In March this year, with the outbreak of the coronavirus and the resulting travel restrictions, a large number of IDC Herzliya’s international students were stuck abroad when they went home to visit. This resulted in a chaotic few months, with frustrated students and parents attempting to return to Israel. The Raphael Recanati International School (RRIS) at the IDC made it its top priority to help its students return safely to their studies in Israel.
As a result Jonathan Davis, VP External Relations and head of the Raphael Recanati International School, set up an emergency operations room, staffed by the RRIS team, whose dedicated workers would deal with the logistics and bureaucracy amid the constantly changing regulations issued by the ministries of Health, Interior and Foreign Affairs. “During the height of the pandemic, we successfully helped 250 of our students return to Israel when they were stuck overseas while visiting their home countries between semesters, and we have 400 on their way back,” Davis notes proudly. “We were able to get approval of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Interior, and they trusted us that the returning students would quarantine for two weeks. It was a battle organizing visas and flights amidst the constantly changing regulations.”
Another challenge the RRIS faces is the need to raise funds for needy and worthy students, as many students were unable to come up with the full tuition because of the situation their families found themselves in. The school believes that it is its responsibility to try and assist with scholarships, with thanks to the generosity of those who can sponsor a scholarship.
The RRIS team received hundreds of messages from parents and students, each with their own concerns, on a daily basis. Quarantine facilities had to be made available to all students, as at the time, students were allowed back to Israel only on condition they quarantine at the dormitories on campus. The RRIS prepared and delivered care packages, meals, deliveries and Shabbat packages and made sure that students in quarantine were allocated a specific guidance counselor who was available 24/7. These guidance counselors were specially picked from IDC’s current student body for their qualities of patience, empathy and kindness. This was critical so as to ensure the mental well being of the returning quarantined students.
The RRIS had the major task of transferring all planned campus activities online. As a result, weekly Zoom sessions were held, giving the opportunity for quarantined students to meet and get to know one another. The RRIS also supervised the team of IDC volunteers that prepared and delivered the care and welcome packages.
With the High Holidays approaching, the RRIS also worked to prepare a schedule that will provide those students far from home with a festive and warm atmosphere, in accordance with Health Ministry guidelines. Some examples are a Rosh Hashanah picnic was held outdoors on campus, with shofar blowing, in addition to meal distribution and inspiring Zoom shiurim that will all be offered to those that would like to participate.
“In spite of the COVID challenges, we have discovered a lot of new opportunities,” summarizes Davis. “As a result of the fact that we are ‘Zooming’ all over the world, we’re able to be in contact with many more people this year. We’re in contact with parents and with students all over the world.” As a result the RRIS has seen that demand for full-degree programs is even higher than usual, with a 20% increase in registration.
Jordi Rubenstein, South Africa, 1st year Psychology: “Even though our lectures last semester were online, I enjoyed being in my dorm surrounded by my friends. IDC has gone to special efforts to make our online lectures interesting and productive. Our lecturers have adapted to the online world, which sometimes makes them easier as I can replay them whenever I like to reinforce my understanding! This period has no doubt been difficult, but the extra resources laid on by IDC makes the experience as fulfilling as possible.”