March 6, 2016

Secular Classes

Sophie Goldman '19

For students at GOA, where learning Judaics and Hebrew alongside secular classes is an everyday occurrence, it might be a surprise that the Jewish state of Israel does not require many Jewish subjects in the state school curriculum.
Most students in the Israeli school system go to a secular state school or a religious state school and each school must follow a basic curriculum for secular subjects. Schools can add additional classes after meeting the curriculum standards, but this means students leave each school with two very different levels of Jewish knowledge.
Before coming to GOA as rishonim, Dotan Miller and Gili Shtibelman, both 18, graduated from secular state schools. Both felt content with the current system and with the education they received.
“I love that everyone has the option to choose what [type of school] they want,” said Shtibelman.
Miller also agreed, and said it is good to have a system where students can choose what suits their beliefs.
Rabbi Kallush, Director of Israel programming at GOA, also emphasized the importance of having different environments to host people’s ideals and expectations.
However, Kallush, who attended a religious state school, also has some concerns. She studied Judaism in a traditional and rigid setting, while Shtibelman and Miller were exposed to a limited, but more controversial view of Judaism.
She said that students in the system don’t learn half of the knowledge they should know about Judaism or the world and the system “raises ignorant kids.”
Freshman Theo Deitz­-Green also voiced some concerns about the system’s format.
“Israel’s public school system is good if you want a complete focus on Judaism or no focus on Judaism at all, but it lacks a middle ground,” he said.
It seems that even in the Jewish state, Israeli students do not feel worried about their Jewish education, and are happy to have a choice in what they learn.
For Miller, it’s a simple choice of preference between two schools. However, others such as Kallush have some hesitation about the harsh division found in Israeli state schools.

It is important for Israel’s schools to find the balance between a Jewish and secular education, while still giving students a comfortable environment for their needs. Until then, Israeli students from each school will live with two separate understandings of their Judaism and what it means to be Jewish in the Jewish state.

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