Israel opens schools with record number of students

Israeli schools opened for more than 2 million students, a record for the country.

The number of students included 145,374 first-graders, including Moshe Holtzberg, whose parents were murdered in the November 2008 terrorist attack on the Chabad House in Mumbai, India.

Many cities by Monday had not completed their new preschool buildings in time for the start of the term to accommodate the government’s decision to provide free preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds, the Times of Israel reported.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting: “Hello to all the first-graders. This is what Israeli children who are starting the 2012-2013 school year will hear tomorrow. Each one of us remembers this exciting day. I remember it, with my book bag, pencil case and empty notebooks. Today, the technology has changed a little, but the excitement is the same, the children’s great excitement, and that of the parents, teachers and principals as well.”

Netanyahu also spoke Sunday with Moshe Holtzberg, who is living in Israel with his grandparents, Shimon and Yehudit. Netanyahu wished him well and said the prayers of the entire Jewish people are with him.

Meanwhile, the Education Ministry and the city of Eilat agreed late Sunday that children of African migrants will be integrated into the regular school system instead of the separate school system they had attended. The agreement came after the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the end to the forced segregation.

Under the agreement, the migrant children will attend special classes in their regular neighborhood schools to help them overcome their language and educational gaps, and will be integrated into regular classrooms when possible after careful evaluation.

Eilat parents had threatened to keep their children at home until the threat of integrating the migrant children was rescinded.

Monday reportedly was the first time that the school year in Israel did not begin on Sept. 1; a new yearly school schedule was introduced last year.

‘Bully’ documentary to land in theaters unrated

The Weinstein Co. on Monday said it has decided to release its documentary “Bully” without a U.S. film rating after failing to persuade the Motion Picture Association of America to change to one that is less restrictive.

“Bully,” set for release on March 30, has drawn controversy over the MPAA’s “R” rating that means people under 17-years-old must be accompanied by adult to see it. The group gave it the rating due to strong language used by kids in the movie.

Opponents of the MPAA’s decision, including Weinstein Co., argue that many youth need to see the film in order to tackle the problem of bullying, and the “R” rating will bar kids not only from theaters but also from watching it in schools.

The MPAA, which represents Hollywood’s major movie studios in governmental matters, rates films for content such as sex, violence and language to give audiences an idea of what will be in the movies they see.

Releasing “Bully” unrated means anyone will be admitted where it is screened, but in the past many major theater chains have spurned films without an MPAA rating. As a result, distributors such as Weinstein Co. seek the ranking.

“We believe theater owners everywhere will step up and do what’s right for the benefit of all of the children out there who have been bullied or may have otherwise become bullies themselves. We’re working to do everything we can to make this film available to as many parents, teachers and students across the country,” Weinstein Co. marketing president Stephen Bruno said in a statement.

Weinstein Co. had appealed the “R” earlier this year and sought a less-restrictive rating, but the MPAA refused to budge. Director Lee Hirsch could edit out the objectionable words, but has declined to make changes arguing the language is essential to the story.

“The small amount of language in the film that’s responsible for the R rating is there because it’s real. It’s what the children who are victims of bullying face on most days,” Hirsch said in a statement. “All of our supporters see that, and we’re grateful for the support we’ve received across the board. I know the kids will come, so it’s up to the theaters to let them in.”


Reporting By Zorianna Kit; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte

Israeli teachers oppose school trips to Hebron

Hundreds of Israeli teachers have sent a letter to Israel’s education minister opposing school trips to Hebron.

The trips are part of an Education Ministry program to take students on “heritage tours” in the West Bank city.

The 260 teachers who signed the letter Sunday called the program, launched in Jerusalem schools last year and opened last month to schools throughout the country, “a manipulative use of pupils and teachers, who will be forced to become political pawns,” according to Haaretz

The program is not compulsory. Some 2,000 secular and 1,000 religious high school students have visited the Cave of the Patriarchs, according to Haaretz.

The Cave of the Patriarchs, the burial place of the Jewish forefathers and foremothers, is located in Hebron; the site is also holy to Muslims. Hebron is home to more than 160,000 Palestinians and 500 Jews.

Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar told Israel Radio Monday that the letter had only been sent to Haaretz and not to him, and that “it’s to the discredit of the education system that this [school trips to Hebron] hasn’t happened in the last 40 years.”

Last week, a Hebron school trip was canceled after students from a Jerusalem high school were prohibited by security forces from touring Hebron with a group of former Israeli soldiers from the Breaking the Silence organization, which offers a pro-Palestinian view of Hebron.

“By using the national education system, you wish to strengthen and perpetuate the Jewish settlements in these areas,” the teachers’ letter said. “To this end, the reality in Hebron is presented in a partial and tendentious manner. Concealing the political reality is a political action.”