Jerusalem My Favorite City, Next to Atlanta, Of Course
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Jerusalem My Favorite City, Next to Atlanta, Of Course

When you walk down the streets of Jerusalem, as I love to do, you are struck at this time by the multitude of new buildings being constructed.

Rabbi David Geffen is a native Atlantan and Conservative rabbi who lives in Jerusalem.

Rabbi David Geffen is a former Atlantan and longtime Israeli.
Rabbi David Geffen is a former Atlantan and longtime Israeli.

When you walk down the streets of Jerusalem, as I love to do, you are struck at this time by the multitude of new buildings being constructed. I have counted 34; it may be more.

My good friend, a noted Jerusalem photographer who took pictures at our daughter’s wedding and at our grandson’s bar mitzvah at the Kotel, walks the streets of Jerusalem taking pictures. I asked only for the buildings. When you come on your next trip or when you make your next trip, you will be amazed at the new Jerusalem skyline.

Yesterday, all the college and graduate students returned to their studies. I recall how significant it was for Rita and me when our three children, Avie, Elissa and Tuvia began to attend the Hebrew University in three different fields. We always laugh about a promise my late father, Louis Geffen z’’l, made when our children were teenagers. He said to them, when you enroll in college, I will pay your tuition.

Fortunately for him, when our children attended college in the 80s, the tuition per year for many colleges in USA ranged from $30,000 to $50,000 per year. In Israel it was $4,000.

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Citizens of Israel who attend state-supported schools all pay a fixed tuition. Our children earned seven degrees and make us very proud.

The newspapers announced the number of students in colleges and universities so that the people of Israel could be aware of what our education in the country is doing. A headline read in the feature on education: “Students return to ‘their school benches.’ About 306,600 students will begin the college year today, Oct. 14. There are 230,000 students who will be studying for their B.A.” In addition, 63,400 are studying for their M.A. and 11,400 for a Ph.D.

“A poll [by the national union of students] shows students are satisfied, but claim that higher educational institutions are failing in preparing them for their vocations in the working system of the country.”

As you can see readily, Israeli students want to finish their education and “work.”

Part of this is the case because Israeli students have been in the Armed Forces; usually have traveled for six months to a year so education is for their “labor.” This can be seen, positively, when you become aware of how many older people are being retired from the work force and new blood is being injected into the system.

On the one hand, retired workers, hopefully, have prepared for their future and have health insurance, nursing home insurance, and opportunities for creative activity. Usually, all citizens are in a health plan, which includes nursing home insurance.

The government offers free senior centers for elderly Israelis. This makes life a bit easier and productive. Many retired Israelis feel that they do not have enough money because their monthly senior benefit is only $700. The government refuses to raise it because, supposedly, the budget will not allow it. This is troubling to young and old, but somehow we make it.

Fortunately, the percentage of students of Sephardic origin has risen.

When we made aliyah in 1977, only 6 percent of college and university students were “Sephardim.”

Today it is 19 percent, so there is greater emphasis on this sector of the population to get an education. This is significant because more than 50 percent of the population is of Sephardic background.

Military Service

The Israeli military has about 220,00 serving, the exact number never disclosed. I do not know the percentage of those serving who are in “intelligence” units, are in “cyber” units, and other types of units protecting us but not on the battlefield. Those who serve in these fields automatically have jobs when they leave the service. The foot soldiers –women and men – and those who are paratroopers, in tanks in artillery, in many of the other fighting units, are given a stipend when they complete their service. Some use it to travel; some use it to go right into college. Since I and most of my USA friends entered college at 18, 19, 20 and then went on to professional schools, we can understand that Israelis starting their college education at 22 or 23 is not easy.

The younger sector of Israeli education includes nursery school, two levels of kindergarten, elementary school, middle school and high school through grade 12, followed by military service. My wife and I were fortunate to have all eight of our grandchildren go through the system. Four have received their high school diplomas; one a B.A., and the rest are in elementary and high school. The statistics are: 200,000 in high school, 300,000 in middle school, 300,000 in elementary, more than 400,000 in nurseries and kindergartens.

The Charedi schools are the same until grade 1. Then they study in various types of school programs. As the public schools and public religious schools receive complete government funding, so do the Charedi schools. It is never clear how many male and female students are in that system. However, their numbers are growing dramatically.

Israel realizes that there are students in the regular school system who should have the opportunity to receive exciting advanced education. These programs are for “gifted” children. The teachers in the school system recommend the best in their classes for the “gifted” track. This is a municipal program, so in the large cities there are many more opportunities for the top students to study at this level. Boasting: one of our sons and two of our grandsons have been in this program. The weekly session includes the reading of advanced literary works and discussing them, and problems which have to be studied and then deciphered through systematic thinking.

Options are programs in music, science and others in the various fields. Israel wants to encourage these students and help them develop their mental faculties even more.

Rabbi David Geffen is a native Atlantan and Conservative rabbi who lives in Jerusalem.

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