(lubavitch.com) As part of an inspection of local schools and educational initiatives his administration hopes to implement as they tackle the city’s scholastic challenges, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and several members of his staff made a three hour visit to Chabad’s Ir Ganim – Jerusalem school last week.
Joined by a team of Jerusalem Education Administration officials, including director Benzi Nemet, local officials and community leaders, the 49 year old American educated Barkat interacted with students and teachers during a tour of the school. The student-led tour included a flower-filled welcome ceremony, 60-member choir performance, classroom visitations and demonstrations.
“He was very fun and said such nice things about our school,” said 12 year old vice-president of the student body, Orel Avraham who helped lead the beginning of the tour. “It was a real honor to have him and show off our school.”
The new Mayor, described in a recent New York Times profile as “bringing a sense of modern renewal and entrepreneurial spirit” to Jerusalem, moved from class to class, taking notes as he observed a second grade class learning to read with partners from the fifth grade, a special education room supplementing the education of advanced students, and the implementation of the Mofet program for developing thinking skills in math, English and the sciences.
After reviewing the stockroom housing the school’s division of student-community programs including home visits, Shabbat food distribution, and holiday assistance, Barkat praised the effort and promised to increase his support.
“I am very happy when a community works together to develop, grow and meet its needs. It makes it easier for us to help them,” he said.
The group of 20 visitors then met privately with Principal Rabbi Shimon Yedger, his staff, and student and parent representatives for a more in-depth discussion. The Mayor, saying he was “very impressed” with what he has seen, called the school “one of Jerusalem’s truly special and unique educational institutions.”
“You here are leaders at the forefront of education. I only wish I could make a copy of your school and bring it to other places in the city.”
Yedger shared the history, development and philosophy of the school since he was sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem M. Schneerson of blessed memory, in 1984 to be the school’s principal when the student body numbered 86.
“I told the Mayor that we built this school up by developing meaningful relationships with the students and instilling in them a love of Judaism,” he told lubavitch.com. “They’re empowered by the message that hard work brings success and the sky is the limit. We communicate that we believe in them.”
A religious public school for children aged 3 to 13 founded by the Rebbe in 1954, the school’s 330 students come mostly from nonobservant homes with as many as 38 percent from Ethiopia and 11 percent from Russia.
The school bridges religious, cultural and communal gaps by student-led activities such as the student government, cross-class interaction, and charity work with the community. “There isn’t a child who doesn’t participate,” claimed Yedger, who said that the activities empower the students and encourage cooperation. He pointed to the Mayor’s student-led tour as an example.
“They did much of the preparation of their own. It gives them great confidence knowing that we trust them with real responsibilities.”
He credited the staff’s attitude with being at the core of the school’s success.
“The key here is our mission. Many of us were directly sent by the Rebbe to dedicate ourselves to working with these children,” said Rabbi Yedger who is in his 19th year as principal.
“It’s the main force behind our activities and programs, and each of us considers it an honor and privilege to help these kids grow as students and people.”