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ORDINARY ISRAELIS: EXTRAORDINARY DEEDS

Betty Rosenbaum

A Unique National - Religious Yeshiva High School -
Mekor Chaim


At Mekor Chaim, parents say that their children simply thrive in the environment found there.  This yeshiva high school is considered one of the finest experimental schools in the country. When entering  this school in the Judean Hills, you see physical conditions that are adequate, although far from luxurious.  The classroom facilities and dormitories are very simple; nevertheless, this does not diminish the enthusiasm that the staff and the students alike have for the school.
This unique institution embodies a revolutionary philosophy of high school education.  Realizing that Israeli society is becoming increasingly fragmented, the school puts the emphasis on educating a new generation of passionately committed Jews, who realize that their own fulfillment is dependent upon the diversity they encounter among others. It is a model that works.
The head of the yeshiva, Harav (Rabbi) Dov Singer, believes  that the student is the basic and most important element and factor in the educational process. Therefore everything must revolve around the student who is expected to be totally involved in all school policies.  Most unusual is the way that the staff relies on the honesty of these high school students who do not even have to bring notes from home to explain their absences or tardiness.  “Harav Dov” and his staff guide students in an atmosphere of warmth and family-feeling - a full partnership founded in absolute trust on both sides. 
In many ways it is a 'holy rebellion.’  It is an educational stream which has the potential to shake the establishment.  Rather than following one philosophy, it encourages a mixture that blends the best of many streams into a powerful force, a love for the Land of Israel and for analytic Lithuanian Torah scholarship which is combined with Hassidic warmth and vitality.
There is emphasis on both learning in depth and in understanding the broader concepts of the subject matter.  Study habits are important.  However, not everyone is expected to get a grade of 90 to be considered a ‘good’ student.  Everyone, however, has to try his best.  The internal growth of each individual is of the essence.  Just as each plant grows best in its own environment with its special needs and conditions, so does each student need his own individual space to grow and develop.  Individuality, which is encouraged for the staff and for the students alike is balanced with concern for the interests of the group. 
There is an active and intimate relationship between Harav Dov and his staff.  He gives his teachers pedagogical freedom.  At the school, one of the central themes is to judge the other favorably and to give the benefit of the doubt in every situation.  This is known as “ladun l’kav z’chut”. If there is a student who has a particular problem, the teacher tries to focus on the positive traits or strong points of that student rather than on his weaknesses, thereby building him up and magnifying the student’s self-image.   If a student can be encouraged to see himself as ’good’  the self-fulfilling prophecy will probably work to achieve a more positive self-image and he will see himself as good and try to live up to higher standards. 
The students are encouraged to ask philosophical questions.  Recently the father of one of the students suddenly died.  There were so many questions asked.  In reply they were told that when we look around us we see so many things that are difficult to understand.  The students learn that just as the body is limited and will not be able to 'take off' and fly; so is the mind limited and unable to comprehend all the secrets of the universe or all of the events that happen around us.
Each teacher has his or her own style to reach out.  One teacher is a “Bresleva Hassid.”  The students and teachers sing together in the early morning before their morning prayers.  This helps to start the day optimistically and cheerfully.  The students are totally involved in the school's policies.  Teachers are not chosen by the string of degrees attached to their names, but by their sensitivity to teaching the individual. 
The school tries to achieve maximum individual potential in all areas, and guards against smugness, complacency and self-satisfaction.  There is a commitment to the broader society.  There is a strong student government.
The principal and the teachers live by the values they teach.  Teaching is a way of sharing yourself, thereby making an impact on the students and on the future.
There is a saying that freely translated, reads:

He who worries for the next year, plants wheat
He who worries about years ahead, plants trees
He who is concerned about future generations
Is an educator of mankind.

In brief, teaching in this school is like a calling.  Some of the teachers live on the ‘campus’: Their doors are always open to helping their students.  The students are like precious buds of potential, waiting to be fed and nourished by loving teachers with concern, humor, enthusiasm and good spirit.
Not all the teachers finished university - perhaps ‘only’ a teachers' seminary.  Education to them is not merely a profession, it is primarily an art.  The soul of the educator needs natural talent.
The students are self-motivated.  Sometimes on Thursday nights they voluntarily get together to study throughout the night, even during the summer vacation.  At midnight one of the boys goes out to get wafers and some drinks.  This keeps them going for a few hours.  They're still going strong through the early hours of the morning until dawn.  This all-night vigil is a special experience for these boys.  They discuss different aspects of the law and then pray together at dawn.  This all-night study session is called 'mishmar'- (watch), and is believed to keep the world going since Torah-study is an ongoing process - in order that G-d will continue to keep His watch over us.
The boys also love sports and are encouraged to have good competitive basketball games in the evening. This not only helps them to keep physically fit, but it is also excellent preparation for their future military training. 
Many are talented in the arts - in music and in drama.  The school also emphasizes the need to develop creativity.  The students have drama groups performing during the year and at graduation.  There are music and literature clubs in addition to the regular studies.  The school in its entirety is a study in excellence. 
At the graduation ceremony the students portrayed various aspects of the human experience through the diverse characters that stroll through their lives.  They wrote and directed a script of a modern version of the popular tales of Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlav.  For example, one scene showed the contrast between a man who is wise and demanding of his environment in contrast to one who was more simple and easy-going.  They portrayed the wise man as a student who got 97 as a final grade, but was dissatisfied. The more easy-going person who got 70 was elated that he passed.  There was a very big message to students in this portrayal of character.  Another contrasting short sketch was between two newly married men.  There was the newly married young man whose wife made him a delicious three-course meal.  His first comment was that there was not enough oregano and ginger in the casserole.  This was in comparison to another young groom whose wife prepared a tomato and cottage cheese sandwich.  He thought it was one of the most tasty satisfying delicious suppers he had ever eaten in his life.  It is interesting to see how one relates in drama to different types of people in the world.  The lessons on the students' level was very clear - not to think that 'more is better.’  That goes for not only for food and grades but primarily for money and materialism. 
Late one evening, some students were found singing in the dormitory, guitars in hand, sitting together, a lit candle nearby.
Passing by, the dormitory supervisor asked, ”What's going on here?" 
The answer: “This is a memorial service for John Lennon.”
Momentarily stunned, it did not take him long, however, to sit down with them to sing some of the Beatles' songs.  This story was told at one of the school's graduation ceremonies.  The dorm leader could have stopped the singing and announced that it was time for “lights out.”  However, he was knowledgeable and heard that there are sensitive thoughts in some of the Beatles' songs.  For example there are themes on the brotherhood of man, on all the people sharing the world, or on imagining there are no possessions and no need for greed or hunger. 
This is definitely a new creative style and stream in education - to combine in-depth Torah learning with the arts and the sciences.  Love for learning Torah together with individuality and self-expression are the keys that make this school unique and successful.  The parents are very grateful when their children are admitted to this school because there is a great emphasis on 'simcha' - happiness and contentment with who you are and what you are doing.  The singing is exuberant and there is a lot of dancing during the Friday evening services, when welcoming the Shabbat.  Equally impressive, just before the 'havdala' ceremony at the conclusion of Shabbat, the boys run up to their rooms to get some musical instruments and then everyone dances. 
In the Hebrew month of Adar in which the holiday of Purim falls, there is traditionally an aura of happiness and light.  The members of the school, both students and staff, are all involved in a very intensive and unique 'game' called “Giants and Dwarfs.”  Each person is both a giant to his dwarf, giving him things secretly and also someone's dwarf. No one knows who his 'giant' is until just before Purim.  There is a bustle of activity.  In the middle of class a student can come in carrying hot tea and delicious cake and tell the teacher that he was asked to be the giant's messenger.  No one knows who his 'giant' is who sends him goodies in secret.  One teacher was asked to come to class dressed as a Chassid.  A student asked for unlimited 'passes' for two weeks.  One of the rabbis, an eligible bachelor woke up one morning to find a suit at the front door to his apartment and his car decorated as if to go to a wedding.  Being a good sport, he put on the suit and drove to Jerusalem.
To where are the classes going this year on the traditional end-of-the-year hike?  They start off in Bnei Braq to see and observe and listen and learn in the famed Ponovitch Yeshiva.  There they see a certain power in prayer as each of the young men prays almost aloud and the chant sounds almost like thunder.  The next day they are off to the Diaspora Museum in Ramat Aviv located on the  campus of Tel Aviv University.  These two visits - one to a very traditional environment and one to a secular institution - expose the students to two worlds.  From there they head north, sleep on  the shores of Lake Kinneret, have a few hours of sports in the morning before heading for the mystical city of Zefat where they spend the Sabbath.  Again, diversity is the key and goal.
The school believes that happiness comes from within. The students are taught to be very caring and thoughtful of others.  As part of the curriculum each class spends one morning or afternoon a week working as a volunteer, either in a school for retarded youth or in a home for the aged.  They take their cues from their teachers who are also known to be integrally involved in the communities in which they live.
This extraordinary educational set up is not rigid or confining.  The teachers and the students feel totally at home in their school environment, so much so that at the graduation ceremony the farewell and separation is very painful and tears are shed.  No one is bashful or shy to openly express his true feelings and show his emotions.  Almost without exception each feels that the learning experience has been indelibly imprinted on his heart, his soul and his brain.  How do we know so much about this school, you may ask?  Our son Yoram is privileged to teach there and the children of some of our friends study there.

 

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