The school year in Eretz Yisrael opened this September with some truly gratifying and unprecedented achievements. For the first time in history, a total of 108,758 Israeli children are enrolled in some 263 Torah schools for boys and girls all across Israel, under the Chinuch Atzmai network. Of this number, 115 schools are known as kiruv schools, geared specifically for children from secular or nominally observant homes, as well as schools catering to families of recent ba’alei teshuva.
A significant factor in this increase has been the surge in immigration in recent years, as well as the growing number of non-observant parents who are disappointed with the state-run secular schools.
But all of these accomplishments are in severe danger of being undermined by a development known in Israel as the “Transportation Crisis.”
For the past several decades, a large portion of the Chinuch Atzmai budget was funded by the state. However, unlike secular schools, Chinuch Atzmai receives no funding from municipal governments. As part of an anti-Torah movement effort to undermine Torah education in Eretz Yisrael, repeated attempts have been made using the Israeli Justice System to cut state funding to Chinuch Atzmai’s operations. Approximately 10 years ago, they succeeded, through Israel’s High Court, in winning a drastic cut to the Chinuch Atzmai transportation funding. Literally overnight, Chinuch Atzmai was confronted with a multi-million-dollar deficit in its funding for transportation!
It’s important to understand the tactical strategy of this movement, and ultimately the government, behind this funding cut. While we might think of transportation costs for a child as a relatively small expense—certainly a minuscule fraction of the prohibitive tuition costs we’re accustomed to outside of Israel, the reality is that most non-religious parents who enroll their children in Torah schools, do so with some degree of indifference or, perhaps, reluctance. Even a relatively small financial obligation would be enough for them to revert to the secular state-run educational system.
The threat is even more acute in the kiruv schools, which service small outlying communities, and where students are bused in from remote yishuvim at a considerable expense. Over 30,000 children attend such schools, of which over 20,000 need transportation. Any one of these schools can typically have a student body that hails from more than 20 different communities!
Over the past 10 years, the budget has grown to some $17 million annually, providing over one thousand regular bus lines, which transport more than 20,000 children each day from 215 locations across the country to 115 Torah schools. Up until now, this enormous achievement has been funded through the determination and commitment of the fund’s presidium, namely Rabbi Mordechai Karelitz, and Rabbi Yaakov Verzhbinsky. The two have done everything in their power to keep the buses running.
Despite their best efforts, though, with the approach of the current school year, the fund has reached a breaking point. The exponential growth of the budget and the accumulated deficit from previous years has resulted in a real and immediate threat of the bus companies terminating their contracts. It became clear that this staggering budget can no longer be underwritten with the current fundraising infrastructure alone.
The gedolei Yisrael are urging all of klal Yisrael to take part in the mission of rescuing the children of Eretz Yisrael from spiritual devastation.
Under the guidance of Rav Hershel Schachter, a new community partnership has been initiated that has been named accordingly, “Teaneck/Bergenfield for Chadera.” By helping shoulder the financial burden of the Torah institutions in Chadera, the merits of the children’s Torah learning and their families’ increased dedication to a Torah life will be shared with the community.
The Chadera community and the surrounding areas are serviced by the Ner Shmuel boys’ school and the Bais Yaakov girls’ school. These particular institutions feature a full Limudei Kodesh and secular studies curriculum. A comprehensive special needs program is also offered. There is a total of 570 students requiring subsidized transportation from the towns of Chadera, Nachliel, Nevei Chaim, Olega, Aliechin, Bais Eliezer, Zichron Yaakov, Ginat Odah, and Pardes Chana. The student body of the schools also include 59 new French olim.
In response to this initiative, every family is encouraged to contribute $30 per month for 12 months, to cover the transportation costs of one of these kiruv students.
For more information or to contribute, please contact Torah Schools for Israel at (201) 252-5550 or email [email protected].
By Avi Asher