September 1st marked the first day of school for children throughout Israel. As they piled into school buses and their parents’ cars, neighborhoods were quiet for the first time in months. But the end of summer vacation did not mark the end of fun – many schools welcomed their students back with celebrations!
The first thing Hannah Kugelman heard when she dropped her fourth grade daughter off at Shivtei Israel, a religious public school in Modi’in, was music. “There were bongos and dancing at a huge reception,” said Kugelman, an Olah from Woodmere, New York. “They welcomed the kids back with a bang.” When she left, her daughter (who had been nervous about the first day of school) had a smile on her face.
Aseh Chayil, an elementary school in Efrat, held a special ceremony for the first graders and new Olim students. Oded Revivi, the Mayor of Efrat, Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein, and Rabbi Riskin, the founding Chief Rabbi of Efrat, all took part in welcoming the students and their families. The eighth graders called the first graders up to a chuppah, and Rabbi Riskin blessed each one of them under it. While everyone sang “Acheinu kol beit yisrael,” the students put their arms around each other.
Jessica Kupferberg, who made Aliyah from La Jolla, California with her family in July, was thrilled to be present for the ceremony. Having been on the board at her childrens’ school for fourteen years, she was initially apprehensive about being new to the community. “The ceremony really made me feel like I was living the dream by getting my kids educated in Israel,” she said. “Even though some of it is foreign, it still feels like our home.”
According to Nefesh B’Nefesh Education Specialist Avi Silverman, Israeli schools put a large emphasis on making the students feel like they’re part of the team–and the activities at the beginning of the school year are integral to that. “In American schools, you sometimes have end-of-year trips on which you go to Washington, DC or Philadelphia, but in Israel, schools often have overnight trips during the first month,” said Silverman. “They want the students to get comfortable working together.”
Penina Abramowitz, an Olah from Riverdale, New York, who attended her child’s first grade ceremony, appreciated the warm introduction the children received to starting “big kid school.” She said, “In Israel, school is not just about coming to learn. They really welcomed them into the journey.”
For parents and children alike, the beginning of this school year also signified there was a clear ending to the past summer’s tension.
“Unfortunately it was a hectic summer for many kids,” said Keith Brooks, who made Aliyah with his family from Boca Raton, Florida to Rechovot this past August. “With the celebratory first day, the schools kept the kids’ spirits up, while welcoming them back to a regular schedule.”
With the children back in school, parents were happy to have their routines back. “There’s a real sweetness to the normal,” said Kupferberg.