For over 30 years, the Peniel Learning Center (PLC) in Tiberias has served children from the local Messianic community, providing a full elementary school curriculum (grades 1 through 6) in an atmosphere that honors the Word of God. As the first and only Hebrew-speaking Messianic elementary school in northern Israel, the Learning Center has always maintained good relations and cooperated with government agencies and the local public schools.
The school has an excellent reputation for producing graduates that have gone on to achieve academic success in middle school, high school and beyond – giving testimony to their faith.
A local middle school principal from the public system once expressed that the PLC sends her “flowers” each year, a reference to the pupils who graduate from Peniel after sixth grade and move to her school.
Despite its good standing with local authorities, in late 2020 the PLC began to face opposition from the Ministry of Education (MOE). This resulted in the school being served a closure order in January 2021 for ‘operating without a license.’
Israel’s MOE has chosen to ignore the special arrangement that the PLC established with the Israel Trust of the Anglican Church (ITAC) three decades ago.
ITAC, itself, runs the Anglican International School in Jerusalem without a license and has never received an order from the Education Ministry to obtain one, as they have existed in the land for over 200 years – before there even was a State of Israel!
Since receiving the closure order, the PLC has been in the middle of a difficult and complex legal process of appeal which has continued to this day and they are now facing a court case with the Education Ministry government authorities. The hearing is scheduled to take place this week, Thursday, April 20, in a Jerusalem Court.
As far as the Learning Center’s administration is concerned, this closure order is yet another “David and Goliath” scenario: An entire government ministry fighting against a small, private school with an average annual enrollment of 40 children total and a staff of six teachers.
Yes, the PLC, a ministry of the Peniel Fellowship of Tiberias is, indeed, a small school intended to serve the Messianic community in the Galilee. And it’s important to note this unique challenge because Israel doesn’t have Christian schools in every city like one would see in the United States.
The early beginnings of the Peniel Learning Center are a story that deserves to be told as it is a testimony to God’s grace and how His plans cannot be thwarted, even in the face of those who would seek to tear down.
In 1989, a Messianic couple from Tiberias recognized the need to provide a safe haven for their 10 children who suffered injuries from violent physical assaults, as well as verbal and emotional abuse in the public school system due to their faith in Jesus (Yeshua).
As a result, the parents removed their children from the public school and began to teach them at home. The situation, however, resulted in numerous confrontations with Israel’s government authorities who did not agree with the decision and, eventually, the family found itself facing a lawsuit from the Ministry of Education.
Following that court case, the judge ruled that the family could continue to educate their own children, so long as their program was placed under the supervision of an educational institution.
The Anglican International School, under the auspices of ITAC, agreed to provide the covering, which ultimately led to the establishment of the Peniel Learning Center in Tiberias. It was an exciting time, as the Learning Center became the first Hebrew-speaking Messianic school in Israel.
After nearly 30 years in operation, the Learning Center faces a new battle. In 2020, a Messianic child, after being bullied in her public school, transferred to the PLC. The MOE questioned the student’s whereabouts, which brought the Learning Center under their scrutiny once again. This was surprising as it was not the first time a student had transferred from public school.
That scrutiny led the Education Ministry to issue a closure order against the school, effectively ignoring the decision made years ago to allow the PLC to operate under the ITAC umbrella.
Since receiving the closure order, the Peniel Learning Center has been in a legal process of appeal and taking steps to license the kindergarten independently of ITAC. It is an expensive and tedious project, chock full of government bureaucracy and plenty of red tape. Despite their efforts, in December 2022, the PLC once again, received a closure order – this time for both the school and the kindergarten.
The Peniel Learning Center continues the costly and time-consuming battle to keep the school and kindergarten operating.
“We have now received all 30 permits that were needed to get the kindergarten up to code and are now waiting for the city engineer’s signature. All of this is just to submit the request for a license! It's been very difficult,” said the Learning Center’s principal.
While the school closure order was presented as an issue of legality and licensing, there is, naturally, a strong suspicion of prejudice against the PLC being a Messianic school.
“On one hand, the closure order is not directly related to our faith that we know of, but it's hard to say what's going on internally in the Ministry of Education offices or what kind of discussions they're having,” a PLC staff member shared.
“It’s possible they are using the licensing issue as a technicality when prejudice against the Messianic community is the main issue, but we don’t have any evidence of that. However, we believe that if we were an Orthodox religious school, the Ministry of Education wouldn't be bothering us,” she added.
“Regardless of the circumstances, we know that we don't wrestle against flesh and blood. I think that there is definitely a spiritual element – attack – here and that we’re having this trouble because we are believers,” added the staff member.
Despite opposition from various directions, the desire of the parents and the Learning Center staff is to be able to continue operating the school and kindergarten, providing a safe place where the children can be taught of the Lord alongside of the required curriculum – a curriculum which complies to the regulations of the very same Ministry of Education who, with their defense lawyers, they will face in court this week.
The Peniel Learning Center and Peniel Fellowship are praying and trusting the Lord to fight this “David vs. Goliath” battle on their behalf and that the judge will overturn the decision to close the PLC, allowing the school and kindergarten to continue under the Israel Trust of the Anglican School for many years to come.
In the Book of Isaiah we read, “All your sons will be taught of the Lord; and the well-being of your sons will be great.” (Isaiah 54:13). This is the theme of Peniel school.
As the body of believers in Israel and abroad, we ask that you join the Peniel Learning Center and the members of Peniel Fellowship in prayer as they prepare, along with their defense lawyers, for their day in court on Thursday, April 20.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.