing to meet them." At a different time, he warned: "Watch out for the preschools before you talk to me about a school."
"Our daughter really suffers from the trips to Jerusalem," Avraham and Sharona Azrad, parents of a fourth-grade boy and a first-grade girl, said. "There's no solution in our city. Every morning is torture with our son, who cries about why they won't give him a place to learn in Maaleh Adumim and who doesn't want to go to school. And all this when we still need to work. It's just awful."
Amira, mother to two sons who attend Neve Israel, said: "My husband has lived in Maaleh Adumim since he was a baby, and he switched schools a few times and then ended up traveling to Jerusalem because there wasn't an appropriate school here. Back then there were a lot less children in this situation, but this is already the second generation of this problem."
"The mayor often says that he 'can't offer buildings for every ideological splitoff in the haredi world.' But because we're the only haredi school in the city, we have everyone: Ashkenazis, Sephardis, Lithuanian-haredim, hasidim, National Religious-haredim, we have all types."
A month and a half ago, a complaint was submitted to the state ombudsman regarding selective enforcement of how the city uses empty buildings.
Arlene Frij, a member of the Likud Central Committee and a resident of Maaleh Adumim for 35 years, summed up the feelings of many residents: "He (Kashriel) expects the residents of Maaleh Adumim to serve him, instead of him adequately addressing the needs and wants of the residents."
"He acts as if the community, Maaleh Adumim's residents, serve him."
The Education Ministry refused to issue a formal response, but wrote in an email that: "This issue was discussed in an administrative appeal against us which was later closed."
"Maaleh Adumim has an independent elementary school, but the petitioners do not wish to attend it. As well, the municipality has not requested that we construct a new building for an additional independent school."
Maaleh Adumim's municipality has ignored requests for comment.