by Aryeh Eisenberg –
Imagine you are a high school student going about your daily routine. Suddenly, with no warning, sirens start ringing and everyone starts scrambling to find the nearest Mamad/safe room. No one has any real idea of what is actually happening, just a lot of rumors and theories. All you know is that everyone is on edge and that the same siren may go off again at any moment. Sadly, this has been life over the past few days for students in Israeli schools. While everyone is trying to maintain a sense of “normalcy” all are also a bit on edge, as we know the sirens can start wailing at any point.
While this has become the sad reality for those living in Israel, the effects of the recent rocket attacks have reached much further than the coasts of Ashkelon. Thanks to amazing technology and a talented pool of US trained educators living in Israel, there are currently thousands of students who are enrolled in distance learning courses led by teachers based here in Israel. While the students may be safe in their schools/homes in the US, they also know that their teachers may have to abruptly stop class if the siren goes off. For some of my students, the realization that rockets were being launched as they were conducting class put events in a different perspective. Before, they were just by-standards reading about Israel in the news like everyone else. Now, they were part of Israel’s sad state of reality.
While I had planned to introduce CSS style sheets to my 9th grade web design class, most of Tuesday’s session was spent trying to explain what was going on to a group of students based on Long Island. The students had all watched the news and had read about Israel online, but few really knew what was going on. Even before I could say “good morning” many of my students had their hands raised. First they wanted to know if I was okay. Then they asked about what was going on, why it was happening, and when I thought it was all going to stop.
I wish I had all the answers they wanted, but in truth, I did not know much more than they knew. I tried to make them understand how, even with everything that was going on, that living in Israel was special. I turned the conversation a bit to their visits to Israel and I asked them what it felt like to be in Israel vs reading about Israel in the news.
I did not want the discussion to end on a negative or sad note, so before returning to our lesson I asked them to keep all of our chayailim/soldiers in their Tfilot/prayers. I told them how proud we were of our own family and friends that were currently serving, and I assured them that despite the sirens, I would not want to live any place else. Hearing me say this actually seemed to make them feel more at ease. I reminded them of a true story. Five years ago during “Tzuk Eitan” my mother called and told me that we could “come home any time we wanted.” Without hesitation, I answered that we were already home. This was what the students needed to hear. We went back to our lesson on web design and at the end of class, the students wished me well.
Yesterday, a group of AP Psychology students in another class also started their lesson by asking what was going on and how it felt to be experiencing sirens and rockets. The teacher of the class brilliantly (in my opinion) turned the questions into a lesson in psychology. She asked the students what goes through a person’s mind when they hear the siren. There were actually several answers to the question. Some students said “fear.” Others said that they would start to worry about family and friends. Two students actually said that they would start thinking about revenge. While this answer was a bit darker than the rest, it was interesting to hear what this group of 12th grade Jewish day school students were thinking about from afar. The teacher had the students explain their answers and the students were able to ask their own questions and express their various opinions. The students remarked how thankful they were to have this opportunity, as other than what they read online they really had not had the chance to talk about what was happening or to express their feelings.
I could share other similar stories. It is clear though that this week’s events in Israel affected not only the people living here, but also those living abroad. We know that the news we get online and on TV never really tells the entire story. During past attacks on Israel, I have received numerous phone calls from panicked relatives in the US asking if we were ok. “I saw Israel was being attacked. Is that near where you live?” I would almost always answer, “No Grandma, that’s far away. We’re ok.” Even in today’s times with all of our up to the minute news, we still get these types of calls and messages. Our students in the US saw first hand how their teachers had to be ready to head to the shelters and how they were actually living through these tough times. Even from 6,000 miles away they were now involved. This week’s rockets in Israel were truly felt all around the world.
Aryeh Eisenberg is the CEO and General Manager of Bonim B’Yachad, an online education technology provider for schools and individuals. Based in Israel, Bonim B’Yachad works with students all over the world.