In defence of educational pluralism

Plu·ral·ism [ploor-uh-liz-uhm]

Noun – A theory that there is more than one basic substance or principle.

My name is Miriam Lakin, and I’m 21 years old. I live and daven in Ra’anana and in 2011, I graduated in the sixth high school class at Meitarim Ra’anana. I want to share my perspective as a graduate of a pluralistic high school where religious, secular and traditional students can all receive a Jewish education together.

My family made aliyah to Ra’anana when I was 11. I went (ready for this?) to a total of three religious all girl schools – Ariel School for sixth grade, Ulpanat Tzvia in Herzliyah for seventh and eighth, and moved to Amit Renanim for a brief period, before a teacher’s strike disrupted the start of ninth grade. During the strike, after almost a month of not going to school, my mom suggested trying out Meitarim. I was not a very religious kid (or, “dosit” as they’re called here), but for some reason, I was against it. After a lot of back and forth, I soon found myself in the lobby of Meitarim, being introduced to a girl my age who would be my “buddy” for the day.

As we climbed the stairs up to the classrooms, we bumped into a boy who was also our age. The girl introduced us and the boy, politely, held out his hand for a shake. So there I was, in a sweatshirt and a knee-length jean skirt (because since my Jewish day school days, and up until then, that’s all I could wear), staring at this kid’s hand. I wasn’t shomer negiya, but no boy I knew had ever wanted to shake my hand. Nevertheless, not wanting to be rude, I shook his hand.

I spent the rest of that day at Meitarim, and the day was full of things I had never experienced. In the morning, students had a choice of going to religious davening, egalitarian davening, or a discussion on current events. Never in my life did I have the option of not going to davening, so naturally, I took advantage and went to discuss current events (Also, I had no idea what “egalitarian” meant). The school and the classes were so small, that the eighth and ninth grade English classes were combined and taught together. Everyone knew each other, and got along. A few days later, I was enrolled; and it was goodbye giant classes where teachers failed me because they mistook me for another girl, and hello, not ever being left behind again.

As I said, Meitarim is a pluralistic school. Out of the 18 kids in my graduating class, not even half were shomer Shabbat. In the years that I was in school (and still every now and then), friends of mine and my parents from my community were very bothered by the entire idea of the school. I would get questions like, “How do you hang out with each other?” or “Doesn’t it bother you that they aren’t religious?” and sometimes I would simply just get that disapproving nod. But the fact was that it didn’t bother me at all.

It didn’t bother me that during a Tanach lesson one time, a girl in my class slammed her hands down on the table and said that she simply didn’t believe any of it. Never in my life had I been in a Tanach lesson, let alone any lesson, where a student had done such a thing. I was shocked. And when the teacher calmly responded and asked what she did believe, that is when I realized what a unique school I had joined. If someone had done that at Tzvia — well, let’s not even get into that.

When it came to hanging out with friends, we got along just fine. If we were all meeting up at a park or someone’s house on Friday night, I didn’t care if my friends had their phones with them, if they drove there, or if the girls were wearing jeans; and they didn’t care that their options for activities didn’t include going to the movies, or that they couldn’t put on music. The bottom line was that even though we came from different backgrounds and had different views, everyone was respectful of each other.

One of the things I really loved about Meitarim was something that didn’t even affect me at all. Unfortunately, in every class, at every school, there is always that weird kid who no one really talks to. No, don’t shake your head, or say I’m wrong, because as much as you don’t want to admit it, you know it’s true. Within my first two weeks at Meitarim I noticed something else different- those kids didn’t exist. And that’s not because the weird kids were non-existent; it’s because everyone had a friend, everyone. Even the weird kids. Can you say that about your school? I doubt it.

So why am I telling you all of this? I’ve wanted to write something like this for quite some time. As I said, I have been asked many questions about my school over the years. I have also listened to kids and parents make rude remarks about the school, simply because it’s different. And it is. You can sense it the minute you step foot onto the sidewalk in front of Meitarim.

It’s a tiny refurbished office building, with a couch in the lobby. It is home to about 120 students, from seventh to twelfth grade, all from different places, backgrounds, and ethnicities. You may hear sounds ranging from an eighth grade music ensemble practicing for a performance, to the sound of one of the best movies of all time being screened to students studying film as a major in their final years of schooling. As a girl, you can go to religious shacharit, sit on the other side of the mechitza, and listen to Torah reading; or you can go upstairs and get an Aliya in the egalitarian minyan. The school’s faculty, (who, much like its students, also come from all different backgrounds) help create an environment like no other, both educationally and in socially. There is never a dull moment, and never a time when you can’t learn something new and different.

After high school, I did a year of Sheirut Leumi (National Service) and I am currently finishing up the first semester of my first year at Levinsky College of Education in Tel Aviv where I am studying Early Childhood Education. Having graduated from a school as different and unique as Meitarim, and being out in the real world, I am proud to say that I see the world with open eyes and an open mind. Had I have stayed in an all-girls religious high school; I know I would not be able to say the same thing. I think everyone, and definitely every kid needs to learn about differences. Meitarim provides that chance.

About the Author
Ra'anana resident Miriam Lakin is studying early childhood education at Levinsky College in Ramat Aviv. She made aliyah with her family in 2004 from Cleveland, Ohio.
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