Israels crisis must not affect our daughters education

Two-and-a-half years ago my husband Marc and I moved back to Israel with our two daughters, now 4 and 7, after nearly 13 years abroad. Neither of us was born here, we both immigrated in 1982 (from South Africa and the United States) and met during our undergraduate studies at Hebrew University.

In the summer of 1998, our dream of returning came true. By all outside measures our return to Israel has been an unquestioned success. My husband is in senior management and works closely with Israel's high-tech community, and I am an associate at a prominent Tel Aviv law firm. Together we earn well, live well and have slowly rebuilt our lives here.

But in all likelihood this summer we will be returning to live in New York. The reason can be summed up in two words: the education. Of our girls, that is. As painful as it is for us to say these words, neither of us can bring ourselves to allow our daughters to pay the price for our decision to live in Israel.

Both of us were raised with the good, old-fashioned Jewish diaspora belief that nothing is more important than giving your children a good education. That it is the parents' obligation to sacrifice everything in order to provide the best possible education that they can for their children. And so, with heavy hearts, it seems that we must return to New York.

For the past two years we have done all we can to try to find the school that we believed must surely exist here in Israel. A school that is not overcrowded, reinforces the values that we strive to instill in our children at home, and provides more than the very minimum "three R's." A school where our children will study beyond 12:45 p.m. every day. A school where the teachers and students treat each other with mutual respect and where the children are also taught to respect one another.

A school where pushing, shoving, biting and hitting are not received with a wag of the finger, but one where there is zero tolerance for violence. A school where our children will learn, not only to love and respect their Jewish heritage but also that there is more than one way to pray, to express their commitment to Judaism and to contribute to their people. A school that teaches tolerance and instills a love of learning.

Sadly, we have come up empty-handed. It is possible that if we were to compare the academic knowledge that our girls would acquire at school here compared to the United States, there might not be a whole lot of difference between them. After all, we have been told that high schools in Israel typically go a long way to compensate for the dismal performance of elementary and middle schools. But we are not willing to wait all those years in order to find out.

Furthermore, here, our girls can expect to receive a bare-bones academic education with absolutely no exposure during school hours to anything broader. No competitive sports, which are widely recognized today as critical to the development of a healthy self-image among teenage girls. No activities designed to broaden the mind beyond the core curriculum, such as chess, art or learning to play a musical instrument. No debating society, no choir, band or any other similar activities.

But most important, no love of learning. Just a gray building and teachers who are paid abysmally and forced to strike every year in a vain effort to achieve some recognition by society of the valuable task with which they are entrusted. The purpose of this article is not to cast blame. After all, successive governments, both Likud and Labor, have failed to make education a priority.

Many doves believed that if they could only bring peace to Israel everything else would fall into place. A laudable goal. But what if they are wrong and peace takes another one, five or even 20 years? By that time it will have been too late for my children and for tens of thousands of others who will have lost an opportunity that can never be restored. Perhaps the skills can be acquired later in life, but not everyone will have that opportunity to make up for lost time, and even those who do will never fully replace the lost education in the broader sense.

And to Sharon's government: For 50 years education has fallen victim to the national preoccupation with security. Understandable perhaps, but no longer acceptable. There is no excuse for continuing to focus on one issue at the expense of the other. The time for not just talking about it, but actually making education a top priority is now! So unless we discover that elusive school between now and this summer, we will continue in New York to imbue our daughters with the same love of Israel that we learned in our Zionist youth movements when we were children. And who knows, one day they may return to live here as adults.

It is to be hoped, by then, their children will be able to get a better education than is available now.