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Israel’s ‘expendable’ students

An experimental high school saves the kids who fail elsewhere -- the Education Ministry is forcing it to close

Moti was thrown out of five schools before he arrived at Yeshivat Bnei Chayil. By the time he walked through the door of this experimental religious high school in Jerusalem, he had amassed a grab-bag of medical diagnoses, including behavior disorder and bi-polar disorder.  He was described as anti-social and extremely violent.

Bnei Chayil was different. Rather than passing in and out of this, his sixth school, Moti stayed. And stayed. Six full years. He went on to serve in an IDF combat unit, successfully complete training in IDF’s prestigious officer’s school, and to marry. Today, Moti is studying for his masters degree.

This story of life-saving success has been repeated innumerable times since Bnei Chayil was founded 22 years ago. But recently, every teacher employed at the school — which specializes in educating students with attention deficit issues, hyperactivity and other associated disorders — received notice that their contracts are being discontinued. Indeed, if promised budgetary support from Israel’s Ministry of Education is not transferred to the school by next week, Bnei Chayil will be forced to close its doors — a tragedy for the students, their families, and Israeli society as a whole.

“How much money does the State of Israel spend for the rehabilitation of people who are alcoholics, or become addicted to drugs?” asked Dr. Rabbi Stuart (Simcha) Chesner, founder and President of Bnei Chayil, in an impassioned letter addressed jointly to Minister of Education Naftali Bennet and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon. “Simple arithmetic proves that an educational institution that prevents at-risk youth from falling into despair will save the country millions of shekels every year.”

Chesner goes on to say that the root of the crisis is an inflexible bureaucracy, unable to deal with a school that — like its students — falls between the cracks.

“The money that our school needs to pay our teachers’ salaries has already been promised to the school, according to an agreement hammered out together with the governmental authorities,” Chesner says. He added that the agreement was signed based on the school’s track record of successful intervention with troubled students, as well as its unique learning programs, which have been adopted by special education institutions around Israel and abroad. However, Chesner says, the promised budgetary support never materialized.

“We were supposed to receive funding, but for months, we’ve heard excuses — nothing has moved forward,” Chesner says. “It has reached the point that the Ministry of Education owes us more than two million shekels. The Director of Tzvia — the Israeli educational framework under which Bnei Chayil operates — says that he has never seen an agreement violated in this way.”

In his letter to Ministers Bennet and Kahlon, Chesner calls for high-level involvement to break the bureaucratic bottle-neck that threatens Bnei Chayil’s existence.

“The Ministry of Education demanded that we re-define the yeshiva so that it is closer to its idea of what a ‘special education’ institution should look like, and we’ve complied,” Chesner says. “Now, the Ministry is not honoring its basic commitments to fund the school — something that will certainly force this school to close.”

“We are very small fish in a large educational pond,” Chesner writes. “But it is inconceivable that a school that makes such a significant contribution should be destroyed because of bureaucratic indifference.”

According to Chesner, it is not just the future of the school that hangs in the balance — it is the long-term future of the school’s students, as well as their families.

“At Yeshivat Bnei Chayil, we believe that ADHD teens, as well as those suffering from other types of learning disabilities, need to be given the skills needed to become what they are — treasured members of the Jewish people,” Chesner says. “We are experts at helping our students overcome their challenges. With God’s help, and with the help of our alumni and friends, we’ll overcome these bureaucratic challenges as well.”

For more information about Yeshivat Bnei Chayil contact Dr. Chesner at ADHD.matara@gmail.com.

About the Author
Sandy Cash is a US-born, Israel-based songwriter. To find out more about her music, visit www.sandycash.com.
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