When Yaffa Farjun graduated from the AMIT Florin Taman High School in Tzfat, Israel, in 1994, she never imagined that 15 years later she would return to her old school, to the very same building where she had once studied, not just as a member of the staff, but – at the tender age of 33 – as the school’s newly appointed principal. After graduation, Farjun had been keen to discover the world that lay outside of Tzfat and spent over a decade teaching in the center of the country. But following the outbreak of the second Lebanon war, she felt a duty to return to the north and to her native city.
The outbreak of the war coincided with the inauguration of a new pioneering training program for school principals initiated by Dr. Amnon Eldar, director general of AMIT’s educational network. Pinpointed by Eldar as a talented high-flyer with immense leadership potential, Farjun was among the first AMIT teachers to be brought into the new program. Within a year she was appointed principal of AMIT Tzfat’s general track, and last year took the reins as principal over the entire school, comprising the general track and the Evelyn Schreiber Ulpana, and overseeing 250 students and a staff of 50 teachers.
Farjun was born in Tzfat to a Sephardi family which can trace its origins back to the Spanish exile. The celebrated Abohav synagogue in the old Jewish quarter is decorated with a candelabra donated by her grandparents, Yaffa and Bekhor Farjun, and a plaque in one of the quarter’s narrow alleyways commemorates her uncle Yitzhak Farjun, who was killed at the age of 23 in the War of Independence. As a ninth-generation Tzfat native, Farjun is proud of her roots and a motivational factor in taking up her appointment was to contribute to her community.
From early on Farjun knew that education was her calling. After working as an instructor-guide with disadvantaged populations for her National Service, Farjun went on to study education at Bar Ilan University, completing her BA degree in 2000 and her MA in 2003. In 2001 she began teaching at the AMIT Eisenberg High School for Girls in Tel Aviv where she introduced and wrote the curriculum for a youth empowerment program.
”Every school has leaders who have a negative influence. We identified these girls and built an individual empowerment program for each one, with the goal of turning their leadership skills into positive ones,” she explained.
The program was extremely successful and it didn’t take long before Farjun’s own leadership skills were recognized by AMIT’s Amnon Eldar who quickly enrolled her in his new training program for potential principals.
What is immediately clear from a one-day visit to the school is the very visible presence of its young, dynamic principal. Farjun makes a point of welcoming the girls in the morning, addressing them every day after morning prayers and wishing them goodbye when they leave for home. She defines her ethos thus: “I set very clear, firm lines, but I also like to have a personal relationship with the girls.” To achieve this, she personally teaches every grade in the school: giving a beit midrash class once a week to all the grades, a personal empowerment seminar to grades 9 and 10, and a class where she meets small groups of girls from every grade to discuss events in the news.
In her two year stint as head of the general track, Farjun has already included many innovations: a school uniform, introducing new subjects such as art, drama and theater, puppetry, pilates, an end-of-the-year musical, a song competition and a new reading program to encourage the girls to read more. Her efforts have paid off. Standards are improving and a feeling of unity has emerged as a result of the extra-curricular activities. A group of ninth grade girls, who took part in last year’s musical, gush with glowing praise of their new principal. “She’s the best in the world she’s caring and understands what we need she even comes to school on her days off we all cried when school ended last year.” Overhearing this last remark, Farjun could not resist adding, “And I cried too!”
Warm praise of Farjun, especially of her exceptional organizational skills, is also echoed among the staff. “Yaffa is very dynamic, energetic and organized,” notes teacher Ruth Sassy. “She identifies problems and resolves them quickly. And she plans ahead, never improvising.” To this, Farjun’s former class teacher, Rahel Amrussi, adds, “She is an expert in recognizing people’s good points and developing them seeing her return to the school as principal is like having nurtured a seed and seeing it turn into a flower.”
Farjun herself credits AMIT for the invaluable training she has received and for its ongoing support. “I have an AMIT mentor who advises me on every subject – budgeting, administration, timetables, etc., and this gives me tremendous confidence.”
After a full day at school, Farjun finds the energy and time to accompany her students on a midnight slichot tour of Tzfat. On her days off, she often travels to Petach Tikvah to take part in AMIT’s training course for school principals. She is a woman with a mission – to empower her students to succeed and be happy, and to put AMIT and Tzfat on the educational map of Israel.
AMIT enables Israel’s youth to realize their potential and strengthens Israeli society by educating and nurturing children from diverse backgrounds within a framework of academic excellence, religious values and Zionist ideals.
AMIT educates and cares for Israel’s youth, including the most vulnerable. Some 70 per cent of AMIT students cope with educational, psychological, economic and/or social risk factors. AMIT approaches each child as an individual, maximizing his or her potential, and enabling our students to become vital, productive members of Israeli society. The AMIT schools promote religious tolerance, service to the state and the recognition that every child is blessed with unique talents and abilities. Founded in 1925, AMIT operates more than 75 schools, youth villages, surrogate family residences and other programs, constituting Israel’s only government-recognized network of religious Jewish education incorporating academic and technological studies.
Helga Abraham is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to AMIT Magazine.