Israel is a complex multi-cultural society, a fact that is reflected in its sophisticated educational system. This is an article in two parts: Part I explores education for children, while Part II explores adult and higher education. This article is reprinted with permission from Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.
“The very world rests on the breath of a child in the schoolhouse” (Babylonian Talmud: Shabbat, 119b).
Education in Israel is a precious legacy. Following the tradition of past generations, education continues to be a fundamental value and is recognized as the key to the future. The educational system aims to prepare children to become responsible members of a democratic, pluralistic society in which people from different ethnic, religious, cultural and political backgrounds coexist. It is based on Jewish values, love of the land, and the principles of liberty and tolerance. It seeks to impart a high level of knowledge, with an emphasis on scientific and technological skills essential for the country’s continued development.
When the State of Israel was founded (1948), a fully functioning education system already existed, developed and maintained by the pre-state Jewish community, with Hebrew–which had been revived for daily speech at the end of the 19th century–as the language of instruction.
However, since shortly after the establishment of the state, the education system has faced the enormous challenge of integrating large numbers of immigrant children from over 70 countries–some coming with their parents, others alone–thereby fulfilling Israel’s raison d’être as the historic homeland of the Jewish people. The mass immigration of the 1950s, mainly from postwar Europe and Arab countries, was succeeded in the 1960s by a large influx of Jews from North Africa. In the 1970s, the first sizable immigration of Jews from the Soviet Union arrived, followed intermittently by smaller groups.
Since the beginning of the 1990s, over one million Jews from the former Soviet Union have come to Israel, with many more still arriving each year. In two mass movements, in 1984 and 1991, almost the entire Jewish community of Ethiopia was brought to the country. Over the years, many Jews from the Americas and other western countries have also settled in Israel.
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