Today is the first day of the new school year, much to the relief of parents (and grandparents!) around the country. This year of course, the long hot summer vacation was ruined by Hamas’s attack on Israel from Gaza and the war that developed (aka Operation Protective Edge), and it wasn’t at all sure that the new school year would actually open, certainly in the south of Israel.
Some 2 million Israeli school kids grabbed their backpacks and headed back to school Monday, as a fraught summer closed with a mostly calm return to studies.
The opening of the school year in the south of the country had been up in the air until just a week ago, when 50 days of fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza ended in a ceasefire.
In the south and around the rest of the country, much of which also suffered rocket fire, the Education Ministry stressed that it would help students work through the effects of the summer’s military operation.
In the aftermath of the Israel-Hamas conflict, which raged for most of the summer vacation, the first several weeks of the school year were to be devoted to activities designed to help returning students process and deal with their experiences over the summer, the Education Ministry said on Sunday.
“Its been a difficult summer for us all,” Piron wrote in a statement published on his Facebook page on Monday morning. The education minister sent special regards to the students in the south, and wished “a year of quiet and peace” to all.
“We will dedicate the first weeks of the school year to the summer and all of its events,” he said. “We will extol solidarity and brotherhood, and together combat racism and its expressions.”
President Reuven Rivlin sent a letter to teachers, commending them for their strength and patience in educating Israel’s somewhat unruly youth and combating sporadic violence and incitement.
In the southern communities most affected by the Gazan rocket fire during the conflict, special activities will take place during the beginning of the year to help students ease back into learning after a summer largely spent in bomb shelters. During the war, mayors of southern towns had threatened to delay the opening of the school year over rocket fears.
A total of 2,105,394 students are to begin the school year on Monday, the ministry said. Of these, 149,705 are starting first grade, and 112,750 are starting 12th grade, their last in the state-run educational system.
The children of the south of Israel are going to have the hardest time adjusting:
In the battered south, teachers braced themselves for the difficult questions their students were likely to raise, and in Nahal Oz, the absence of 4-year-old Daniel Tragerman — who was killed by mortar shrapnel on August 22 — was keenly felt.
Tragerman’s kindergarten teacher, Adi Sagi, told Channel 2: “The parents are exhausted by this whole war, and we’re trying to pick up the pieces and help the parents get through this period as much as we can.”
With regard to Tragerman’s classmates, Sagi said that in the past few days, the kindergarten hosted a birthday party “and someone said Daniel was missing.”
“It’s very painful coming from a child — it’s very difficult, but this is what is ahead of us,” she said.
All teachers are heroes in my eyes, but the teachers of the south deserve special medals of valour for coping not only with large classes and small budgets, but with all the psychological traumas affecting not only the children, but the parents and the teachers themselves.
The entire educational system though is suffering from both violence and budget cuts:
In the city of Taibe, in protest of the deadly shooting of a school principal by a masked perpetrator last week, schools remained shuttered and a citywide strike of local businesses went into effect.
Meanwhile, in Netanya, 600 students and their parents were set to gather outside the Begin elementary school but to stop short of entering, in a demonstration decrying the large classes and the school’s apparent refusal to open another class, the Ynet news website reported.
Similarly, in Jerusalem, the entrance to a school in the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood was covered in chains in protest of the class sizes, the Walla news website reports.
The school year opened a day after large budget cuts to the Education Ministry were announced, but Piron insisted Monday that the cuts would not impair the curriculum in any way, nor the salaries of the teachers. He told Israel Radio that the Education Ministry cuts were not any steeper than those of other ministries.
Comparisons to other ministries are irrelevant. The Education Ministry is one whose budget, like that of the Defence Ministry, should be increased, not cut. The outcome affects our very future.
A little bit of good news concludes the article:
Around 1,900 students are new immigrants and will be entering the Israeli school system for the first time, the Absorption Ministry said. Of these, 250 will be entering first grade.
Some 14,000 new immigrants of any age have arrived over the course of 2014, the ministry said, mostly from France, Ukraine, the US and Russia. The ministry estimated that in total, there will be some 35,600 immigrant children in the education system this year.
Contrary to ‘normal’ countries where children don’t want the holidays to end, Ynet reports that in Israel the children feel the most safe and the most normal back at school:
According to the plan, student discussions will be held at the beginning and at the end of the school day to talk about personal experiences during the summer break and the difficulties faced during wartime as well as how students dealt with the situation.
One of the activities to take place during the meetings will be called, “Pictures from the Album”, requiring the students to choose photos from the media that show the operation and to describe what they think happened before and after the picture was taken. Educational institutions in the Gaza vicinity will emphasize the way in which residents fled their homes due to rocket fire.
“We are in continuous contact with the authorities and we are preparing to begin the year,” said the Director-General of the Education Ministry Michal Cohen. “The sentence ‘returning to normal’ has a lot of meaning. The message from the children in the south has been ‘we want normalcy, but we also want our vacation.'”
“It was clear to us that we aren’t teaching normally,” said Cohen. “The entire country went through a rough time and we can’t go back to (school) as if nothing happened. We heard from the students that they feel the safest and most normal in educational institutions, which isn’t surprising because that’s where they meet the faculty and their friends.”
Cohen stressed that, “The motivation to return to school is the motivation to return to life.”
And that sums up the difference between Israelis and Palestinians. We educate our children to life. They educate their children to murder and death. We use our schools to educate. They use their schools to store rockets and weapons, and launch them from there.
Let us continue to celebrate life and enjoy watching our children thrive and grow. May G-d grant them the safety and peace to do so.
As the proud Grandma of two new 1st graders, a new high-schooler, and a bunch of kindergarteners, as well as two new baby day-care attendees, I wish all the children of my family and of all of Israel a successful new educational year.