Israel’s Education System Revolutionized Its Approach to Transgender Students, but Still Has a Ways to Go

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7/8/22

During the last week of school before summer vacation, the parents of N., a second-grader from the central Israeli city of Herzliya, visited her class in order to tell her classmates about their daughter’s gender transition. The school has been a partner in the process for some time. At this point, N. and her parents decided it was time to share this with the other students, and to tell them that they should address her with female pronouns from now on. The evening before, the girl’s parents and the school’s counseling team held a Zoom meeting with her classmates’ parents. The next day came the moment of truth: N.’s parents read to the children the Hebrew translation of “I Am Jazz,” a book relating the story of a transgender girl who “didn’t feel like herself in boy clothes,” and then told them about their daughter’s transition. “The children accepted her in the most natural way,” the girl’s father, Matan Peled, tells Haaretz. Her transition is not physiological – just a change in her pronouns and a shift to skirts and dresses. According to Peled, since the announcement, his daughter has been feeling much more at ease socially. “Before, she lived a double life,” he says, adding that his daughter didn’t like going to school. When class was over, she would shut herself in at home because she feared her friends would see her in “girl clothes.” “Now she goes out and has play dates in the afternoon,” Peled says. He says the school has been supportive throughout the process. “Everyone went above and beyond – the teachers, the guidance counselor, the school psychologist. We received incredible support.” One cloud, however, darkened the sunny skies of the reception N. received from classmates and staff members: A letter from the school informing the students’ parents about the scheduled meeting between N.’s parents and the children of the class found its way into the hands of Herzliya city council member Elad Zadikov and was shared on social media. At a city council meeting at the end of last month, Zadikov accused the municipality of “pouring twisted progressive content” into Herzliya’s schoolchildren. Following those remarks, Mayor Moshe Fadlon suspended Zadikov from his position as deputy mayor. On Monday, about 50 people came to a rather modest demonstration held in the square at city hall in protest of the Education Ministry and the school, who they say “forced the children in the class to undergo a talk on the subject of transgenderism without parental consent.” Roni Sassover, the founder of the Parents for Tradition forum and a candidate in the previous Knesset election for the Yamina party, said at the protest: “Don’t mess with our children. How have we lost control over what goes on in schools?” “We didn’t expect it,” admits Peled. “We chose to live in Herzliya because it is a city that has certain values, and all in all that’s the situation. Most of the people who came to the demonstration don’t even live in the city. In general, we received very warm responses from the community where we live.”

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