Charedi boys’ school options in Karmiel

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?


14 thoughts on “Charedi boys’ school options in Karmiel

  1. Hi Avivah, You stated that you value a less insular environment and a pretty decent degree of secular skills, yet you’ve chosen the insular charedi Talmud Torah? Do you plan to switch gears? Do you hope your son will marry a Kollel wife who will work full-time to support them? If not, how do you explain the dichotomy to your son? Just curious. I trust you’ve thought it through. Mazel Tov on your recent simcha with ds12.

    1. So the question is, why did I send ds12 to this school when it doesn’t seem like such a good fit with some of what I value? I started responding but this got so long that it turned into a post of its own, so I’m going to post separately, okay?

      1. I don’t feel it’s a good time for a post on the topic – although the post has been written, I decided to leave it for now and respond here.

        The choice to go the cheder was made by ds12 after he met a few boys’ from there and that was what pushed him to go to school – we were planning to continue homeschooling him. The most important thing in the beginning is social integration, and having three other English speakers in his class (I think this is the only class in either of the schools that has this many) was a big plus.

        Also, there aren’t many boys his age that go to the other school locally. Again, this was a social choice. For ds9, he’ll have time to develop relationships before he gets to this age, but for ds12 I couldn’t take a long term view socially, and being in the same school as most other boys in the neighborhood was a helpful thing.

        I wasn’t concerned about the negatives because of his age – he won’t be spending long in this school, and his value system is already pretty much formed. And of course, he doesn’t speak Hebrew. He’s spoken to me about the differences, and is more open to discussing things I’ve referenced in the past because he sees this is a different kind of reality.

        Also, the teacher for this particular class is unusually good, and a combination of an excellent teacher and good friends sounded like a formula for as smooth a transition as we could hope for.

        But – as of now we have no plans to send our other boys to the cheder. Amichai is a much better fit for Anglos and their goals.

        I’ve talked to my kids for years about the importance of being financially responsible and not looking to others to take care of you. These values are what he’s grown up with. He’ll make the choices he wants when he gets older, but I hope to be able to position him academically and socially to be in a situation where this is normal.

        You can’t imagine how difficult this is here – there’s no question that we’re going to have to make big compromises about high schools, and our issue is to determine what is we are willing to compromise on. I’ve looked at a number of high school options, and every single one so far is going to necessitate a painful compromise.

  2. “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.”

    Can you please explain this to me? I keep hearing that anything physical is forbidden in the charedi world- riding bikes, playing ball games. Why?

    1. It’s not accurate that nothing physical is allowed – the boys play ball at every recess and sometimes arrange games on their own during their free time! And we brought along three bikes with us; bikes are certainly fine.

      The reason it would be a problem is that a) the league isn’t comprised of only religious boys, and b) official sports aren’t considered in the same way as casual playground games, so they are heavily discouraged. The issue isn’t physical activity as much as getting involved in activities that tend to turn into their own religion, like organized sports. I’m not saying I agree (obviously not, since my oldest two boys are fantastic baseball players who each have a collection of trophies they’ve been awarded!), but in a nutshell, this is the concern about it.

  3. For me, I think to tell my children not do something because “they may turn it into a religion” will only create a negative self view…of someone who is really weak. I would much rather give my children a chance to view themselves as someone who is strong. Aizeh hu gibor… I think by forbidding certain activities, it makes a person see him/her self as weak. The question then to me is: how can one help their child maintain a balance with the world around them and what the Torah life proscribes?

    1. Dahlia, I agree that forbidding activities means changing how they look at themselves as well as the challenges. I try to empower our children – not that I’m always successful, but that’s the direction I strive for.

  4. This was a very informative and interesting post. I hope that prospective olim get a chance to read your thoughts and hopefully make informed decisions. Glad to hear so many good things coming from you and your family. :)

  5. Learning or playing games? Depending on the age and the learning opportunities after school I would think that most parents and children would deal with this situation of playing organized sports on an individual decision. A quick question to my son who loves baseball.( his coach is very upset to see him leave JCC baseball) If you could play in a baseball league or have an organized learning program after school learning Gammara, what would you choose? At first he asked ” they have baseball?, what kind of learning program? I said a tutor.. His reply “learning program” instead or baseball. He is 12. We do not have any kind of after school learning program here, He has been doing the the Daf Yomi on a consistent basis, but I know he wants more, and I do not want him learning from an internet site by himself like by Rabbi Eli Mansour. I am thankful that my children have really internalized the teachings that our local Jewish school has provided. As well as his Rebbe’s and neighbors. We both hope to merit to learn and teach each other both of our skills improve. So yes I hope to put together a learning program for boys in Gammara for Olem who right now are translating into English.( if there isn’t already one!)

    1. I don’t think I was clear. If you send your child to the cheder, you can’t make your own individual choice.

      It’s wonderful that your son enjoys learning so much! I wonder if your son’s choice will be the same after an intensive day of limudei kodesh. Many boys need a change of pace in order to continue with this challenging pace. I’m fortunate that my older boys are strong learners, but it’s very clear to me that particularly my oldest wouldn’t be the way he is if we had put him into the typical framework that pushes so much, so soon. Too many boys burn out quickly and become jaded and are just going through the motions. So when he got more into it at a slightly older age, he had a freshness and desire that was unusual to see that people were always commenting on. (And asking about – the father of four older boys once said, “Why do I have to meet a homeschooled boy to see the qualities that we want to see in all of our students? Meaning, he had seen many friends of his sons over the years, and not seen it in any of them, so the contrast was striking and disturbing to him; disturbing because he felt something was wrong with the system that it was so unusual to see a boy like that.)

      It’s so nice that you’re already thinking about how to contribute to the community – what a wonderful thing to do!

  6. Time will only tell, he will have a lot of learning and Hebrew tutoring at first. A long day of not knowing what is going on in class will be hard. My wife and I are not expecting too much from him or any of our children, except to get use to the language. We wanted to come mid year so they can start hearing the language and adapting so that , so in Sept after 6 months we hope they will have picked up enough Hebrew to have a fresh start of the year and know what is going on. We love being evolved, and one way to get involved is to see what need’s are not being met. We don’t like to step on peoples toes, and like to help with the existing infrastructure. This blog fills a great need for many people, who just read it and have never made a comment. I am sure you have many fans that choose not to chime in! Thank you

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