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Wednesday
May112016

EDUCATIONAL DEDICATION OF THE HIGHEST ORDER

Without a supportive community, a handful of avreichim established a Chassidic school for children living on the settlements in the Chof HaCarmel region. How did they begin this project? And what did they do when the regional council head “advised” them “to go to B’nei Brak”? And what about the principal who jumped into the sea [literally] for his students? A fascinating story about this growing educational community.

Translated by Michoel Leib Dobry

From its very inception to this day, the founders of the Chabad school in Chof HaCarmel have been guided by a feeling of intense shlichus, amazing miracles, detailed answers from the Rebbe, Melech HaMoshiach, and endless cases of Divine Providence. Since the schools establishment about a decade ago, it has acquired a reputation of accomplishment and has attained considerable educational achievements, despite the fact that the region has no established Chabad community. With much determination, courage, and dedication, the mission set by the schools founders, headed by Rabbi Avraham Sabag, the Rebbe MHMs shliach in Atlit, has been a crowning success.  

While there has been a fair share of problems and hardships, according to Rabbi Sabag, a significant foundation was laid during a critical meeting of the regional council, which held a vote on the school’s budgetary allocations. It was most surprising to see a majority of the representatives from the region’s kibbutzim and yishuvim raising their hands to authorize the establishment of a Chabad institution in the local settlement of Kfar Sitrin. “This impressive display of support was worth all the adversity we had endured,” he said with a half-smile, as he revealed a small portion of the tremendous effort and self-sacrifice invested in the school’s founding.

The school’s educational staff is headed by its devoted principal, Rabbi Eran Dishon. The institution provides a kosher Jewish education to nearly one hundred students, with separate programs for boys and girls.

How did this come about? You just got up one morning and decided to establish a school?

It doesn’t happen in an instant. Fifteen years ago we came to Atlit on the Rebbe’s shlichus, where we had already met the veteran shluchim, Rabbi Moshe Axelrod and his wife, Varda. Before my wedding, I had received my Chassidic education at the Chabad yeshiva in Ramat Aviv. I was considered among the yeshiva’s founding members, and I experienced for myself the difficulties in creating an institution out of nothing. However, I also experienced the great joy that came when the institution began to function on a stable basis. Thus, my entire outlook on this school as a form of shlichus is not avoda limited to the ‘vessels of Tikkun,’ but in a manner of U’faratzta. This is the reason that upon our arrival we invested tremendous effort until we succeeded in building a Chabad mikveh.

I thought for some time about the fact that our children had to travel each day to their school in the Krayot, more than an hour’s journey each way. I kept such thoughts to myself, as I imagined the great difficulties involved in starting a new institution. The most significant problem would be finding potential students. There was no established Chabad community in the area with children who could serve as the core and nucleus of the student body.

One day, I met an old friend, Mr. Amir Ron, whose family was close to Chabad and whose children learned in Chabad institutions. While this young man did not appear outwardly Chassidic, his heart burned with a flame of hiskashrus to the Rebbe and Chassidus.

He told me that his son had developed a bad headache in the middle of the school day, and he had to drive an hour and a half there and back to bring him home. ‘Why don’t we open a Chabad school here?’ he asked frankly, not knowing that I had been actively considering the idea for a long time. That night, I sat down and wrote a letter to the Rebbe, asking for his advice and bracha.

The Rebbe’s answer dealt with the prominence of the Reshet Oholei Yosef Yitzchak educational institutions. I felt that I had received confirmation that the Rebbe wants a Chabad cheider in Chof HaCarmel.

As we began the process, I never imagined how many hardships were involved in the establishment of an educational institution. I knew that it would be difficult, but I had no idea how difficult. With every passing problem, another one developed. It was only through the Rebbe’s brachos that we managed to continue.

From the very outset, it was already clear to me that creating such an institution would require a lot of cooperation, and the first thing I did was call a meeting of the Rebbe’s shluchim on the yishuvim throughout the region. The person who eventually got involved and provided a great deal of practical assistance was Rabbi Yosef Gadasi from Tirat Carmel, who runs a public soup kitchen. He agreed to be a member of the school’s administrative board. Together with Rabbi Moshe Axelrod, the shliach in Atlit, Rabbi Menachem Tal, Mr. Victor Mesika, and Mr. Amir Ron, we raised our glasses and said “L’chaim” with complete faith that a ‘cheider’ would soon open in Chof HaCarmel – and so it was. In a manner of l’chat’chilla aribber, I accepted the responsibility, and now all we had to do was to find an appropriate building and publicize the establishment of a Chabad cheider in the region.

We decided to start with two first-grade classes, one for boys and one for girls. At the first stage, I sent messengers to the regional council head to speak with him on the subject. I knew that this was liable to awaken some unpleasant memories, as some time earlier the only religious school in Atlit had been closed due to a lack of students. We worked with great sensitivity, and in a meeting with the council head I told him about our program. To impress upon him the seriousness of our intentions, I suggested that the council should only begin assisting us with regional budgetary allocations in our third year of operations.

I then started my search for an appropriate facility for the school. While we looked all over Atlit, we didn’t find anything suitable. Children were already registering for the new program, and we hired an educational staff, but there still wasn’t a place to hold the classes. I remember coming home one day with tears in my eyes after a long and unsuccessful day of searching. ‘Rebbe,’ I asked with all my heart, ‘this is all being done in your honor. Please help us.’

The following day something amazing happened. There was a young man named Nachum, who ran a public soup kitchen on a volunteer basis. His mother had passed away and left an abandoned and derelict house as an inheritance. While the place looked extremely untidy, the location was perfect.

I went to him and said, “We would like to rent the house from you for our school, effective at the start of the new academic year.” He raised his eyebrows in response to my determined appeal. He said something about getting the consent of the rest of the family members, but I was already well into the matter and would not take ‘no’ for an answer. After the family gave their consent, all barriers were removed. It took us several days to clean the building. By the start of the new academic year, the cheider began operations with two classrooms.

Can you share with us some experiences from those early days?

With G-d’s help, after the first year, the institution had already acquired a good reputation. In its second year, we had doubled the number of our students. The third year was extremely difficult. The school already had a total of fifty students, and the house wasn’t big enough for everyone. Furthermore, the neighbors were starting to complain. We began using tin shacks as makeshift classrooms, and for lack of a better alternative, we also held classes in the Chabad House. Having the students scattered in different places created complications for the school’s administration. I also had to raise the funds for the staff salaries, which were quite considerable by this time. When I met with the regional council head on this matter, he asked a ‘naive’ question: Why don’t you open a school in B’nei Brak? Why in Atlit?

The early years were hard for everyone, teachers and students alike. Certain staff members had not been paid for months, yet they continued to come and teach with great devotion. When the situation became unbearable (see box), the regional council’s chief rabbi, Shimon Elmaliach, worked on our behalf in our negotiations with the regional council until they agreed to place a suitable facility at our disposal on the yishuv of Kfar Sitrin. They even agreed to pay for the renovations. In the sixth year, thank G-d, we moved to Kfar Sitrin, where we have been ever since.

At what stage did the school reach a state of stability?

This happened after three years, when the regional council authorized the renovation of the Kfar Sitrin facility for us. In the meantime, the council members began to assist us in all matters pertaining to our educational program. Honorable mention goes to Mr. Moshe Elazra, the municipal director, who became Chabad’s representative in the corridors of local government, and he gladly and cheerfully offered his help whenever necessary. Regional council assistance came after the current council head, Mr. Carmel Sela, who was privileged to receive the Rebbe’s bracha, declared that he would help us if he would be elected. In fact, he won the election by a thin margin, and thank G-d, he has helped ever since.

We also managed that year to forge a positive connection with the director general of the Israel Ministry of Education. She greatly appreciated our work and we eventually received certification from the department for government-sponsored ultra-Orthodox learning institutions.

One final question in conclusion: Today, after all the difficulties and upheavals, what is the school’s most outstanding aspect?

The school today provides a proper Chassidic education to about a hundred Jewish boys and girls, and our objective is to double our current number of students.

As to your question, in my opinion, the institution above all is characterized by the high quality of our staff, Chassidic teachers with yiras Shamayim and B.A. degrees in education, devoted to their work as they provide a warm and caring relationship with their students and a pleasant family atmosphere during school hours. The small classes enable a more personal approach toward each individual child. The students have made some wonderful achievements during the past year. They were tested on Gemara, Mishna, and numerous chapters of Tanya by heart. The teachers’ efforts have paid off, as the students live and breathe Chassidus.

This is a school of shlichus. We have students who come from all sectors of the Jewish People – Chabadnikim, children of shluchim, children of Chabad supporters, children from the national religious community, Sephardim, Ashkenazim, and even from currently non-Torah observant homes. This mixture creates a marvelous composition, and we have the challenge to lead them along the path of Chabad and uplift them accordingly.

* * *

Rabbi Sabag concluded the interview with a call (joined by the principal, Rabbi Eran Dishon) to young Chabad couples to come and take part in the young dynamic community developing in the beautiful Chof HaCarmel region. They emphasized how this can be combined with shlichus in one of the local yishuvim and even joining the school’s veteran staff of educators, thereby turning the school into a virtual magnet. Atlit already has a kindergarten system for children between the ages of three and six. “Today, the shlichus in this region is much easier and simpler because there is a Chabad school nearby.”

JUMPING INTO THE SEA

As mentioned in the body of the article, budgetary problems piled up considerably during the third year. The teaching staff had not received their salaries for several months.

Rabbi Sabag: “One morning, I made a last-resort decision to go to the bank and apply for a loan. When I finished davening Shacharis I headed toward the bank, when my cell phone rang. A friend with whom I hadn’t spoken to in three years was on the line. He is a very affluent man known for his mercurial nature. We had agreed in the past that I wouldn’t call him to ask for donations; rather he would contact me when he decides that the time is right.

“He got straight to the point. The High Holiday season was approaching, and he said that he wanted to make a contribution to needy families. In addition, he wanted to donate a Torah scroll in his father’s memory. Although I knew him to be a temperamental person, I decided to try and enlist his support on behalf of the school. I shared with him the school’s dismal financial situation and asked for his help. ‘I am fully aware that you might get angry with me, but I am prepared to act with complete self-sacrifice, even jumping into the sea.’ After listening to what I had to day, he hung up the phone, but not before unleashing an angry torrent of curses upon me. I thought to myself how stupid I had just been. At least I could have secured a donation for needy people and for a seifer Torah; now I was left empty-handed.

“I continued walking toward the bank when my phone rang again. I was surprised to see his name flashing on the display screen. I prepared myself for another verbal onslaught, but to my great surprise, he spoke this time calmly. ‘You said that you’re prepared to jump into the sea and act with complete self-sacrifice for the school, right?’ he asked. I replied in the affirmative. ‘Then I’m coming by in another ten minutes. Put on your hat and jacket, and bring a shofar with you.’ (This took place during the month of Elul.) He arrived with his car as promised, and he told me to get in. Without any explanation, he drove to the seashore.

“I stood near him on the beach, trying to guess his next step. ‘If you’re serious, jump into the sea – fully clothed,’ he told me. ‘Immerse yourself seven times and then blow the shofar.’ Deeply affected by the plight of our teachers, I didn’t think twice and I jumped into the water, fully clothed. He was stunned.

“From there we drove to the school. When we arrived there, he took his briefcase out of the car. To my great surprise, as we entered the building, he opened the briefcase and I saw that it contained a sizable amount of cash. He used it to cover all unpaid teachers’ salaries…”

THE REBBE IS WITH US AT EVERY DECISION

The school’s educational director during the last three years has been Rabbi Eran Dishon, who also serves as the Rebbe MH”M’s shliach at one of the kibbutzim in the Chof HaCarmel region. “We feel that the Rebbe is with us with every decision we make. At every opportunity we write to the Rebbe, and we almost always receive answers dealing with matters of education.”

In your opinion, what is the school’s outstanding feature?

“The student body is like one united family. The school began its operation in a manner of ‘an arousal from below’ and this continues today. We’re not talking about a firmly established institution in existence for decades. Each of our students feels his/her own special distinctive qualities.”

According to Rabbi Dishon, there are also many other characteristics, among them the quality of the learning material. “We put in considerable effort that the studies should not be done merely by rote, and we place an important emphasis upon the methods of teaching and a positive learning experience. We are currently in the process of reducing the number of standard classroom hours, providing more meaningful studies on a one-on-one basis and in small groups. The cooperative learning approach is also used, as are extracurricular activities, e.g., nature studies in the surrounding forests, davening Shacharis in the nearby olive grove, and educational trips throughout the Chof HaCarmel region.”

As a final word, Rabbi Dishon spoke with great praise about the school’s teaching staff. “Our educational staff members are constantly learning and adding to their professional qualifications. Only recently, they participated in an instructional course at the teaching and training unit of the Schneider Children’s Medical Center in Petach Tikva on the topic of parent-teacher authority. As a result, we have seen an increase in student discipline and the classrooms are run in a much quieter and calmer atmosphere.

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