Jewish school opens in Croatia

ZAGREB, Croatia, Sept. 11 (JTA) — When the Jews of Zagreb celebrate Rosh Hashanah, they will have more than just the new year to celebrate. They will also have a new Jewish elementary school. “We shall have great reason for celebration,” Zagreb rabbi Kotel Da-Don said this week as he hammered a mezuzah on the doorpost of the classroom of the city’s new school. Called the Lea Deutsch school after a Jewish girl who was killed during the Holocaust, the institution is the first Jewish school to open in the former Yugoslavia since World War II. On the first day of school this week, the first nine pupils — not all of them Jewish — sat in a semicircle in the middle of the classroom. The handful of first-graders came to the school with their teachers and several guests, who included former students of the prewar Jewish school. The president of the community, Ognjen Kraus, expressed special thanks to the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation for its financial help in getting the school started. The Zagreb Jewish community has given the school space in a building of the former Zagreb Chief Rabbinate, which was returned recently to the community by the Croatian government. The school is starting only with the first grade — which will have 11 students — but eventually it should have all eight grades Hebrew and Judaism will be obligatory parts of the curriculum, but parents may decide whether they want their children to receive religious instruction. “I wish the school will have the reputation of a creative and innovative school, and that parents will inscribe their children in this school not only because it is a Jewish school, but because of the quality of education,” Nadia Geras, a mother of one of the pupils, told JTA. The Jewish Elementary School in Croatia operated from 1841 until 1941, when the Holocaust began in Croatia. It never reopened. The Zagreb community has about 1,500 members. Many of the children are the products of mixed marriages, and most of the children in the new Jewish school have only one Jewish grandparent. A few are the children of Israelis living in Croatia.

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