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As Israel's Independence Day approaches, small Messianic school in the Galilee continues fight for religious freedom

Urgent prayer needed: Judge rules Peniel Learning Center must pursue operating license

Entrance of Jerusalem District Court (Photo: Peniel Learning Center)

ALL ISRAEL NEWS posted an article last week requesting prayer on behalf of a small Messianic elementary school and kindergarten in Tiberias as they prepared to face Israel’s Ministry of Education last Thursday, April 20.

The Peniel Learning Center (PLC), its parents and students traveled to a Jerusalem District Court on Thursday to appeal a closure order that was handed to them by the Education Ministry early in 2021 for ‘operating without a license.’ This group of some 50 people packed the small courtroom as the case was brought before the judge. 

The judge’s ruling on Thursday was not what the PLC had prayed for. The school was given permission to continue operating through the end of the school year this June, however, in order to open its doors next year, they must first obtain an operating license.

A PLC staff member in attendance reported that it was a long and difficult morning as “we felt as though we had taken some blows, but the Lord was with us. We were “afflicted but not crushed”, according to 2 Cor. 4:7-9. The Learning Center said they felt encouraged and comforted to be surrounded with so much prayer, locally and internationally.

The PLC staff and parents had prayed a great deal for the judge prior to the court date and found him to be kind and just, although his sole focus was on the legal standing of the school.  

The Learning Center had hoped the judge would take into consideration their special arrangement under the auspices of the ITAC (Israel Trust of the Anglican Church) which has provided them with legal cover for the last 30 years. He also was not moved to consider the hundreds of other schools in Israel that operate without a license.

Ultimately, “The judge was sympathetic to the challenges that we face as a small, unique community and ruled that the Ministry of Education must take that into consideration,” the PLC school principal told ALL ISRAEL NEWS.

“But how that will play out in reality is yet to be seen. They will really need to make many exceptions for us in order to meet the qualifications for getting the license. For example, a school must have 22 students enrolled in two consecutive grades (i.e..22 pupils in first grade, 22 in second grade), however, our current enrollment is only 23 students in our entire grade school!” he explained.

According to the PLC, there are many other requirements that will make it very difficult for them to get the license and there is no guarantee that the Ministry of Education will be flexible.

“To date, the initial interactions them have not been promising and the closure orders are still in effect if we don't succeed in submitting a request for a license by July,” the principal said.

There are hundreds of Orthodox Jewish schools in Israel that operate without a license, however when this point was brought up during the hearing, the Education Ministry responded it “is a delicate matter which requires special exceptions.” 

The PLC desires that the government will also treat the Messianic community in Israel with special consideration, because “we are a minority group within the State of Israel whose religious rights are not being regarded,” noted a staff member.

While the PLC staff did not speak at the hearing, Daniel Yahav, pastor of the Peniel Fellowship which runs the Learning Center, did have a small window of opportunity to share his thoughts with the court in light of Holocaust Remembrance Day, which took place early last week.

"As the son of a Holocaust survivor, my Jewish father was thrown out of the education system under Nazi Germany because he was a Jew. This week was the memorial day of the Holocaust in Israel and it is unthinkable that his great grandchildren would be thrown out of school and kindergarten because of their families' faith," Yahav said.

Toward the end of the hearing, the judge allowed one of the parents to speak directly to the Ministry of Education.  

“She gave a passionate plea for the Education Ministry to think of the well-being of the children above their regulations and to consider the damage it would do to the children to be uprooted from the safety of our school and to be placed into a setting where, ‘they will have a target on their backs,’” a PLC staff member shared.

The path that the PLC has already taken to obtain a license for its kindergarten to operate is monumental.

“We have already been working to get our kindergarten licensed for almost a year and a half and are still chasing permits. But getting a license for the school will be a much more involved process and, humanly speaking, can't be done in just a few short months,” the PLC reported, “but if God is in this, then we know that after we have passed through it all, we will look back and be amazed at all that the Lord has done!”

While the Peniel Learning Center staff recognizes that they have “been thrown into the deep waters,” they know that the Lord will work it out for good and that He has brought a situation “to force us to become independent from the ITAC and may eventually allow us to expand.”

Even so, the PLC clearly does not want to have to close the school next fall while they pursue the operating license.

The Peniel Learning Center in Tiberias has been serving children from the local Messianic community for the last 30 years, providing a kindergarten and full elementary school curriculum (grades 1 through 6) in an atmosphere that honors the Word of God. In addition, the PLC is only one of two Hebrew-speaking Messianic schools in the country, and the only one in northern Israel providing an education that includes both the New and Old Testaments teachings in light of their faith.

Furthermore, the Learning Center administration has always maintained good relations and cooperated with government agencies and the local public schools and has an excellent reputation for producing graduates who have gone on to achieve academic success in middle school, high school and beyond, giving testimony to the faith. 

Even during the hearing, the pupils were a testimony. A staff member explained that their team had prayed prior to the hearing that “the light of the Lord would be seen in all of us and that it would be clear that we operate in a different spirit.”

“During one point in the deliberations, after the Education Ministry accused us of being anarchists for not obeying the law, the judge responded, ‘They are not anarchists. I have never seen such well-behaved children in all of my life. It is clear that this is a very special community.”

“We need a lot of wisdom and strength from the Lord to succeed in the great challenge that we face now,” said Yahav. “We need to find a suitable building for a school, more qualified teachers, more student enrollments from believing families, and funding for this whole project. Our eyes are fixed on the Lord and we intend to make every effort on our part.”

“But the danger of the closure has not passed. We need God's grace and protection,” Yahav continued. “Our right to educate our children according to our faith may be taken away from us for the next school year.” 

“We thank you for your prayers and intercession and ask you to continue standing with us. The battle is not over. Please pray with us that God will make a way where there seems to be no way,” the PLC staff concluded.

To learn more about PLC’s ongoing legal battle or to make a donation, please write to [email protected].

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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