Clara Yona has raised the educational bar in the disadvantaged Jerusalem neighborhood of Katamon. In 1992, with the support of NIF, she set up the Kedma Alternative Secondary School to provide the local teenagers with a first-class education stressing their Mizrahi Jewish cultural roots. “When we began, the percentage of students receiving their matriculation certificate was zero,” she recalls. “Today 80-85% of the students receive a full matriculation.”
This week, Yona (59) appears in the third installation of Trailblazers, a series of video shorts produced by NIF in partnership with Yediot Achronot to mark Israel’s 70th anniversary. For nearly 40 years, NIF has teamed up with trailblazers from communities including Mizrahi Jews, Palestinian citizens of Israel, Ethiopians, Russian-speaking immigrants, women, and LGBTQ people to create change. These are communities who blazed trails for inclusion, for equality, and for social change. NIF is telling the stories of those trailblazers who acted on their values and came together to fight for their rights and impact the lives of all Israelis.
The oldest of eight children, Yona grew up in a two-room apartment in the poor area of Katamon. Her father had immigrated to Israel from Libya and worked as a policeman and her mother came from Yemen and cleaned houses to help make ends meet.
Yona was one of the brightest children in her local elementary school but at the prestigious Boyer High School she found herself surrounded by middle-class Ashkenazi teenagers and found herself alienated socially and educationally. “Back in the neighborhood I was considered weird because I studied with rich Jerusalemites. I found that the high marks I got in the neighborhood school were worth just a passing grade.”
Her tough childhood experience made her determined to change society, to close social gaps, and to restore pride to the Mizrahi community in which she grew up. With major support from NIF and thanks to the Yona’s tenacious leadership Meshuma, the Jerusalem school survived opposition from the municipality, which was initially determined to close it down.
She stresses that the success of the school is not only about graduating students. “As part of the educational program we also restored the Mizrahi children’s pride in their roots and have found comprehensive and exciting historical material about the Mizrahi Jewish heritage that had never before been taught in the education system.”
NIF continues to support Israel’s Mizrahi community in a range of issues including the right to equal opportunity in education, to equal distribution of resources for education and culture, to access to affordable public housing, and to protection from discrimination in employment.