Tuesday, February 15, 2005

You're not welcome in Bais Yaakov: The unspoken reason? Your skin color is too dark.


At 10:29 PM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...

Every year I hear the same stories of boys and girls being denied entrance to religious schools of their choice for no valid reason. There used to be rabbonim of substance who stood up for such children.

Unfortunately, there seem to be fewer and fewer such courageous community leaders each year and more community leaders that simply tolerate the status quo.

I remember one such community leader that when confronted with such a situation, wrote a letter to the institution in question indicating that if they refused this child entrance he would get up on the pulpit shabbos and speak out and that would just be the beginning. The school backed down.

That rav z"l is no longer with us, but in his memory I open this thread up to expose this problem.

One of the worst reasons I've heard of for refusing admission is the child's skin color. This is a well documented problem in Israel where there are even quotas and I know from my sources that it is just as big a problem hutz l'aretz.

I realize that it is hard for people to go public as they don't want to harm their child's chances of finding a shiduch and they are not finding support from community leaders.

I am offering this thread as an opportunity to tell your story anonymously or just to read the articles I'm posting so you know you are not alone.

At 10:36 PM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...


Sorry, rejected; your grandmother's Sephardi
By Tamar Rotem
5 August 2003

About two weeks ago, ACRI (the Association for Civil Rights in Israel) sent a letter to the Ministry of Education demanding it put an end to the ethnic quota system used by the Bais Yaakov religious secondary schools (seminaries) for girls. The letter was timely - scores of girls of Mizrahi origin have already been rejected for the coming school year.

Such discrimination against girls from Mizrahi families who apply to the Bais Yaakov seminaries is evident every year as the replies go out to Jerusalem and Bnei Brak.

Dozens of the girls involved, all graduates of Bais Yaakov elementary schools, insist on registering for the exclusive secondary schools that they see as the natural next step - but the schools apparently are
determined to perpetuate Ashkenazi hegemony in the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world.

In Jerusalem, three of the movement's seminaries employ a quota system - Haseminar Hayashan, the oldest, whose principal is Benyamin Scharansky;
Haseminar Hehadash, under Rabbi Yeshayahu Lieberman, where in addition to the regular syllabus, secular subjects like architectural drawing and
computer studies are taught; and Darkei Rachel, under Rabbi Yehezkel Mendelssohn.

An ACRI investigation found that these three schools, to retain their exclusivity, take pains to see that no more than 30 percent of the incoming class are of Mizrahi origin because they are considered "inferior" candidates. Scores of girls seeking admission, most of them outstanding students, are left out, while less academically able Ashkenazi students are accepted.

Rejected in this manner were about a hundred girls in Jerusalem and another hundred in B'nei Brak this year. That figure is expected to shrink, because
Haredi society has developed a lobby system for girls who are rejected, and the lobbying will yield results. Still, every year, about 30 girls don't make it into any of the seminaries, and they are all Mizrahi.

For most of their parents, who have done their best to be assimilated into a constituency ruled by the Ashkenazi elite, this is a devastating blow. Imagine how H. must feel, a man of about 60, whose granddaughter was not accepted at one of the seminaries two years ago, because her grandmother (his wife) is Mizrahi.

Mixed blessing

H., a well-known figure in Jerusalem, with ties to the Hassidic (Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox) community on one side and to the Shas (Sephardi ultra-Orthodox) community on the other, could not accept the fact that,
with all his connections, he couldn't help when the crunch came.

Feeling the injustice deeply, he devoted himself night and day to a campaign to persuade one of the three schools to take her; he also worked hard to help another 20 parents in similar circumstances. Pressure brought
to bear in high places led eventually to all of the girls' being accepted, aside from his own granddaughter.

H. says that she has found a place for herself in the interim at a less prestigious seminary. The principals cite lack of space. H. says it's a flimsy excuse, because they have not increased the number of classes. He believes that the only answer is for registration to be taken out of the principals' hands and given over to an independent, external (non-Haredi) entity, like the Ministry of Education.

So far no public agency has intervened to put a stop to this practice. About two years ago, a petition on the issue made its way to the Supreme Court, but the petitioners, a group of Mizrahi parents from B'nei Brak, restricted the petition to their own specific case. The high court did not render an opinion in principle with respect to the matter.

"We are acting as citizens who think the Ministry of Education cannot solve the problem of discrimination one instance at a time," says Attorney Neta Amar of ACRI, over whose signature a letter was sent to the ministry. The ministry's general response, she says, was that "it's impossible to prove discrimination here," adding that she "found that shocking, that a
government ministry agrees to keep silent about a racist policy."

Her letter demands that the ministry take steps to revoke the license of these seminaries or to oust their principals. The ministry is unlikely to
do either. The letter's importance is in exposing the religious and social apparatus behind the quotas. The director of Haredi education at Jerusalem
city hall, Benyamin Cohen, explained to Attorney Amar that Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, a leading Torah authority, is considered the heir of Rabbi
[Eliezer Menahem] Shach, who originally made the decision that the seminaries would accept at least 30 percent Mizrahi students.

Cohen claims this represents progress, because at one time the quota was 17 percent. Amar claims that setting a quota is "a kind of exercise they do, as if the rabbi is saying, `We'll take this racism thing one step at a time.'"

Cohen asserts that, by way of monitoring the seminaries' compliance with the quota, a committee of three rabbis was set up by Rabbi Eliashiv, consisting of Rabbi Yosef Efrati, Eliashiv's assistant and personal delegate, Rabbi Aryeh Dvir, his spokesman for seminary affairs, and one
Rabbi Reichman.

Double checks

The letter says: "The Haredi Education Department at the Jerusalem Municipality supervises and reports to the committee of rabbis on observance of the quota. At the department's request, each principal writes
alongside the name of each student at his institution whether she is Sephardi or Ashkenazi." Cohen added that he makes further checks as to the
girls' ethnic origin, to be on the safe side.

The application form for Haseminar Hayashan in Jerusalem asks candidates to state their parents' ethnic origins. H., the outraged grandfather, says
that last year, parents began falsifying their ethnicity by legally changing their surnames to Ashkenazi names.

"What does it have to do with the parents' ethnicity?" fumes B., a woman from the Lithuanian Jewish community who assists families wishing to have their daughters admitted to the seminaries. "It's hutzpah. Just because she's Sephardic, a girl should suffer? These girls must not be given the
feeling that they are outsiders."

In the Haredi community, some people say that admitting too many Mizrahi girls would be a stain on the seminary's good name, because they often have
relatives who are not Haredi.

One rabbi unblushingly explained to parents that the seminaries are really doing them a favor, because if Sephardi girls were accepted strictly on their merits, the quota wouldn't be even 15 percent.

The Haredi community views the committee as having been designed to filter the stream of parents coming to Rabbi Eliashiv, who is known to be against discrimination; the committee is not thought to have real influence on what the seminaries do. A story is circulating among the parents that one father, whose daughter was at home for more than a year, sat for three days in front of Rabbi Eliashiv's house and, miraculously enough, his daughter was accepted to the seminary.

A handwritten plea from Rabbi Efrati about the case of H., the grandfather with a Sephardi wife, to the seminary, shows how problematic the question is:
"Since it was agreed that, in the neutral [not Hassidic] classrooms, acceptance would match the percentage used at all the seminaries - the reckoning need not take a long time. It is impossible that the ancestral
origins of a young woman determine how someone's great-granddaughter be defined. Accordingly, I beg him to appoint someone to meet with the people
from Rabbi Benyamin Cohen's [the principal's] office to look into the matter and have an end to this. Please." The letter didn't help.

All rejected

Informally, if one of the seminaries is required to deviate from the agreement, the other principals will accept a similar number of Mizrahi girls at their own institutions. This year, the principals couldn't agree among themselves, and not a single one of the Mizrahi girls waiting
impatiently at home for a decision was accepted.

Attorney Amar believes that many people in the Haredi community, including the Ashkenazi sector, find the entire subject an embarrassment. Every parent worries that his daughter's standing in the marriage market will decline if she attends some other seminary, explains B., the woman who assists parents with the process, which is why other seminaries have lost so many good students.

The fact that some Haredi parents are turning to agencies that would once have been inconceivable, like ACRI and the Supreme Court, reflects the
beginnings of protest. Even B. confesses that she has simply given up.

"The funding for the seminaries should be cut off. In spite of everything, they receive government funds." She knows that she may be viewed with a
jaundiced eye by the seminary principals, and says that perhaps she'll send her daughters somewhere else to study.

As always in the Haredi community, whose members are experts at improvising survival strategies, there's already someone trying to circumvent the
problem. A former instructor at one of the seminaries has set up, in her own modest home in a Jerusalem neighborhood, an alternative seminary.

Last year, about twenty girls studied with her, of whom only a few were accepted at regular seminaries. Most paid her by the hour; others, unable to pay, studied for free. Although the teacher has only the highest praise for these students, she seems not to have made up her mind yet about the larger issue. Her own daughters have studied at one of the Bais Yaakov seminaries, which she considers the crown jewel of Haredi life. Her daughters, she emphasizes, don't look at all Sephardi. But, she says, she got them a Mizrahi tutor to bolster their confidence in their ethnic origins.

The Ministry of Education responds that it "rejects outright the allegation that it colludes with any sort of discriminatory policy toward girls of Mizrahi origin wishing to be accepted at recognized schools which are not official (Haredi) or at Haredi seminaries."

In the wake of the ACRI query, Ronit Tirosh, director-general of the ministry, has named two committees to look into allegations of discrimination. One will focus on official Haredi educational institutions, and the other on the seminaries(considered private).

"Every girl who is a student in the Haredi educational system has a place in one of the educational institutions in the city. The education system cannot provide a solution for a girl who decides to punish herself by remaining [at home] without an institutional framework."

Haseminar Hayashan alleges that it does everything possible "to redress past injustices with respect to the admission of girls from all ethnic groups," and that it will continue to conduct itself in the matter "in accordance with the instructions of the gedolei yisroel (ultra-Orthodox authorities) who oversee the seminary."

At 10:43 PM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...

Allegations of discrimination rock religious high school
March 10, 2003
The Jerusalem Post

Education Minister Limor Livnat and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai each announced Sunday that they had ordered an investigation of charges that the Zeitlin High School, a prominent religious Zionist school in Tel Aviv, is
discriminating against its Sephardi students.

Education Ministry Director-General Ronit Tirosh added that the supervisor she had assigned to probe the allegations has already made his first inspection of the school.

According to an article in Sunday's Yediot Aharonot, Zeitlin assigned its Ashkenazi and Sephardi students to separate classrooms, and even separate
buses on the annual class trip.

The principal of the school announced his resignation Sunday morning, following publication of the report, but rescinded it later in the day, Israel Radio reported.

National Religious Party MK Gila Finkelstein, until recently the principal of the 52-year-old school, fervently denied the charges.

"We are committed to integration, and 70 percent of our students are Mizrahi. That almost none of our students drop out is our greatest accomplishment. Because we accept everyone, we have to assign students to classes according to their level of knowledge," she told Educational TV's A New Evening.

Finkelstein noted that at least in regards to one specific charge raised in the article - that of the 40 girls compromisingt the
"Sephardi class" of Grade Zayin-6, only two were Ashkenazi - she had looked up the names and found that at least 10 are Ashkenazi.

A recent graduate described on the show how academic admission requirements are higher for Ashkenazi applicants.

One common complaint voiced by students both in the article and on the show was that treatment of Sephardi students who violate the dress code is much harsher - even humiliating - than it is for Ashkenazi violators.

by SURIE ACKERMAN; In Jerusalem reporter
October 26, 1990
The Jerusalem Post

Officials of the Agudat Yisrael-affiliated independent educational stream are vigorously denying claims made in the Knesset education committee last
week that their schools discriminate against Sephardim.

"This is just an example of the blind hatred against haredim," said Rabbi Shmuel Weinberg, assistant director of the independent educational stream
network. "We have 25,000 pupils from Sephardi backgrounds in our schools, and they have always studied with us. I don't think there's an institution in Israel that has done as much for the Sephardim as the independent
educational stream."

The Knesset discussion focused on schools in Bnei Brak, but some local haredim say that in Jerusalem, Sephardi girls are having increasing difficulty gaining entrance to Beit Ya'acov schools, run by the independent
educational stream.

According to city councillor Ben-Zion Kugler (Degel Hatora), Jerusalem Beit Ya'acov schools have always maintained a Sephardi "quota," ensuring that no more than 35 percent of the pupils in their schools come from Sephardi families. According to Kugler, the local situation was aggravated in 1989 when the Ger hassidim opened the Beit Ya'acov Hahassidi in Ezrat Tora, which in only its second year has attracted close to 1,000 pupils
affiliated with various hassidic groups.

Deputy mayor Meir Porush (Agudat Yisrael), who sends his daughters to Beit Ya'acov Hahassidi, explained that the Ger hassidim had opened the school in the wake of conflicts within schools, stemming from the Agudat Yisrael-Degel Hatora split before the 1988 elections. During the 1988-89 school year, Porush explained, "there were reports of fights between girls, and of teachers who were insulting the rabbis of the opposing group. It was decided to give hassidic girls their own framework."

But the sudden exit of so many Ashkenazi girls from various Beit Ya'acov schools in the city upset the Sephardi-Ashkenazi balance in these schools, Kugler explained. Thus, when Sephardim tried to apply there, they were refused entry, even in cases where they had older sisters in the schools,
he said.

Moreover, the Beit Ya'acov Hahassidi excludes Sephardi girls because of its policy that pupils must come from a hassidic background, forcing neighborhood Sephardim to register at Beit Ya'acov schools in adjacent
neighborhoods. These schools, including Beit Ya'acov Beit Yisrael and Beit Ya'acov of Mattersdorf, were reluctant to accept them, since they would
then exceed their Sephardi
"quota", Kugler said.

"The simplest solution would be for independent educational stream officials to force Beit Ya'acov Hahassidi to accept its share of Sephardim," Kugler said. "But they're afraid of Ger, which is now the strongest element in Agudat Yisrael."

Weinberg and other independent educational stream officials readily confirmed and even defended the existence of a per-school quota for Sephardim in the Beit Ya'acov schools. "When you talk about integration, does that mean letting the minority element suddenly become the majority?"
he asked. "That's not how integration works in the State systems."

Weinberg denied that the Beit Ya'acov Hahassidi school had an exclusionary policy. "Sephardi families usually don't identify with the hassidic approach and aren't even applying there," he said. He conceded, however,
that the school's opening had created registration problems and that the independent educational stream had ordered several Beit Ya'acov schools to raise their percentage of Sephardi registration to 40 or 45 percent.

Weinberg insisted that when the percentage of Sephardi girls in a school approaches 50 percent, the best of the Sephardi as well as Ashkenazi girls begin to leave.
"Most Sephardim don't want their girls studying in all-Sephardi schools," Weinberg said. "I don't know why that's so, but that's the reality."

As evidence, he cited the miniscule registration at a new Sephardi Beit Ya'acov his network had opened this year in Geula. Though the school had the backing of leading Sephardi sages, including former Sephardi Chief
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, only eight girls are attending the new school. This occurred despite the problems Sephardi parents encountered in registering their children elsewhere.

"If they are so convinced that the education in our regular schools is so much better, are we to blame?" Weinberg asked.

Sephardi sources view the situation differently. Moshe Nimni, Jerusalem Shas spokesman and assistant to Shas deputy mayor Nissim Ze'ev, cited the
long-standing quota system in the Beit Ya'acov schools as the main reason Ze'ev opened his N'vat Yisrael school for girls a decade ago. The school now has 500 girls in its elementary school, and can't expand until its new campus on Rehov Shmuel Hanavi is completed.

"Anyone who wants to study in an all-Sephardi school will go to N'vat Yisrael; we don't need the Ashkenazim to start a school for us," Nimni said, referring to the new Geula school. He denied that many Sephardi parents insist their girls go to Ashkenzi schools out of a sense of inferiority, but rather, "because they believe, on principle, that girls from all the groups should study together," he said.

Perhaps ironically, given his close ties with Ze'ev, Nimni sends his daughter to an Ashkenazi Beit Ya'acov. "They accepted her with no problem,"
he said.

At 4:50 AM, Anonymous Shmarya said...

Chabad, which has been better about taking Sefardim in its schools than many other haredim, refuses to take Ethiopian Jews in its schools even if they have been converted.See here:http://failedmessiah.typepad.com/failed_messiahcom/2004/10/chabad_schools_.html


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