Thousands of elementary school pupils - boys and girls - from the public and public-religious school systems transfer each year to hareidi schools.
Thousands of elementary school pupils - boys and girls - from the public and public-religious school systems transfer each year to hareidi schools. So reports Ofrah Lax in the most recent edition of B'Sheva, although she admits that there are no hard figures. "It is estimated that there are dozens of [new hareidi] schools and nurseries throughout the country," she writes, "and tens of thousands of children who have learned and are learning in them."
Behind the initiative are two of the leading rabbis in the hareidi sector, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, who decided several years ago that manpower and other resources must be utilized to transfer as many students as possible out of the secular school network. "As it stands now," said Chaim HaLevy, of the Lev L'Achim [Heart to Brothers] association, which is responsible for the enlisting and registration of new students, "the students [in the other schools] are interested only in sex and violence; they are brainwashed. We want to provide them with an alternative."
Lev L'Achim works with 800 permanent employees, and thousands of volunteers take part in once-a-year registration drives. They go from door to door, asking parents if they wish to sign up their children in what they call the "Torani" schools. "Those who are not interested," HaLevy says, "say so, and that's the end of that. But many people are very willing - mostly second-generation children of immigrants from Morocco, Yemen, and Tunisia They themselves left the path of Torah, but when they get married and have children, their 'childhood lessons' re-awaken, they remember the atmosphere they had when they were growing up... They are the hard-core of those who send their children to these schools."
A major issue is what the schools demand of the parents. Ephraim Factor, a Lev L'Achim district coordinator, is straightforward: "After the child begins learning with us, we hold a series of lectures for the parents, as well as a weekend, on Jewish topics. The goal is not to create a conflict between the child and his parents, nor to keep a child in a religious framework and have the parents remain in the same place. The parents, in fact, usually want to 'advance' as well." Some of those who don't want to 'advance,' of course, "take their children out of the school as soon as they see it's not for them." However, "even families who have not 'advanced' are very happy," Factor says.