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Need World Jewry’s Help to Avert Crisis in Palestine’s Schools

Member of Executive of Jewish Agency responsible for educational work in Palestine, and chairman of Executive Education Committee which administers the school system under the auspices of the Vaad Leumi

At the beginning of the present school year, October 1932, the Hebrew educational system in Palestine was transferred to the Vaad Leumi (National Council of the Jews of Palestine). Since the War the educational work had been under the control of the Zionist Organization from which it received its main support. The Government of Palestine at first contributed only a very small per capital grant-in-aid to the Jewish schools on the same basis as to private schools. But in 1927 the grant was increased to what the Government calculated to be the Jewish share of the Government Education budget and recognized the Zionist school system as the Hebrew Public School System, paralle to the Arab School System, maintained by the Government.

The Government grant was transmitted in a block sum to the Zionist Organization which administered the schools autonomously under the inspection of the Government Department of Education. With the formation of the enlarged Jewish Agency in 1929, the Hebrew school system automatically passed over to ### jurisdiction.

The transfer of the educational work to the Yishuv marks a turning point in the growth of independence on the part of Palestine Jewry. This change in control had been discussed for many years; it became more urgent as the income of the Jewish Agency decreased, and more practical with the growth of financial support from local sources, and with the strengthening of community organization in towns and colonies of the new Yishuv.

MOTIVES OF TRANSFER

The transfer was intended, among other things, to lead ultimately to a reduction of the Jewish Agency’s appropriation to the educational work. In no way, however, was it the purpose to separate the Agency entirely from the educational administration or to withdraw financial support immediately.

In the letter of transfer from the Jewish Agency to the Vaad Leumi this point was clearly stated, as follows:

“The Jewish Agency, representing world Jewry and responsible to it, will continue in the future to serve as a partner in the responsibility of the Jewish community for the Hebrew educational system in Palestine, for its integrity, its direction and its standard,—a partner in the task of developing the schools, in the spirit of Judaism and Hebraic culture and in harmony with the needs of the upbuilding of the National Homeland. The Jewish Agency will continue then to participate in the administration of ### educational work and to as### the Yishuv,—in so far as ###cial means allow in the main### of the unified educational system.”

### assist the Vaad Leumi in main###ning the educational system the Jewish Agency voted an appropriation of £40,000 (almost $200,000 ### par). This sum was less than the Jewish Agency had appropriated for educational purposes in former years, but still constituted a considerable part of the educational budget. Had the Agency been able ### meet this commitment, the transfer would have been crowned with complete success and educational work set on the road of sound development. The new educational administration had succeeded, despite considerable opposition and scepticism, to obtain the cooperation of various sections of the community and to demonstrate the Yishuv’s ability to manage its own school system.

COULDN’T MEET PLEDGE

But the very great falling off in Keren Hayesod receipts, especially in America, made it impossible for the Jewish Agency to meet its pledge. By the middle of the year it was foreseen that only one-fourth of the Agency commitment would be available during the present school year. A deficit of approximately £30,000 was anticipated, which represents about four months’ teachers’ salaries.

In this predicament the Jewish authorities—the Agency and Vaad Leumi, cooperating—turned to the Government for assistance and asked for an emergency grant out of the Government’s surplus. Government refused this request but repeated its intention to give an increase in the regular grant-in-aid beginning with the fiscal year April 1, 1933, of about £6,000 per annum, providing that certain reforms would be introduced into the educational administration. The subject of the increased grant-in-aid and the reforms conditional to it have been the matter for discussion during the last few years. The demands of the Government have now become more strict and more urgent. They involve further sharp reductions in teachers’ salaries—which have already been reduced by the Jewish Agency—and changes in the powers of the Vaad Hahinuch (Board of Education) and of the other educational committees. Important sections in the community regard certain of the changes proposed as an infringement of the Jewish educational autonomy.

But even if a way were found to accept the Government recommendations and to obtain the increased grant, the situation would not be much improved; for only an additional £3,000 would be available to the end of this school year, a sum which would cover only one-tenth of the anticipated deficit. The difficulty, of course, is not confined to balancing the budget for this year; the essential problem is to place the educational organization on a sound financial basis beginning with the next school year—October, 1933.

WHERE THE KNIFE FALLS

In the effort to curtail expenditures during recent years, besides reducing salaries, certain educational services, particularly kindergarten and secondary schools, have been eliminated from the budget of the Department of Education and where these activities are still maintained they are supported almost wholly by tuition fees. It should be noted that not all children receive the benefit of a full eight-year course of elementary education. In fact, one-third of the children drop out before the end of the third elementary grade; only about one-fourth of the children receive the full eight years of instruction; and some children do not attend school at all. The poor child in Palestine has nothing like the educational opportunities offered to children in Europe or the United States.

At the present time there is no outlook for a solution of the problem, and little prospect that the schools will be open on time for the next school year in October. Further reduction in teachers’ salaries, increase in local contributions, and the larger grant from Government, if obtained, can yield altogether about £15,000, and reduce the appropriation of the Jewish Agency to about £25,000. On this basis the Hebrew School system in Palestine will be about 85 percent self-supporting next year. But, it is questionable whether even the relatively small sum needed can be obtained, in view of the present state of Keren Hayesod collections. The sum, though small, is crucial, for without it the unity of the educational system would be broken up, and school work thrown into a state of disorganization.

WORLD JEWRY MUST HELP

The Yishuv is straining itself to contribute a maximum, but despite the so-called “prosperity” of Palestine, the Yishuv cannot maintain the educational system without some assistance from world Jewry. The newer and better organized centers of Jewish life—Tel Aviv and certain of the colonies in the orange plantation district—no longer need help from abroad. The newer colonies do require some assistance. But the main problem is in the old towns—Jerusalem, Safed and Tiberias, and to some extent Haifa—which are not self-supporting either with reference to their general economy or in their educational work.

Recent developments in Palestine have emphasized the danger of allowing children and youth to become prey to the influences of the street and to the propaganda of political factions. Nor is it to be forgotten that Christian education in Palestine is generously supported from abroad, and that the missionary schools are open for those who find no place in the Jewish schools. The sum of £25,000 ($100,000 to $125,000) required to assist Palestine Jewry in maintaining its school system would not appear to be a large one for world Jewry even in the present difficult times. Will this be made available or will the educational system in Palestine, built up by a generation of zealous labor and with the expenditure of large sums, be permitted to disintegrate? This is one of the serious problems which will have to be discussed by the Zionist Congress and the Council of Jewish Agency meeting in Prague.

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