Arale Rothstein: Educating towards Jewish values and pluralism
Shaar Hanegev School
Educational Leadership In The Face Of Fire
Amidst the earsplitting sounds of warning sirens for an incoming Qassam rocket attack, Arele Rothstein, principal of Sha’ar Hanegev High School and a faculty member at the Mandel Leadership Institute, manages to enable his school to survive, all while educating towards Jewish values and pluralism. It is in recognition of his extraordinary leadership under such adverse conditions, that Rothstein was awarded The 2007 Constantiner Prize in Jewish Education.
On Judaism, democracy, and partnership
Each year, the Tel Aviv University School of Education awards the Constantiner Prize for Jewish Education to educators and educational institutions for their contribution to Jewish education in Israel and the Diaspora. Previous winners have included the Hebrew Tarbut School in Mexico City; Metuka Benjamin, an educator who founded four Jewish schools in the United States; Shlomo Dovrat, head of the Dovrat Commission; and the late Prof. Seymour Fox, who won the first ever Constantiner Prize.
Professor Itamar Rabinovich, President of Tel Aviv University, noted at Rothstein receiving the award: “The prize was given in appreciation of the contribution made by the school under his leadership to providing a Jewish education to children from all segments of society, religious and secular, recent immigrants and native Israelis; for his steadfastness in the face of incessant rocket attacks; and for his determination to keep the school going as usual despite it all … and for the encouragement of an ongoing pluralistic dialogue among educators, pupils, and their families on current national and cultural issues.”
Opening the gate to the Negev and to educational leadership
Tel Aviv–born Arele Rothstein, now a member of Kibbutz Miflasim, settled on Kibbutz Kefar Aza during his army service. After working in farming for several years, Arele, purely by chance, found himself in the field of education. He earned his Bachelors and Masters Degrees, became a teacher of Talmud, and eventually was named a school principal.
Sha’ar Hanegev School is a regional six-year high school in the jurisdiction of the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council, which—like the other localities in the area—has been suffering from Qassam rocket fire from Gaza for more than six years; the attacks have increased in frequency in the past two years.
“Our school is very heterogeneous,” says Arele. “About 35% of the pupils are from kibbutzim, and the rest are from moshavim, the development towns of Sederot and Netivot, and families evicted from the northern Gaza Strip. The living situation here is hard for everyone.”
A sense of commitment and concern for the periphery guides Rothstein in his work on the Mandel faculty as well. Originally a faculty member in the MLI education division; in recent years, together with Prof. Haim Adler, he has been running a program to assist alumni, especially those in the periphery, on an individual basis.
“Our job is to develop a connection between the alumni, the Mandel Institute, and the projects each party is working on,” Arele explains. “We help them see how they can link the dream to a career, the dream to objectives. In the future we’re also going to try to promote collaboration between MLI fellows and graduates regarding cooperation and collaboration between their projects. We’re already having a session on “education in Israeli society through the prism of Mandel alumni.”
School is a meeting place open to everyone
When asked how one runs a school amidst the sirens and threat of attack, Rothstein replies, “It’s a complex, problematic task dictated in part by fear and in part by a rational attempt to stabilize the system despite the unbearable situation.” And indeed, the school manages to comply with all of what Arele terms “external” obligations, such as matriculation exams, academic standards, attendance and the like. But now that the guns are roaring, many of the unique programs and concepts that Rothstein established have unfortunately been shunted aside.
Rothstein uses the adverse conditions as an opportunity for education. His educational credo, which guides his running of every facet of the school, boils down to the students learning as they make the transition to adult life. Rothstein is trying to use the social structure of the school as leverage for learning. The most important thing, particularly in these difficult times, is for the students to build an adult identity, and for this they need an intellectual environment imbued with principles. Sha’ar Hanegev provides its pupils with the foundations for developing a Jewish, Israeli, universal identity, not necessarily through formal achievement.
Rothstein concludes, “We let our pupils develop a worldview and find their place in Israeli society as responsible, involved human beings.”