Sorry this week is so heavy on the aliyah/Karmiel topic – but a couple of days ago I learned that two American families will be moving here from the US very soon, and just got another email from someone considering Karmiel last night. Though I thought this information wouldn’t be of practical use to anyone for a while and wasn’t planning to post on this issue for a few more months, I realized it’s important to get it up now.
I think that my perspective on the schools is somewhat unique because I have children in each of the schools (I don’t know of anyone else who does), so I’m going to share my personal experience rather than theorize about each school.
There are two charedi boys’ school options in Karmiel: the Talmud Torah (known as the cheder), and Amichai. They are both located in the Dromit neighborhood, less than a ten minute walk from each other.
The Talmud Torah was formed several years ago by kollel families who wanted a classic charedi education for their boys. Until that point, all the families sent their sons to Amichai; once they started the new school, all the local families switched them over. (Amichai also has a girls’ school, and all the charedi families still send there.) They are both very good schools with an excellent staff, but have different advantages and inherently different focuses on education which I’ll try to elaborate on.
As part of the discussion about the specifics of the schools, it’s important to understand what a classic charedi education means in Israel. In the charedi boys’ schools, there is an intense focus on Torah studies; a pure Torah lifestyle is the ideal. Correspondingly, there will be anywhere from minimal to nonexistent secular subjects taught . (The secular subjects at the Talmud Torah consist of Jewish history, Nach/Prophets, geography, science – I use the term lightly – and math). Because there is a primary focus on a pure Torah lifestyle, this leads to a desire for insularity from the outside world as much as possible.
The expectation is that these boys will continue on to a Torah only high school yeshiva, where they will continue on to full-time Torah studies for the foreseeable future. When I commented to another parent about the abysmal math standard for the eighth graders, she said, “So what? They’re never going to need it again.” That’s a typical response, and if they pursue full-time Torah learning for the rest of their lives, it’s quite possible that basic math will be more than adequate – honestly, I’ve hardly had a need for higher level math after high school, other than homeschooling my high schoolers!
Boys in this system generally do not serve in the army or go to college, and will marry women who will work to support the family while they are engaged in full-time Torah studies. If they work at some point in the future (as eventually most people will have to), it’s likely to be in the Jewish education field or to start their own business. Due to the strong push towards long-term Torah study, working is considered very much a less than ideal option. (How major a factor this is, isn’t at all reflected in the one sentence I just allotted.)
Since the school isn’t run according to government academic standards, they receive less funding so the tuition is higher than in schools that meet the academic standards. Currently this is 380 shekels a month. In the early years the school hours are comparable to Amichai, but as they get older, the hours get longer and longer; boys in the seventh and eighth grade return home at about 5:30.
My ds12 is in this school, and has a wonderful rebbe (teacher), and though I haven’t met many staff members, those I met were very nice. I’m saying the following to be descriptive, not as a criticism: the attitude on the part of the administration is that your child needs to fit into their structure, they are not there to accommodate you. (This is why I had to advocate so much for the concessions that I wanted for my son in this school.)
The Israeli government recognizes the educational needs of immigrant children to have tutoring in Hebrew in order for them to integrate, and has allocated a budget for this. There is government funding for every immigrant child to receive a given number of hours for tutoring during school hours. At the Talmud Torah, they didn’t want to apply for this until I insisted, and I still will have to follow up with them to see what’s happening with the paperwork because it’s not a priority to the school if this goes through or not. It’s your problem if your child doesn’t speak the language, and it’s your business to hire a private tutor. My feeling was that they felt they were doing me a favor to accept my son and allow him to sit in class for hours every day. For the parents of an immigrant child, it might be challenging to have to work so hard to get services that in other schools are automatically taken care of for you.
The school schedule is set according to a kollel schedule rather than a typical school schedule. They have vacation three times a year, for Sukkos, Pesach, and three weeks in the summer. For Chanukah, ds12 had two days off instead of a week like our other kids. There are clear expectations of the boys and to a degree, what they do in their free time is dictated. For this reason, when the Israel Baseball Association called us to recruit ds12 for their team in the north (they play twice a week), I didn’t even entertain the idea – it would absolutely not be allowed by his school. When a famous rabbi came to speak and accepted questions from the audience (it was a mixed crowd of secular and religious Jews) about Judaism, some boys from this school were in the audience, and a note came home from school afterward that this wasn’t acceptable and future attendance of events should only be with the school’s specifically stated approval. This school has a homogeneous student and parent body, and is the choice in Karmiel for charedi families.
Now on to the Amichai school. Amichai is an unusual school that you will rarely find in Israel, and the Karmiel community is very fortunate to have an option like this right in our city. Schools here are usually black or white, this or that. Amichai also has an entirely charedi administration, and was founded by Rav Margalit, the head of the kollel as well as a number of other educational institutions. His attitude is one of inclusion, and so students from differing religious backgrounds are not only accepted but welcomed. This makes for a heterogeneous parent and student body.
I don’t know what the overall percentage of the parent body in the school is charedi, but I’ve gone through the class list in my ds9’s fourth grade class with both his teacher and principal separately and fifty percent of the families are charedi; most of these families live outside of Karmiel. He has one student in his class who comes from a home that isn’t religious, but the parents value a religious education. The rest are religious but not charedi.
This varying range of backgrounds that students come from is clearly an issue for a family for whom insularity is a primary value – they are concerned their child will hear or see something inappropriate from classmates who may have the internet or a television, which is a legitimate concern. I have a radical attitude that I very openly share – basically, I feel it’s a value for a child to know how to navigate the wider world that we all live in, and that there are more dangers in insularity than in careful and guided exposure. The last couple of people I discussed this with happened to be teachers and they literally couldn’t think of anything to say in response to me since they’ve never heard a perspective like this, apparently.
Amichai follows government academic standards, which means that there are secular studies (including English language study), and also includes classes such as music, art, and computers. The school day is shorter – the eighth graders finish three days a week at 3:15, and twice a week at 1:30. (Friday is early dismissal at all the schools.) This means that there are less hours for Torah study than at the Talmud Torah, and combined with the increased hours spent on secular studies, students at Amichai are generally are less advanced in their Torah skills when they graduate eighth grade.
My thought is that a parent has to supplement privately if they want their child to be comparable in ability to the students at the Talmud Torah, but I don’t have a son in the upper grades at Amichai so I’m making a statement based on what I’ve heard – but not my personal experience. The secular subjects are obviously much stronger than at the Talmud Torah, so they are more advanced in that area. The boys from this school go on to a variety of schools. The principal told me that fifty percent of their graduating class this past year went on to Torah only high schools. The others went on to high schools that combined Torah studies and secular studies.
Since they recognize the diversity of their student body, they work with every child as much as they can. They want the boys to enjoy coming to school, and for learning to be a pleasurable experience. They aren’t set up to handle special needs students, but if there’s a challenge, will try to work with the parent and child to help him succeed. For example, the principal immediately got ds9 started with a personal tutor long before the funding from the government came through, because he felt it was imperative that he get language help immediately. Ds9 has been staying to himself socially, and his teacher has called me several times to tell me how he’s trying to include him, and suggested he brings a game from home to share with the other boys. He’s a busy man with many students but he’s made the time to initiate contact with us several times. A large number of teachers as well as the secretarial staff at Amichai speak English, which is helpful for a student who can’t express himself yet in Hebrew.
Since their school hours are shorter, it allows the students downtime as well as time for hobbies. (Some people would prefer that their children are out of the house more hours rather than fewer, and wouldn’t see the increased time at home as a positive thing.) Being that the tuition is about 70 – 150 shekels a month (depending on the grade), a parent has room left in the budget for private lessons or supplemental tutoring, if that’s something he would like to do. To me, the increased time with family and decreased time with peers is a hugely important advantage, because of the developmental and emotional benefits to a child.
I can’t believe how many hours it’s taken me to write and edit and re-edit this post. Usually I don’t even want to spend this much time on an article that I’d be paid for! I’ve really tried to fairly represent both schools, as well as their advantages and disadvantages. As I said in the beginning, both schools are good choices, but the issue is to match the priorities of the parents (along with the needs/personality of the child) with the strengths of the school.
Did you find this helpful and informative? Is there something glaringly obvious that I left out? If you had a choice between the two, does one of the schools sound like the place you would choose, and why?