Deborah “Devora” Kallen was Jerusalem’s preeminent progressive educator. Raised in an Orthodox Jewish family in Boston, Massachusetts with seven siblings (including her brother, philosopher Horace Kallen) Kallen chose to reside in Palestine in 1920 with the goal of establishing the Parents Educational Association School there.
Arriving at the onset of Third Aliyah wave of intellectuals, artists and politico-pioneers such as Golda “Meyerson” Meir, Kallen created a unique educational experience in a school she established first in Haile Selassie’s former palatial building in Jerusalem’s Ethiopian neighborhood. Kallen created classes on topics as diverse as painting, carpentry and athletics. Gardening, crafts and nature walks throughout Israel were typical school day activities. Among her more famous graduates was Yigael Yadin — the famed politician and IDF second Chief of Staff who studied the Dead Sea Scrolls. Eliezer Ben Yehuda, the acclaimed revivalist of the Hebrew language, also sent his three children to be educated there. Moshe Ziffer, Israel’s modern sculptor taught art at the school. The school was funded through Kallen’s personal efforts and the help of social reformers such as U.S. federal Judge Julian Mack. Tuition was on a pay-what-you-can basis. In 1933, after a fight with the fledgling national teacher’s union, Kallen’s school was accepted as part of Israel’s educational system. By 1941 the school was housed in the old Hadassah hospital building in the center of town and the students grew produce in the school’s garden.