As an Oleh, I’m used to being asked why I moved to Israel. Whether it was in the army, at work, or in my studies Israelis I met wanted to know what could possibly have motivated me to leave the United States and make Aliyah. After informing my Israeli friends that the streets of America are not in fact paved with gold, I explained that Jewish schools in America are very expensive and also tend not to provide a quality Jewish education.
I know this because I don’t feel like I received a good Jewish education, a function of the lack of Jewish school options where I grew up. For the privilege of having me attend a Jewish high school with optional Hebrew classes and limited Jewish studies, my parents paid an exorbitant sum. They did so because there was no alternative Jewish high school in the area and my parents valued providing their children with a Jewish education. I also value giving my children a Jewish education, but I want to be able to choose which Jewish school they will attend. As a result, I decided to make Aliyah so that my children could receive a quality Jewish education.
Having lived in Israel for the past 5 years I can confidently state that my children will receive a Jewish education, but I probably should have checked before moving what the quality of that education would be. From friends of mine, who had made Aliyah in middle and high school, I knew that Israeli schools were to put it nicely, undisciplined. Upon arriving in the country I became acquainted with the yearly teacher strike and the resulting uncertainty of when the school year will start. While living on Kibbutz Lavi during my army service I learned by talking to the children of my adopted family that students in grade 12 didn’t attend school, and that school attendance for all students was more of a suggestion than a requirement. Without having seen test score results or other forms of hard data I wasn’t able to appreciate the extent of the dysfunction in the Israeli education system. Recently I was forced to face the facts, as Israel’s scores on the international PISA 2018 exam came out and they were pretty terrible. In every subject Israel scored below average, a yearslong trend which has not only failed to improve but has in fact gotten worse.
Fortunately, a change has already been made that will lead to the improvement of Israel’s education system. It hasn’t been a reform initiated by the Ministry of Education such as the 2009 Ofek Hadash reform, which sought to raise teachers’ salaries, or even the decision to open magnet schools as part of the implementation of “Regulated Choice”. Rather it was made at the local level in Jerusalem by Nir Barkat in 2009. Nir Barkat, the then-mayor, decided that students should have the freedom to choose to attend any school in the entire city. In contrast to the Ministry of Education which believes that it can determine what is best for all the students in Israel, the Jerusalem Education Administration admits that it is neither all-knowing nor all-powerful. It doesn’t know which school is the best for each student or even what that school should look like. The Jerusalem Education Administration also acknowledges that its abilities are limited; that resources dedicated to failing schools come at the expense of expanding or replicating successful schools. The regression of Israel’s PISA scores, which has occurred in the wake of major reforms initiated by the Ministry of Education, leads to the indisputable conclusion that the State of Israel needs a fundamental change in its education system. The time has come for the Israeli Department of Education to abandon its pretense of being all-knowing and to implement nationwide the educational policy of its capital city, Jerusalem.
I made Aliyah because I wanted to give my children a Jewish education, by adopting the right policies we can ensure that they will receive a quality one.