About four thousand yeshiva boys, grades 5 through 9, gathered Monday, June 23 in the hot Jerusalem sun to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the establishment of Keren Hatzolah, an educational system belonging to the most anti-Zionist stream of Orthodox Judaism in the world.
The school system, funded primarily by the Satmar Hassidic communities in New York, Antwerp and a few other cities, teaches in Yiddish and says it refuses to receive money from the State of Israel for theological and ideological reasons. According to the Edah Hacharedis, students in these schools currently number about 50,000.
Speaking at the gathering, Rabbi Dovid Soloveitchik, head of a division of the Brisker Yeshiva, said, "I cannot say that Torah studied by those who take money from the state is not Torah. But I can say that the Torah of those who do not accept money from the state is like Torah learnt from G-d through Moses our teacher."
Rabbi Yitzchok Tovia Weiss, head of the Beis Din of the Edah Hacharedis, also spoke and encouraged the children to go on sanctifying the name of G-d in public.
A pamphlet was printed and distributed in honor of the occasion, featuring the history of the Old Yishuv, its struggle against Zionism and its steadfast refusal to accept Zionist money, even at times when it meant near starvation. At the end of the pamphlet were cartoons depicting the Zionist Ministry of Education forcing their agenda on schools supported by their budget.
The rally staged Monday was ostensibly a 30th anniversary celebration. But organizers and participants said it was really an opportunity to encourage school principals to boost their fundraising efforts as the devalued dollar and the slump in the US economy buffeted haredi education budgets.
"We need to shake up the apparatus," said one of the organizers. "The heads of the fundraising efforts have run out of steam. We need new faces."
The Keren Hatzolah or Emergency Fund, set up by former Satmar Rebbe Yoel Teitelbaum to fund a totally autonomous educational system, is strapped for cash.
However, the demand for "pure Jewish education" untainted by foreign influences has been growing among haredim, according to organizers of the rally.
One of the signs of the rise in the demand for education that is "not funded by sinners" was evident in the crowd of participants. Although most of the children who came to the rally were from traditionally haredi cities such as Safed, Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, there were also children from non-haredi cities such as Beersheba and Beit She'an. Children who go to the schools in these cities are predominantly Sephardi.