Broadening Educational Opportunities for Jewish Girls in Djerba, Tunisia
The 1,000 Jews now living in Djerba, an island off the south Tunisian coast, comprise one of the world’s oldest Jewish communities, one that carefully guards its religious traditions and customs, some of which predate the writing of the Talmud. A vibrant community with a 4% annual growth rate and 11 active synagogues, its Jewish educational institutions stand at the center of community life and have long benefited from JDC financial and curricular support.
For decades, these have included a traditional Yeshiva program for boys, and a part-time school for girls, conducted in Hebrew, that offers both Jewish and secular studies—as well as a supplementary secular study program for the boys.
Now, girls 6 to 18 have an additional option, a complementary afternoon and evening school offering them additional hours of study and a curriculum that responds to the needs and aspiration of 21st century youth.
With encouragement from the Chief Rabbi and support from JDC and other donors, the school was launched by two dynamic young women, using makeshift classrooms provided by the community. Alit (a mother of seven, including a newborn) and her sister-in-law, Hannah (a mother of four), currently serve as the program’s directors.
Pointing to a three-year track record of success in attracting a growing enrollment (some 100+), the women are now working to establish a permanent facility for the school that will accommodate all age groups, including the high school classes they have been adding each year.
“We are constantly expanding the range of subjects,” says Alit, all of which are taught in Hebrew, as has been the norm in Djerba for the past 60 years.
Characterizing their work as “a mission,” Hannah explains that, “in addition to Torah, Halacha (religious law), and the Bible, we also teach mathematics, geography, and science.” And there is a strong desire to promote vocational training, with Alit pressing to open courses in photography and hairdressing techniques that can lead to suitable employment.
Clearly, the school is providing new horizons for Jewish girls and young women in Djerba. And most importantly in this very traditional community, it is enabling them to develop their individual potential in a manner consonant with their religious customs.
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