Diaspora kids reach out to Israeli students under fire

A school twinning program sponsored by the Jewish Agency lets schoolchildren from abroad express solidarity with their counterparts in Israel

To avoid the incessant “incoming” that has characterized their lives recently, students in Israel’s south have been forced to remain in bomb shelters and safe spaces for days on end; going to class is out of the question. Jewish students in the Diaspora have been feeling their pain and expressing their support via videos, email messages, and social media. The effort is part of the Jewish Agency’s Partnership2Gether’s School Twinning Program, which matches more than 200 schools in Israel.

The twinning program is just about a year old, said its director, Amihai Bannett. “During ‘regular’ times, students work on joint curricula, online and via video conferencing, and we are now using those tools to enable kids in Diaspora schools to connect with students in the south, showing their solidarity with Israeli kids who are under fire.”

The program is aimed at Jewish day schools in the Diaspora, linking them up with schools from the various educational streams in Israel, from secular to Haredi. Israeli schools from around the country are part of the program, twinned with schools around the world, mostly in North America, although there are also some in South America, Ukraine, South Africa. “We’re on all continents except for Antartica,” said Bannett.

“Schools will choose to connect in different ways, with some studying units on Jewish history, holidays, etc.,” Bannet told The Times of Israel. “Most of the units revolve around Jewish identity, but there are school pairs that study other subjects. We at the Jewish Agency match schools, provide them with materials and guidance, technical assistance, and anything else they need to make a successful match.” The program also includes training for professional staff, with conferences held in Israel and in North America, which teachers and administrators from both sides of the partnership attend.

With the south under fire, day schools in the Diaspora have been running programs in solidarity with Israel, the IDF, and with students stuck in safe rooms at home. “We have had a lot of requests from schools in the Diaspora to send messages of support to students here in Israel, including from schools that are not members of the partnership program.”

Along with that, the Jewish Agency has worked with partnered schools to make sure that students can stay in touch, even though the Israeli kids are not in school. “We have a school in Ashdod where the internet was affected due to a Hamas rocket’s destroying the communications infrastructure in the neighborhood,” said Bannett. “The school is twinned with a Jewish day school in Lima, Peru, and the kids there wanted to make sure that they did not miss their weekly on-line meeting. We organized a Facebook chat between kids from both sides — with the Lima students gathering in their school’s computer room and holding a mass Facebook discussion with students from Ashdod, who went on-line from their homes. The kids in Peru and Israel were able to exchange thoughts and feelings about the situation.”

In perhaps the program’s most moving encounter between Israeli and Diaspora students, kids from the Chabad school in Kiryat Malachi — where the daughter of a man who was killed in last week’s missile attack studied — got together with their twinned counterparts at an Or Avner day school in Ukraine. Jewish Agency techs set up a video conference in the home of a teacher in the Kiryat Malachi school, which has been closed since Thursday when three residents of the city were killed. “All three of the victims were members of the Chabad community, as are many of the students in the Ukraine school,” said Bannett. “Those who attended said it was one of the most moving encounters they have ever participated in.”

The twinning program has a Facebook page where schools can post their videos and messages for beleaguered Israeli students. “We’ll make sure the Israeli kids see the messages, and afterwards we’ll have them write thank you notes, and maybe even set up partnerships with new participants who post messages,” said Bannett. “We just hope that things will calm down, so that we can get back to the normal twinning work we do, instead of this emergency work.”

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