Rabbi Galit Cohen Kedem of Holon, Israel and me
Thankfully, there’s a happy ending to this story.
Temple Israel of Hollywood in Los Angeles enjoys a close sister-synagogue relationship with an emerging Israeli Reform synagogue in Holon, Israel, just fifteen minutes drive from Tel Aviv.
Their Rabbi, Galit Cohen Kedem, is a 40 year-old mother of three who was ordained several years ago at the Jerusalem campus of the Hebrew Union College and is one of 100 Israeli ordained Reform Rabbis serving communities in Israel.
Five years ago, Rabbi Galit and her emerging Reform synagogue community created Gan Tarbut Ivrit, a state-funded public school. They did so in full cooperation with the education department at the Holon municipality and with the Israel Ministry of Education. The school received official status and certification from all the relevant local and national authorities.
The concept of a “growing school” is one that begins with kindergarten and adds a new grade level each year. The school is planning to add a 3rd grade class this coming fall and will welcome 100 students. Gan Tarbut Ivrit works in similar ways to North American magnet schools in that it welcomes students from throughout the city of Holon.
Until the beginning of May of this year, the attitude of the Holon Municipality was positive and supportive. All great – so far!
Since it was established, the school program has been held within a hosting school, and it was understood by Rabbi Cohen Kedem and the students’ parents that as the school grew it would require additional classrooms in a different location due to space limitations in the first host school. The congregational leadership began negotiations with the Holon municipality and education department earlier this year to find alternative space. All municipal bodies joined cooperatively in the effort.
As a temporary solution for the coming year, the Director General of the Holon municipality (Yossi Silman) and the city education department offered three additional classrooms to be opened in a different public school in the city. The school would run independently of the host school. However, upon learning of this arrangement, a group of parents from the new hosting school, encouraged by extremist Haredi ultra-Orthodox forces vetoed the plan. In a meeting with the principal of the new host school these parents aggressively and verbally threatened Rabbi Cohen Kedem and, remarkably, they threatened the school’s children of the school. Then they submitted a strongly worded complaint to the education department and municipality.
To the shock and surprise of the Reform synagogue community and school leadership, at a meeting that was held only a few days following this incident, the Holon Municipality Director General rescinded the municipality’s responsibility for the program altogether. The families of these children were told that there would now be no place at all in the entire city of Holon of 200,000 residents for this one school to operate.
Rabbi Cohen Kedem learned from various sources that ultra-Orthodox political representatives in the city from the Shas party pressured the Mayor to close the school for one reason and one reason alone – it is affiliated with the Israeli Reform Movement.
The Israel Movement for Progressive Reform Judaism (IMPJ) jumped into action on behalf of the children and parents of this new school and entered into negotiations with the proper authorities. At the same time, the Israeli Reform leadership called upon ARZA (the Association of Reform Zionists of America – USA and ARZA – Canada) to contact as many Israeli Consuls General as possible and ask them to contact the Israeli Foreign Ministry and Education Ministry to express our support for the Holon Reform movement school. We did so.
I informed our new Consul General representing the Southwestern United States, the Honorable Sam Grundwerg.
Rabbi Mona Alfi of Temple B’nai Israel in Sacramento, California (who also enjoys a sister synagogue relationship with Kehilat Kodesh V’Chol and Rabbi Galit) informed Israel’s Consul General to the Pacific Northwest, the Honorable Dr. Andy David and asked him to send their message of support.
Rabbi Josh Weinberg, President of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA), and I (as ARZA Chair) briefed the Israeli Consul General in New York, the Honorable Dani Dayan, who communicated to the Israeli Foreign Ministry and Education Ministry headed by Naftali Bennet, the Minister of Education in whose party Dani Dayan is a leader. Mr. Dayan also personally called Rabbi Galit to express his support.
Miriam Pearlman, ARZA Canada President, asked the Consul General of Israel in Toronto representing Ontario and the Western Provinces of Canada, the Honorable Galit Baram, to send a message to Israel’s Foreign Ministry to register that community’s concern that the rights of the Reform movement in Holon.
Negotiations have been taking place for the past month between Holon’s Mayor and leaders of the Municipality and Rabbi Gilad Kariv, the Executive Director of the IMPJ as well as Rabbi Galit – and I am thrilled to post this letter sent a few days ago by Gilad and Galit to our Reform movement’s international leadership with their permission to share this with others.
I do so with great personal relief and with the knowledge that not only will those parents and children in Holon, Israel be able to educate their children in the public school system according to their Reform movement values, but that our movement’s success can be a precedent for more such efforts.
It is with great pleasure and relief that we send you this email to update you that a solution has been found for the “Tarbut Ivrit” program in Holon.
As you know, over the past few weeks we had experienced an extreme backlash in the city, whereby both city officials and parents refused to allow us the use of classrooms in one of the city’s schools, in light of our expansion and lack of classrooms at the “Nitzanim” school. At one point in the process the municipality even cancelled our certification. We were prepared to take legal steps and have you engage with us in an international campaign. This backlash reached the level of violent verbal threats and near despair. Finally, a few days ago, with the help and support of the regional superintendent and representatives from the Ministry of Education, we were able to reach a resolution with the municipality, whereby classrooms would be found in the “Nitzanim” school for the coming year. This is the school we’ve been in over the past few years and we are happy to tell you that the parents association and the head of the school is in complete support of our being there. A solution for space for our additional grade level will be found. This was a great relief, especially considering that this was our ideal solution from the beginning.
On a personal note, there is no doubt that we had never experienced such behavior from people we work with on the municipal level before and were taken aback by people’s mere ability to act this way. At the same time, we are grateful to so many friends and partners, as well as parents and congregation activists, who stood by our side throughout this difficult period.
We want to take this opportunity to also thank you for your partnership, friendship and support throughout this struggle, as well as the action that many of you took in contacting local consuls general and other officials and speaking with them on our behalf. There is no question that this helped our struggle because as we reported previously the Foreign Ministry went to the city and told them to find a constructive solution. Our influence in the National Institutions was also a critical factor as both Boogi [Isaac] Hertzog [the leader of the opposition Zionist Union] and Danny Atar [Chairman of the Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael- JNF] intervened with the Mayor of Holon on our behalf.
We head into the summer with a great sigh of relief, ready to take on the new school year and focus on what we do well, pluralistic education and building our congregation. Holon is an incredible success story for our [Reform Israeli] movement and we believe will continue to grow and thrive.
We will of course keep you posted if there are any new developments. Hopefully from now on we will only have good news to report.
Again we can’t say enough how important your support for us was both from a moral point of view and of course for all the concrete things you did on our behalf.
Rabbi Gilad Kariv and Rabbi Galit Cohen Kedem
Marsha Pinson said:
What a story! I thank you for giving us a “happy ending,” and wish the school growth and success in its important mission. And I thank you for your quick and effective work on behalf of the school and the respect deserved by the Reform Movement in Israel. mp
David Brumer said:
Very happy to see this result. Very good to know the organizations you are involved in helped rectify the situation.
Mitch Gries said:
Thank you John for not only letting us know what is happening in this specific matter
but more so for your efforts in helping to turn around this distasteful backlash. I think this deserves at least a few minutes at our next Men’s Torah Study. Our Torah is political among its many great attributes.
Rabbi Paul R(Shaul) Feinberg said:
To all my colleagues: your strength is increasing thank God, thanks to broadbased membership and leadership eschelons in North America and Israel, world wide.Rabbi Josh Weinberg is commended for his iniatives in helping to advance and coordinate and publicize the achievements in this and all other reports reaching us almost daily.
This Shabbat Rosh Rosh Hodesh renewal is such a fitting opportunity for sharing with us words of Rabbi John Rosove, Rabbi Gilad Kariv, Anat Hoffman, Rabbi Galit Cohen-Kedem.
Blessings — Shabbat Shalom vKhodesh tov
Moreover it is crucial to continually declare that such accomplishments and more emerge in innumerable communities throughout Israel from the stellar missions of 100 ordinees, graduates of the Israeli Rabbinic Program of Hebrew Union Colllege- Jewish Institute of Religion.