Throughout this tumultuous time with Israel at war, there is a global desire to seek out ways to support our people and our land. As the former executive producer of Sesame Street, Dr. Lewis J. Bernstein, along with Dr. Barbara Gochberg, started L’Achaid, a project to connect three generations—American Jewish adults and high school students, with Israeli young children, at a time for the Jewish community to feel connected and supported. The adults were excited to mentor high school students and the high school students were inspired to connect to Israelis during this time of great upheaval and crisis.
Drs. Bernstein and Gochberg turned to Shaagat Arieh, an online school developed by Nike Silberstein at the start of the war to provide a platform for Israeli school children to participate in zoom school with educators from all over. Shaagat Arieh provided access to young Israeli children and their parents, and SAR HS, through Gloria Schneider, director of General Studies at SAR HS, identified high school students fluent in Hebrew and eager to participate.
“We paired American Jewish teens who are fluent in Hebrew with the Israeli young children for twice weekly meetings of 20-30 minute sessions characterized by the building of relationships, discussions, play and fun,” said Bernstein.
“The main focus is on facilitating positive, nurturing and fun connections between American Jewish high school students and young Israeli children,” said Dr. Barbara Gochberg, a psychologist who is helping to facilitate the connection of Lewis Bernstein’s three generation project with SAR High School and Shaagat Arieh, the online school developed to support Israeli students since the war began. She said, “It has been beautiful to watch the high school students take on this mission both seriously and joyfully. They have modeled community support in the most impressive way during this extremely difficult time.”
Bernstein explains that the goal of the project is to bring joy, connections and a listening ear and heart to Israeli children. Students who signed up to participate in this unique program have committed to Zooming with young Israeli children two mornings a week before the start of the school day for four to eight weeks. The students underwent a virtual training session before their first session with the children.
“The SAR kids are unbelievable at sharing in Hebrew and creating a sense of connectedness with Israeli children and parents,” said Bernstein. “They create a feeling of warmth, and caring, and they do it with a joyful sense of play. The preschoolers really enjoy their playdates with our American Jewish team, and their parents enjoy the sessions from the sidelines.”
Sophie Gribetz, an SAR HS freshman, had lived in Jerusalem when she was in third and seventh grade. “Before starting the program, I was jittery and nervous, but most of all I felt as if an amazing opportunity had been handed to me and I was so grateful,” she said. “When the war broke out, I wanted to find a way of helping children who found themselves in an impossibly sad situation.”
Gribetz, who has been meeting with an Israeli six-year-old, describes entering the Zoom for the first time. “I saw a young sweet boy sitting in a living room surrounded by members of his immediate family,” she said. “We spent half an hour getting to know each other, and playing fun and silly games. With each additional Zoom meeting, I got to know this boy a little better. I can’t wait for this program to continue. I learned that helping a single person—in my case, a young child—can make a big difference. And I realized that through comforting and supporting someone on the other side of the ocean, I was also finding a way of helping myself cope.”
SAR HS senior Ananya Silverman has been meeting twice a week with a 3-year-old girl. “She only speaks Hebrew, and most of the time she is running around the room jumping up and down and showing me her stuffed animals. What feels the most special is her knowing that I’m across the world yet I still care about her and take time out of my day to play with her. She even named one of her dolls after me. In our most recent session, she seemed to have become pretty comfortable around me, and she started talking to me about going to the miklat (bomb shelter). It hit me that this little girl has experienced abnormal things at such a young age. So I feel like my role is to just distract her for these 25 minutes and make her laugh and dance and learn a little. It’s another little thing I can contribute. And the little things all add up and make me feel like I am important and helping to the best of my abilities.”
She added, “It’s hard to feel like you’re doing something to help during these times. My family is in Israel, my friends are in Israel, but I’m here. I have realized that right now my role is to be here helping as much as I can. And although it doesn’t feel like a lot, and maybe at first glance seems like it isn’t making a difference, it is.”
“I’m blown away by the SAR kids,” said Bernstein. “They’re really something. Just watching their interactions with the preschoolers gives someone like me hope in these times of great despair.”