By: David Mizrahi

An exclusive investigation into the claims of Sephardic discrimination in the Israeli town of Emanuel

The small town of Emanuel has earned a prominent place on the Jewish map – but not in ways that anyone would have wanted. Emanuel first appeared in the Israeli and Jewish media in 2002, when two devastating Palestinian terror attacks near the settlement took the lives of 20 residents. Five years later, the Jewish media around the world was abuzz with news of an anti-discrimination suit filed against the Bet Yaakov (girls) elementary school in Emanuel. The lawsuit reached front page headlines this past spring, when Israel’s High Court levied a hefty fine upon the school if it failed to fully integrate its Sephardic and Ashkenazic students. Two months later, on June 17, 2010, 35 parents of girls in the school were imprisoned for refusing to allow their daughters to attend the court-mandated integrated program. The case and ensuing convictions ignited a raging controversy that has inflicted, or, perhaps more precisely, exacerbated, painful wounds both within the town and well beyond.

For many of Emanuel’s Sephardic residents, the unpleasant spotlight that now shines upon the town presents the opportunity to draw attention to their struggles, which precede the current controversy by many years. Beneath the frenzy of anger and debate surrounding the Bet Yaakov school’s two-track system and the recent High Court ruling lies an unfortunate history of tension. Several Emanuel residents were eager to share their stories and perspective with the English-speaking Sephardic world, who, they suspect, have been given at best only a partial picture of the plight of their community.

Humble Beginnings

Emanuel is a haredi (ultra orthodox) town situated in the high, sprawling hills of Samaria, the northern region of the West Bank. According to Emanuel’s Mayor, Ezra Gershi, over 70 percent of the town’s 650 families are Sephardic or Yemenite, and the rest are Ashkenazic, primarily Hassidic. The Slonim[1]sect of Hassidim has an especially prominent presence in Emanuel, and Slonimer Hassidim comprise the most significant segment of Emanuel’s Ashkenazic population.

When Emanuel was established in 1983, it was envisioned as a major haredi center in Samaria. Advertisements sprang up in cities like Bnei Brak announcing the new project, which was expected to attract large numbers of haredi families seeking a comfortable, suburban lifestyle in a Torah community. Economics and regional politics, however, steered the new settlement in a different direction. Shortly after the first families began moving to Emanuel, Mayor Gershi explained, it suffered an economic collapse. Then came the Intifada, the violent Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza, in response to which many families chose to leave. Several years later, in 1993, Israel signed the Oslo Peace Accords which made long-term prospects in Judea and Samaria uncertain for Jews and thus discouraged families from settling in the region. Also contributing to the town’s low popularity was the stance taken by Rav Elazar Shach z.s.l. (Lithuania 1899 – Israel 2001), a leading haredi rabbinic figure at the time, discouraging haredi settlement in the disputed territories.

These factors resulted in exceptionally cheap housing, which attracted families from Israel’s lower socioeconomic strata. These included many Sephardic and Yemenite Jews, whose parents had fled from their home countries with the shirts on their backs and little else. Mayor Gershi says that until several years ago, some apartments in Emanuel were available rent free. And even today, when conditions have improved somewhat, a family can rent a four-bedroom residence for just 1400 shekels (approximately $360) a month.

The merging of Sephardic, Yemenite and Hassidic Jews under the same small municipal roof did not proceed as smoothly as some residents would have liked. According to several residents, the town’s positions of leadership were, for many years, filled almost exclusively by Ashkenazim, despite the fact that they comprised a minority of the town’s population. The two local schools – a Bet Yaakov for girls, and the Yesodei HaTorah school for boys – were also run by Ashkenazim. A Sephardic boys school – Ohalei Yaakov – opened in 1990, but the school struggled for many years and numerous Sephardic families continued enrolling their children in Yesodei HaTorah. In 1997 a new administration took charge, and by 2000 they had made necessary changes in the Sephardic school, improving the quality of education and making it more attractive to the local Sephardic population. Soon enough, virtually all Sephardic families began enrolling their boys in Ohalei Yaakov. For the girls, however, there remained only one institution serving both populations.

It thus emerged that although the Sephardic-Yemenite population was larger, administrative control over the town and its only school for girls was held mainly in the hands of the Ashkenazic minority.

Rising Tensions

David Zinger, an Ashkenazic father who has eleven children with his Yemenite wife and identifies with Emanuel’s Sephardic population, says that this “minority rules” situation made life very difficult.

“Sephardic children in the school never knew when they would be thrown out,” he claims. “If a Sephardic student didn’t conform to the particular demands of the Hassidic administration, she would be asked to leave.”

Where would a Sephardic girl in Emanuel go if she was expelled from the local Bet Yaakov? Zinger says the options are not good.

“She has no choice but to go to a ‘dropout school’ for delinquents outside Emanuel. With her self-esteem in shambles, and while learning together with problem children, she has little or no chance to succeed.”

Zinger, an eight-year resident of Emanuel who last year was elected to the town council, recalled a conversation he had with one girl who was told to leave the Bet Yaakov and ultimately abandoned religious observance and even had relationships with Arab men. She explained to him that she was simply too angry at the educational system, which rejected her, to embrace Judaism.

Yoram Shafir, a Syrian Jew (the name “Shafir” is the Hebrew form of “Jemal”) who has lived in Emanuel for over twenty years, is an outspoken critic of the Hassidic leadership in Emanuel. He recalls experiencing the Bet Yaakov school’s iron fist firsthand many years ago. Yoram’s oldest daughter, Iris, studied in the school and her teachers described her as the best student in the class, both academically and behaviorally. All was fine and good until Yoram purchased for her a Sephardic siddur for her bat mitzva.

“She showed up in school with a Sephardic siddur, and from that day everything changed,” he describes. Despite her academic success and fine behavior, Iris was denied entry into the Bet Yaakov high school – which her father attributes to her outward identification as a Sephardic girl.

Finding a Solution

The Sephardic population confronted a complex problem, but a problem which had, seemingly, a very simple solution: the creation of a Sephardic elementary school for girls, just as one was created for boys. The Sephardic girls would receive the quality education they want without the pressure and demands of the Hassidic Bet Yaakov administration, and the Bet Yaakov would be left with only its natural clientele.

If only it were that simple.

Besides cutting through the red tape of the Education Ministry to get funding and building licenses, the question arose of who would run the new girls school. The most obvious candidate, it seemed, was Rabbi Yechiel Elyas, who has been serving as principal of the Sephardic boys school since 1997 and is credited with the institution’s success. It appeared only natural that Rabbi Elyas would open and run a school for Sephardic girls alongside the Ohalei Yaakov boys school.

In an interview with Community Magazine, Rabbi Elyas described the turmoil that began to develop five years ago surrounding the girls school. The Bet Yaakov administration, he relates, wanted to open a Sephardic school under its own auspices. In his view, it was all a matter of dollars and cents.

“They wanted more jobs for their own staff, more hours for their teachers. If the Sephardic girls left the Bet Yaakov, they would lose positions.” In other words, the Bet Yaakov school wasn’t prepared to lose large numbers of students to a Sephardic school, so it was to run its own school for the Sephardic girls. It therefore decided to introduce separate tracks within the existing school. The “Bet Yaakov Chasidi” track consisted mostly of Ashkenazic girls, and its students were bound by the stricter guidelines demanded by the Hassidic elements. The other track was comprised almost exclusively of girls from Sephardic and Yemenite extraction. The two groups studied in different classrooms, followed different schedules, and played in different playgrounds during recess. This “two schools within a school” system was begun in the 2007-8 academic year.

A Controversy is Born

Little did anyone know that this new arrangement would quickly erupt into a front page media firestorm. The division between the two student populations caught the attention of Noar Kahalacha, an advocacy group that works to ensure full equality for Sephardic students in the haredi school system.

According to Hacham Yaakov Yosef shelita, son of Maran Hacham Ovadia Yosef, shelita, and a venerable Torah sage in his own right, when Noar Kahalacha first brought the matter before him, he thought the details of the separating barriers described were an exaggeration. When an investigation revealed that it was all true, he tried to mediate a solution to save the “pure and holy” young girls in the regular track from the “mockery” they were being subjected to daily. Though the rabbi did arrange consultations with school administrators, those meetings were unproductive as they refused any compromise and would not agree to have the case referred to the binding arbitration of a bet din (Jewish court). The rabbi was also disappointed that after setting up several meetings with the Slonimer Rebbe himself to discuss the crisis, the meetings were always canceled. Finally Hacham Yaakov brought the matter before a panel of 33 rabbis – which included a number of roshei bet din (heads of rabbinic courts) and Ashkenazim – which ruled that Noar Kahalacha should pursue the matter in the courts.

In December, 2007, several months after the new policy was implemented, the group filed a complaint against Israel’s Education Ministry, claiming that the system was discriminatory and illegal. The case eventually reached the High Court, and, a year after the complaint was submitted, in January, 2009, the Justices ruled in favor of Noar Kahalacha. The Court ordered Bet Yaakov to eliminate all practices and protocols that separated the two student populations, including the removal of the wall that had been erected to designate separate playgrounds, and combining the faculty rooms.

Emanuel filled the headlines again this past spring, when, on April 7th, the Court declared that Chinuch Atzmai[2], the organization responsible for operating haredi schools, is in contempt of court for failing to comply with its earlier ruling. The High Court imposed a NIS 5,000 fine upon Chinuch Atzmai for each day after the April18thdeadline that the ruling is not implemented.  In the ensuing weeks, the physical barriers between the two tracks in the school were indeed removed, but 43 families of the Chassidi track refused to send their daughters to the school.  Instead, a separate, non-official program was set up for the remainder of the 2009-2010 academic year. The High Court interpreted the parents’ boycott of the Bet Yaakov as a flagrant violation of its ruling, and, on May 17th, it issued a warning that parents could face jail sentences if they refused to send their daughters to the integrated Bet Yaakov.

Following the guidance of the Slonimer Rebbe (Rabbi Shmuel Brazovsky), the parents remained defiant. On June 17th, 35 fathers of Bet Yaakov students were imprisoned at the order of the High Court (the other eight families agreed to abide by the court ruling). That same day, over a hundred thousand haredim, at the behest of the leading Ashkenazic haredi rabbis, took to the streets of Jerusalem and Bnei-Brak to stage a peaceful protest against the involvement of secular courts in religious education.

Bet Yaakov’s Defenders

Throughout this period of legal proceedings, many – both within Emanuel and beyond – came to the defense of the school’s decision to operate separate tracks. They dismissed out of hand the accusation that Bet Yaakov discriminated against Sephardic girls.

In an interview with the Jerusalem Post in December, 2007, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Barlev, the Ashkenazic rabbi of Emanuel, claimed that the division was made not on the basis of ethnicity, but rather based on academic criteria. “Girls from stronger, more educated and proactive households were sent to the new school, which is predominantly hassidic, while girls with weaker backgrounds were kept in the older school.” Rabbi Barlev then proceeded to explain the changing demographics that made the separation necessary: “Emanuel went through a long period of decline. Housing prices fell. Poor families, attracted more by cheap housing than by the haredi lifestyle in the city, began coming. These families were passive and less religious. However, in recent years, more young families – Ashkenazi, but also many Sephardim – began coming to the settlement. These people are on a higher socioeducational level. They demand higher educational standards.” Meaning, the school’s intent was not to relegate its Sephardic population to a lower status, but rather to provide two parallel educational tracks to accommodate the two populations it served.

Indeed, it is reported that in 2007-8, 27 percent of the Bet Yaakov Hassidi track were of Sephardic extraction, proving that Sephardic girls were not summarily barred from the new program. Likewise, 23 percent of the regular track were Ashkenazic. In fact, Rabbi Barlev said that in 2007-8, his daughter’s sixth grade class had the same number of Sephardic girls as Ashkenazic girls. Numerous columnists noted the irony in the fact that the embattled Bet Yaakov Chasidi school had a higher percentage of Sephardim than Israel’s High Court (just one of the 15 justices is of Sephardic origin), which accused the school of discrimination.

In his defense of the school, Rabbi Barlev told the Jerusalem Post that the decision to make separate tracks had the full support of many Sephardic rabbis, including Rabbi Shimon Bahadani, a prominent Sephardic figure who is a member of the Shas movement’s Council of Torah Sages.

Yitzchak Weinberg, a Slonimer Hassid in Emanuel who represents the school’s PTA, said on a radio interview that the school is divided not between Ashkenazim and Sepharadim, but rather between “strict” and “lenient.” The Bet Yaakov Chasidi track accepts students who abide by the school’s strict charter which bans, among other things, the use of internet and television and watching computer movies. If a Sephardic girl is willing to abide by these regulations, Weinberg claims, then she is, in his words, “more than welcome.”

The reaction in the Ashkenazic haredi establishment to the High Court’s ruling was especially virulent. Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv shelita, largely recognized as the leading rabbinic figure in the Ashkenazic haredi world, reportedly condemned the Court’s decision and said, “This is a dreadful ruling. This should prompt a great outcry.” And the Slonimer Rebbe, as mentioned, ordered his followers to disregard the Court’s ruling, even at the risk of imprisonment.

“I am willing to be the first to sit in prison over this issue,” the Rebbe avowed. He likened the Court’s interference in the school to the anti-Semitic policies in Czarist Russia, where “Jews sat in prison over their children’s education.”

Rabbi Mordechai Blau, who heads the Va’ad Hakodesh Vehachinuch committee, excoriated Yoav Lalum, the head of Noar Kahalacha who initiated the lawsuit, accusing him of causing irreparable damage to the haredi community. Although Lalum worked under the guidance and with the support of Hacham Yaakov Yosef, Rabbi Blau expressed fierce anger and disdain for Lalum, going so far as to say, “He will receive a large place in gehenom for this!”

Lalum also received numerous death threats and was forced into hiding with police protection. Violence was even directed towards Hacham Yaakov who was assigned a detachment of 10 yeshiva students to remain with him at all times after two attacks by some 30 Hassidim over four days in and around his yeshiva. At one point, Hacham Yaakov even withdrew his involvement in the case after reporting that threats had been made against members of his family – including his grandchildren. “When the threats were directed at me, I was not deterred from pursuing this mission,” he said. “But now that threats are aimed at my family, I must resign.”

In early June, a letter of support for the Slonimer Rebbe and Chinuch Atzmai was drafted and disseminated, bearing the signatures of the most prominent Ashkenazic haredi rabbis, including Rav Elyashiv, Rav Shemuel Wosner, Rav Michel Lefkowitz, Rav Chaim Kanievsky, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, and Rav Shemuel Auerbach, among others.

Defacto Discrimination

Across the divide, Sephardic families in Emanuel and their supporters paint a darker picture of what went on in the Bet Yaakov. Elyashiv Aharon, deputy chairman of the United Council of Sephardi Communities in Emanuel, was interviewed by the Jerusalem Postafter the lawsuit was filed, and he acknowledged that the Sephardic families were not necessarily opposed, in theory, to separating the girls based on religious level. In practice, however, it caused great pain to the Sephardic students.

Though selection for the separate tracks was ostensibly made based strictly on the religious level of the students and their families, because the Chasidi track took on an “elite” status, parents said that students in the regular track were made to feel inferior. This was compounded by the controversial and conspicuous methods and rules implemented by the school to ensure separation between the two groups.

But what made the situation especially painful for many Sephardic families was how the separation’s implementation affected the perception of the girls themselves. Since the regular track was overwhelmingly Sephardic while the Chasidi was predominantly Ashkenazic, parents contend that, in the eyes of the young students, the separation of the two groups was based on ethnicity with Ashkenazim being superior to Sephardim.

“The way it was done was brutal,” Aharon claimed. “They gave Sephardi girls the impression that they were second-rate human beings. Girls came home from school crying. It was a trauma that is liable to have a lasting impact upon those girls’ lives.”

Aharon’s report is corroborated by affidavits submitted by several parents to the High Court this past May. One mother wrote, “My daughters told me that after the separation, their friends from the Ashkenazic track began insulting them and taunting them. The Ashkenazic girls did not want to go near them or have any contact with them, and they would often call them ‘Sepharjukiyot’.” (This is an offensive slur that combines the word “Sephardiyot– Sephardic girls” with the Hebrew word “jook – roach.”)

The mother emphasized the faculty’s indifference to the humiliating treatment suffered by her daughters. “Worst of all, they would often insult my daughters with racist nicknames right in front of the teachers, and they did nothing to stop it.”

A Sephardic student in the general track described a change in the attitude of the Ashkenazic students toward the Sephardic girls after the separation. “They didn’t want to have anything to do with us, and they made fun of us.”

Two years after the Bet Yaakov separated the school, a new option for Sephardic girls in Emanuel finally presented itself. With the help of the town’s newly-elected Yemenite mayor, Ezra Gershi, and Rabbi Elyas, principal of the Ohalei Yaakov boys school, the Ohalei Rachel girls school opened in time for the 2009-10 academic year. The majority of the Sephardic families in the Bet Yaakov availed themselves of the new institution, but approximately 50 Sephardic girls remained, due to the families’ uncertainty about the quality of the new school and its chances of success. Rabbi Elyas reported that many of the 110 girls who transferred to Ohalei Rachel were in need of emotional therapy to heal the wounds of humiliation they suffered in the Bet Yaakov. Unfortunately, the school’s budget did not allow for funding psychological treatment, and most parents could not afford treatment, either.

From the perspective of these Sephardic families, even if assigning separate tracks seemed a reasonable option on paper, its practical results were disastrous.

A Resolution

The affair finally ended on the morning of July 27th– with just four days remaining until the end of the school year – when, through mediation led by Hacham Ovadia Yosef shelita, a compromise was reached.  The girls would study together for the final days of the year, during which special lectures and presentations would be held emphasizing the importance of ahavat Yisrael (love for fellow Jews) and treating all Jews kindly and respectfully regardless of ethnic background. The agreement was reached with the approval of all parties involved and their rabbinic advisors.

The 35 fathers who had been imprisoned for 10 days for defying the High Court’s ruling were released and visited the home of Hacham Ovadia to thank him for helping to bring the crisis to an end. “Only unity will save us,” the rabbi said to them. “Ashkenazim, and Sephardim, we are all the sons Abraham, Yizhak and Yaakov. We may have different traditions and customs, but we should never hurt each other. Baseless hatred was the cause of the Temple’s destruction.”

The parties also agreed to work together during the summer to find a long-term solution, which will likely be the establishment of a separate, private school for the Chassidi track. The Court instructed the parties to submit their final agreement by August 25.

Empowering the People

Of course, the Emanuel affair raises numerous questions that extend far beyond the narrow issue of the separate-track system in the local Bet Yaakov. Many columnists, community leaders and legal experts questioned the High Court’s authority to force parents to send their children to a school which they find unsuitable.  In particular, the imprisonment of parents who refused to send their daughters to the Bet Yaakov has been seen as a draconian overreach on the Court’s part. Hacham Ovadia Yosef, for example, while decrying discrimination against Sepharadim, spoke out strongly in the wake of the affair against the High Court and called upon religious Jews to adjudicate their disputes only in rabbinic courts. And in criticizing the jail term, Hacham Yaakov Yosef called racism a “sickness” and asked “since when do we send sick people to prison?”

The affair also raised questions concerning the state of independent haredi education in Israel, how independent it can expect to be if it receives government funding. Other issues highlighted by this controversy include the financial viability of ideologically monolithic schools, especially in small, diverse communities such as Emanuel, and whether Sephardic parents should attempt to enroll their children in Ashkenazi-run schools in the first place. In sermons following the affair, Hacham said repeatedly that Sephardic parents should seek out a Sephardic Talmud Torah for their children so that they can learn Sephardic tradition and cantillation.

But for some residents of Emanuel, the High Court ruling was important in ending a harmful policy and also in the message it sent to the Sephardic community of Emanuel.

“Most of the Sephardim here have always felt weak,” David Zinger explains, “and have always been afraid to speak out and work toward improving their situation. They felt helpless. It was just assumed that the Ashkenazim are more powerful and will control everything that goes on here.”

This feeling of frailty and defenselessness, according to Zinger, explains why the Sephardic families themselves did not bring the lawsuit against Bet Yaakov. He says that the suit, and especially the High Court’s ruling, gave the Sephardim of Emanuel the sense of empowerment and confidence that they desperately needed.

Zinger hopes that this newfound strength and confidence will put an end to the intimidation tactics that have been used in the past against certain figures in Emanuel’s Sephardic community. Among the victims of these tactics is Rabbi Elyas, who described the backhanded conspiracy that forced him to leave Emanuel.

“They saw me as a threat, and wanted me to leave. So the school told my eighth-grade daughter that she was not accepted into ninth grade.”

Rabbi Elyas went to the principal, holding in his hands all of his daughter’s exams and report cards. The grades were excellent, and the teachers wrote notes on the report cards describing her exceptional qualities and religious commitment. Still, the principal stood his ground and insisted that the girl did not qualify for entrance into the high school.

Rabbi Elyas appealed to Rabbi Hildesheim, who was then the rabbi of Emanuel. The rabbi intervened on his behalf, only to receive an explicit threat that if he pushes the issue, he would lose his job. Rabbi Hildesheim consulted with one of the leading Torah sages in Bnei Brak, who ruled in no uncertain terms that he must put his job on the line to help a Jewish girl obtain the quality education she deserved. And so, he fought to ensure the girl’s acceptance, and soon thereafter his paychecks stopped coming. Several months later, he left Emanuel.

“We’ve been bullied,” Zinger bemoans. “Now with the ruling, people feel stronger and more confident that there’s someplace we can turn.”

A History of Tension

For many Sepharadim throughout Israel, the well-known pattern of anti-Sephardic discrimination in Israeli schools was all the more reason to persist in the struggle against the segregated program in Emanuel.

Hacham Ovadia Yosef, who emphasized that he was grateful for the Ashkenazic yeshivot that have produced fine Torah scholars at a time when Sephardic institutions were few, criticized the existence of quotas in these institutions. “There is discrimination. There is no denying that, even today there are Ashkenazic yeshivot which have a 20-30 percent quota on the number of Sephardic students they will accept.”

But as Shas Chairman Eli Yishai pointed out in Yom Leyom, Shas’s weekly newspaper, perhaps the worst anti-Sephardic discrimination is to be found outside of religious circles. “Only one Sephardi justice presides in the Supreme Court among 14 Ashkenazi justices… 12 prime ministers led Israel since the state’s founding, not one of them Sephardi… of the 19 IDF chiefs of staff, only six were Sephardi, and the list goes on,” Yishai said.

Indeed, tension between Israel’s ethnic populations has a long and unfortunate history and perhaps has its roots with the secular Zionists involved in Israel’s founding.  Many Sephardic immigrants who arrived in Israel in the early years of the State were forced to settle in segregated housing projects.  Complaints were voiced against the Ashkenazi-dominated establishment, which was accused of mistreating the Sephardic population and viewing Middle Eastern and African immigrants as inferior.  These feelings of resentment erupted in 1959, when violent demonstrations broke out in the Wadi Salib neighborhood in Haifa to protest alleged discrimination by the ruling Mapai party.  More famously, accusations were made that the Israeli authorities separated the young children of Yemenite immigrants from their parents in the 1950’s, in order to “convert” them to secular westerners.  Four separate government inquiry teams were established on various occasions to research these claims.

Certainly, the status of Sephardic Jews has increased drastically over the years.  The Labor Party, one of Israel’s largest political parties, has been led at three different periods by Sepharadim (Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, Amir Peretz and Amram Mitzna), and Israel has even had a Sephardic President (Moshe Katzav).  The Sephardic-religious Shas party wields considerable political power, and at one point occupied 17 seats in the Knesset.  Still, studies show an ongoing socioeconomic gap between the country’s populations.  Even in 2005, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics found that Israeli-born Ashkenazi Jews are almost twice as likely to pursue academic degrees as Israeli-born Sephardic Jews, and the average income of Ashkenazim was 36 percent higher than Sepharadim.

What Now?

For the Sephardic population in Emanuel, which has been thrust into the center of this ongoing national crisis, Mayor Gershi says that the long-term solution is institutional independence and stability. Although a Sephardic girls elementary school and high school have recently opened, they are still small and struggling. Their low numbers mean limited funding from the Ministry of Education, and currently, the schools can afford to give their students only the bare minimum education. There is no funding for additional help and therapy for students with special needs, extracurricular activities, trips, after-school programming, athletics, or computer enrichment classes.

The situation in the girls high school, the mayor described, is especially dire. “High school girls need activities outside the school, and we have no funding for that.” Worse yet, the school is just barely meeting its minimum financial obligations, and is constantly at risk of closing.

The mayor also sees a need for a new yeshiva high school for boys, one which combines traditional Torah study with a quality secular studies program. “Many boys from Sephardic families are not cut out for classic haredi high school education, which teaches only Torah. They need a religious school where they will study for matriculation exams and be prepared for a successful career.”

Among the differences between the Ashkenazic and Sephardic populations in Emanuel, Mayor Gershi claims, is networking. The Ashkenazim, by and large, are well-connected, both politically and financially. Case in point, Chinuch Atzmai succeeded in raising the funds it needed to cover the fine imposed by the High Court, through donations from abroad. The Sepharadim, thus far, have no network where they can turn for help in building and developing their institutions.

In addition, Zinger observed, there is considerable misinformation about the recent events in the town. “Sepharadim in America don’t want to give money to Emanuel, because they think it’s a town of Ashkenazim that discriminates against Sepharadim. The message needs to get out that the Sepharadim here are the majority, and we need outside help to establish and strengthen our institutions.”

Once these institutions are built and stabilized, perhaps the town of Emanuel will finally achieve the prominence that was envisioned thirty years ago. And, it will earn its place on the Jewish map not through tragedy and controversy, but rather through a reputation as a vibrant center of Torah life where committed Jews of different backgrounds live together in peace and harmony, setting an inspiring example of unity and cooperation for communities around the world to emulate.

For more information about Emanuel and how you can help, contact Emanuel Town Councilman David Zinger at

[1]The distinguished Slonim dynasty originated in the town of Slonim, which is now in Belarus, by Rabbi Avraham of Slonim z.s.l., author of Yesod HaAvodah, disciple of Rabbi Noah of Lechovitch z.s.l. and Rabbi Moshe of Kobrin z.s.l.

[2]Founded in 1953 by the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah (Council of Torah Sages of Agudath Israel in Israel), Chinuch Atzmai, which is partially funded by the government, serves as an alternate school system for Orthodox children in Israel.