Kfar Shira (Shira Village) is a residential educational framework for young women of high school age who come from Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) homes but have been unable to find their place in Haredi education. Founded by
Tzipora Gutman, a graduate of Cohort 24 of the Mandel School for Educational Leadership, the village provides young women from the Haredi community with a supportive environment in which they receive a high-quality general education alongside a rich curriculum of religious studies. The village was developed as part of Tzipora's personal project as a fellow at the Mandel School.
Tzipora Guttman, far right, with faculty and graduates of the Mandel School for Educational Leadership
Students at Kfar Shira receive an opportunity for learning, growth, and self-actualization in accordance with their own personal, cultural, and social worldviews and beliefs. Their exposure to the world outside of the Haredi community positions them as change agents, and challenges the traditional Haredi approach that seeks to preserve the status quo. The process that students undergo at the village influences Haredi discourse regarding the acceptance of difference and diversity, thus having an impact that extends far beyond the boundaries of the village itself.
During November 2019, graduates and faculty members of the Mandel School for Educational Leadership participated in a site visit to this groundbreaking social-educational initiative to learn about it firsthand.
The students at Kfar Shira are young women with strong opinions who were unable to meet the strict demands of Haredi educational frameworks, and who are seen by the Haredi community as “dropout youth.” Tzipora's view of these young women is completely different. As she sees it, the very same characteristics that led these students to leave the community are actually a valuable resource and source of strength, which can offer opportunities for growth and development and enable the students to become leaders in the future.
The educational approach of the village values the unique personalities and talents of every student. It aims to provide guidance and tools that enable the young women to cope with their process of growing up in a positive way, to channel their strengths in a constructive manner, and to achieve significant accomplishments. As Tzipora described it: “It is no coincidence that the Mandel Foundation has chosen to invest in developing a leadership program for the students at Kfar Shira. The young women at the village clearly have the strength and qualities of leaders, and are our hope for a better future.”
Tzipora stressed that setting up a residential educational framework outside the physical setting of the Haredi community facilitates a process of rapprochement between the students and the community, and enables the students to maintain relations with their families and to avoid a descent into alienation and anger.
Zehava Tamir, the coordinator of the leadership program at Kfar Shira, explained that the leadership program places a premium on developing a strong, ethical Jewish identity, and on reconnecting the students to their families and communities. This provides the students with essential foundations on which they can develop, realize their leadership potential, and change Israeli society for the better.
The highlight of the visit was a meeting with students, who shared their personal stories and movingly described the significant changes they experienced as a result of beginning studies at Kfar Shira. The faculty also described Kfar Shira’s educational philosophy, and the challenges that the village faces. At the end of the site visit, the students led a short tour of the facility.
The site visit was held as part of the Mandel Graduate Unit's "Graduates Host" program, which is designed to enable the Mandel community to learn from the rich professional, ideational, and entrepreneurial worlds of all its members. As part of this program, Mandel graduates host visits in which interested members of the Mandel community learn about the graduate's initiatives and discuss professional issues of broad interest.
Professor Jehuda Reinharz meets with students and faculty of Kfar Shira