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Board cuts funding for Jewish Studies at non-Jewish remedial schools

  • Magen David
The South African Board of Jewish Education (SABJE) has cut funding for Jewish Studies classes at non-denominational remedial schools, citing the costs of funding its new remedial school, King David Ariel, as the reason.
by GILLIAN KLAWANSKY | Dec 13, 2018

Bellavista is able to absorb costs, meaning Jewish Studies classes will continue there. Yet Crossroads lacks the resources to do so, meaning parents will now be charged for lessons.

Angry Crossroads mothers are voicing their discontent. Says Shereen Sheer, “My assumption is that the SABJE is meant to look after the interests of all Jewish kids, not just King David kids. I think it’s a disgrace for a rabbi to suggest that in order for our kids to get a Jewish education, they have to go to Ariel.

“The Jewish community is very strong at Crossroads, and the school has always supported our beliefs. We need our kids to have access to yiddishkeit.”

Rabbi Craig Kacev, the General Director of the SABJE, explains the decision. “We initiated and provided these Jewish Studies classes over the years because we felt that was our ‘in-reach’ Jewish community initiative. We knew that we didn’t have the capital for our own remedial offering, so we funded teaching in these schools as far as they allowed us to.”

Yet, with King David Ariel opening its doors this year and more than doubling in size to accommodate 76 kids in 2019 in classes up to Grade 4, the SABJE’s focus has shifted. “Now, we believe we’ve responded to the community with a huge investment. There’s no way that a school like that is going to run at break-even point for many years,” says Kacev. “A remedial offering for Jewish kids with full-time Hebrew and Jewish Studies teachers is a huge investment for us. That’s what’s informed our decision to fully invest in that offering for the Jewish community so it gets off its feet successfully.”

King David parents have been paying to help fund teachers at remedial schools for the past eight years, says Kacev. “The SABJE is an umbrella association of the Jewish schools. It doesn’t have any of its own independent funding. All funding comes from King David schools. Now that King David has its own remedial school, it wouldn’t be correct to move that funding out of that environment.”

Addressing concerns that remedial kids above Grade 4 can’t go to Ariel, Kacev says, “That’s okay in the sense that we’ve managed to create a good mind shift at Crossroads and Bellavista. They’d never paid for it, they’d never done anything towards it, other than making space.

“Those schools have now recognised that they should be offering something at their own cost to help their Jewish kids, not just accept somebody else bringing in teachers and paying for them.”

Crossroads’ Jewish Studies classes have formed part of its extra-mural offerings, many of which are already paid for by parents. “Depending on the term, 20 to 30 children attend the Jewish Studies classes,” says Crossroads Principal Val Witt. “Two half-hour classes are offered for the different age groups – foundation phase and senior phase.”

Rabbi Azriel Uzvolk and his wife Laia teach these classes. “Classes have been received positively by kids and parents,” says Rabbi Uzvolk. “Sometimes it’s necessary to put a child in a remedial school, and it shouldn’t take away from a positive exposure to Judaism.”

Mom Elise Levin speaks of the value of being able to expose all her kids to Jewish Studies, with both her son at Crossroads and daughter at King David bringing home menorahs, for example. “Children at Bellavista and Crossroads aren’t different, they feel the same, they still feel part of the community, even though they’re at a non-Jewish school.

“I can’t take my son to Ariel, they don’t have his grade. Even for parents of younger kids, to put them somewhere else when you’ve finally got them happy, isn’t easy.”

“Crossroads parents have been given the option of continuing at a cost,” says Uzvolk. “This comes with a message to them that no kid will be turned away if they can’t afford the lessons.” If 20 or more kids decide to continue, classes will be about R570 per learner per term. With less than 20, the price will increase.

Witt put this option to parents in a newsletter. Eighteen responded, with 15 indicating they’d love to attend the classes, and three not wanting to attend. “Eight out of the 15 indicated that they were willing to pay for this, whilst the rest said they didn’t want to, or weren’t in a position to pay,” says Witt. “Presently Crossroads isn’t able to fund Jewish Studies..”

“School fees are crippling enough,” says Crossroads’ mother Carla Gruskin. “When my son joined Crossroads this year from a religious Jewish day school where he was perpetually immersed in Torah, it was a great comfort knowing he’d still be exposed to Kodesh in a meaningful way. He has a love for all things Jewish, and has seeped up all he’s gleaned from Rabbi and Rebbetzin Uzvolk. Shouldn’t we help foster that connection to Judaism?”

Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein declined to comment, saying he would be addressing the issue independently with the schools concerned.

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