Third in a series
When the subject of temporarily enrolling Israeli students in local day schools was brought up, Rabbi Jonathan Knapp, head of school for Yavneh Academy in Paramus, didn’t need any time to think it over.
“Right away the answer was a resounding yes!100%!” He said there was never even a question or concern about whether or not there was adequate space in a grade or if the school would be able to meet the needs of the children. “This is not about that. This is about helping the Jewish people in a time of war and we will do whatever we can to make it work. There is no option. The answer has to be yes and we have to help.”
Because everyone is so eager to help out and do something for our brothers and sisters in Israel, this initiative allows both the teachers and students to do just that. “Right away, Yavneh families reached out and asked for playdates and invited the families over, welcoming them and making them feel like an integral part of the community … it’s amazing what people do,” said Knapp.
The families enrolled at Yavneh Academy have some connection to the school. One of the parents was a graduate. Another had family in the neighborhood, which is true for the other schools who took in Israeli students as well. Currently, Yavneh Academy still has a handful of children still enrolled. Some of the Israeli families who came to the school have since returned to Israel, and the same can be said for all the schools in the area who have temporarily enrolled Israeli students. The ones that remain also plan to head back at some point.
“It has been an amazing experience for the rest of the students who had the privilege of welcoming these Israeli visitors into their classrooms. I was so proud of how they embraced the new students from the first moment,” noted Knapp.
He said that the kids just love their visiting classmates and cannot wait to play with them every day. “If you walk into the classroom, you can see how they feel like an integral part of the class and the teachers framed it for them that it’s a beautiful way to do a mitzvah and is a perfect example of how they can do hachnasat orchim.”
Knapp continued, “Everybody wants to do something. Even the teachers who don’t have a child in the class feel like it’s another way they can help. The main motivation was to help the families but on a secondary level was the impact on the school to feel that this is something that we can do. To me, the most important thing is … the answer has to be we are going to say yes because that’s the right thing to do and I think that is reflective of the overall attitude that everyone has right now. We have to help. That’s the bottom line.”
At Yeshivat He’Atid, Leiku Perles, assistant principal for grades 3-5, said that the number of Israeli students enrolled at the school fluctuates every few weeks due to arrivals and departures between the US and Israel. Though one might expect a challenging transition for Israeli students, the adjustment for these students at He’Atid has been remarkably smooth. There is a significant presence of native Hebrew speakers among teachers and He’Atid families, which has facilitated a quick and comfortable transition for visiting students.
She highlighted that students eagerly anticipate welcoming new classmates. Beyond the excitement, there’s a sense of contributing to helping Israel in their own meaningful way. The parent body is also notified when new children join the school, allowing them to extend support through meals or arranging playdates.
“Our community will do whatever we can so a family receives a warm welcome and acclimates quickly, especially considering the often abrupt nature of these arrivals,” Perles added, noting that the overall experience has been wonderful, resonating well with their local students.
“It can be overwhelming for a child to adjust to a new environment, leaving their home and family for a different country, new school and new language,” she continued, “but it’s amazing to see how well these kids adjust within our school. There is a very smooth transition, much more than one would expect, which makes me feel like we’re doing a great job.”
“One of the hardest things about being in the US right now is that we often feel like we’re not doing enough. Many of us wish we were in Israel, helping out directly. But when a student living in Israel joins our school, even for a month, it creates a strong bond with Israel for both the teachers and students. I think it helps everyone feel a much deeper connection with what’s happening in the world. The teachers themselves have said they feel very fortunate to share in this chesed and enjoy the opportunity to work with the children coming in from Israel.”