Established by Dr. Aryeh Geiger (zt”l) in 1999, Reut High School in Jerusalem was the first model for integrated Jewish pluralistic democratic education in the State of Israel. Since 2002, it has been a foundation of the Meitarim community, emphasizing critical thinking, student leadership and volunteerism among its students.
Principal Avital Levy-Katz believes that arguing, doubting, and questioning are integral parts of Judaism. Jewish studies teachers encourage their students to ask questions.
“We have a lot of class discussions and teachers ask, ‘What do you think?’” said Adina, 16, a tenth grader originally from Pittsburgh, PA. Perhaps more importantly, teachers can comfortably admit when they do not have answers to the students’ questions and they work with the students to search for answers; “Everyone can speak their mind about what they think of the text,” said Ili, 15, a tenth grader who attended a religious all-boys elementary school.
Since the school’s founding, the Reut students can bring up new and old issues to the administration and the rest of the school, as they play a major role in the decision-making process for school policies. Whether at the end-of-semester general meeting, or by other means, students have a say in everything from morning prayers and dress codes to acceptance of new students and hiring of new teachers.
Reut students also take it upon themselves to initiate new volunteer and service projects in the school such as planting shrubbery and flowers on school grounds; serving food in the school’s on-campus soup kitchen after school several days per week; visiting the elderly; and going to museums with special needs students from Reut and other schools.
Dr. Geiger used to say that everyone has at least one special need; therefore, the school does not separate special needs students from their classmates. Reut has the highest number of integrated special needs students of any school in the country. Adina recalls her ninth grade class trip, “We got a handicap accessible bus and an all-terrain wheelchair for a boy in my class. The teachers thought that everyone else would do a harder hike and he’d be on his own doing an easier one, but we said no, we wanted to be together the whole time.”
Neither the administration nor the principal know how many secular or religious students attend the high school; “We don’t define students as religious or non-religious because of their families,” said Principal Avital Levy-Katz, “That definition is for the children to build for themselves through school, friends and experience.” Students themselves even admit that they do not know where their friends and classmates fall on the secular-religious spectrum because it is a non-issue among Reut students and teachers; “It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from,” explained Leny, 17, an eleventh grader originally from Tel Aviv, “We don’t know or care if other kids are religious or not.”