Israeli network gives pluralistic option

jerusalem | The fourth-grader in pigtails pores over a page of Mishnah, shooting her hand in the air in response to the teacher’s question — on how Jewish tradition was passed from generation to generation.

In other classrooms at the Frankel School in Jerusalem’s French Hill neighborhood, second-graders are learning Rosh Hashanah songs for the school’s holiday assembly, and first graders are learning how to read.

The school, built in 1976, was the first of the increasingly popular school network called TALI — the Hebrew abbreviation for Enhanced Jewish Studies. These schools, part of the secular public school system, are modeled in part on the North American day school system, where students receive both a Jewish and a general education.

The TALI schools now serve 20,000 students in its 70 preschools and 50 other schools. They were founded by North American immigrants disappointed that it was impossible to find Israeli schools providing a pluralistic Jewish education.

Their only option at the time was either to send children to a religious school with an Orthodox outlook or to a secular school where little Jewish learning or practice was taking place.

Most of TALI’s annual budget of $1.6 million comes from North American Jews, among them many from the Conservative movement, which helps support TALI.

Shoshana Jadidi sent all three of her children to the Frankel School. “It is a school with a traditional outlook and at home we observe the holidays and kashrut. What they learn here we follow up on at home,” she said. “Orthodox state schools are not the right fit for us, they are too stringent.”