Eye on Education: As the War Continues

An Open Letter to Educators and Parents.

Contact Editor
Rabbi Yonah Goodman,

Operation Protective Edge has turned into a full-fledged war against terror that entails large IDF reserve call-up and the dangerous and difficult mission to destroy a massive labyrinth of tunnels as well as a vast arsenal of rockets and their launchers. Arutz Sheva brings you an expert's suggestions for coping with youngsters during this period.

Before examining the educational issues, we must first address the personal issues. While rejoicing over the national-public unity that crosses sectorial boundaries, we also take immense pride in the State, the army, and the other security forces’ incredible resolution and sense of mission and obligation. There is still much to understand and digest, and much remains to be written.

Yet, in addition to the personal considerations, we must pick up our heads, take a look at reality, and, with Hashem’s help, try to figure out our educational role at this time. First of all, the main thing is to recognize that our young people are amazing. We knew this already, but it is extremely moving to see their strength and magnificence during this crisis. To see how they have mobilized and volunteered, with hugs, prayers, concern, and various initiatives; to hear them ask penetrating questions while displaying great faith.

Blessed is the nation that has sons and daughters like these.

Several initial thoughts:

1.In some places, communal prayer – over and over again – is the only avenue available to teenagers. Undoubtedly, prayer has immense power and merit, and we cannot even begin to fathom the depth of its impact. But beyond the spiritual arena, we have an educational role as well. For many teens, prayer does not soothe their emotional turmoil, and others require dialogue, clarification, conversation, and guidance in addition to prayer.

We must encourage them to come together in a group setting and to think about the past month, and the dizzying events which have taken all of us by surprise, from the kidnapping and murder of the three teens, to the firing of rockets at much of Israel, to the outbreak of a full-scale war. We must use personal and group interim discussions about thoughts and feelings to help our teens identifying key moments that can help them cope.

When faced with extreme and continuing uncertainty, our children (and we ourselves!) need more help and support using a wide range of tools.
2.Many of our youth struggle with the fact that after so much earnest prayer for the safe return of the three boys, our prayers were not answered in the manner we would have hoped. We must explain to our children that Sefer Tehilim (the Book of Psalms) is not an ATM, and that there is no guarantee that our prayers will be answered in the way that we would like. At the same time, we must emphasize to them that they certainly contribute and are beneficial, and Hashem will do as He sees fit.

3.There are several reasons that this crisis is uniquely difficult. The ongoing war with Gaza represents the third (!) conflict in less than a decade, and the rockets and tunnels present a challenge that defies simple solutions. Many families find themselves exposed to rocket fire – even if they have a safe room – for weeks on end.

When faced with extreme and continuing uncertainty, our children (and we ourselves!) need more help and support using a wide range of tools, beyond that which we tried during the initial stages of this crisis.

4.We are in the middle of summer vacation, together with its long hours of unstructured free time. This creates a double challenge:

First, educational institutions must find ways to keep in touch with their students – over and above whatever happens during a normal summer (with the prayer that the boys will be home very soon, safe and sound). For instance, each teacher (not just the homeroom teachers) can be assigned half a dozen students and be asked to get in touch with them a couple of times a week.

Also, the schools can organize special evenings of learning and song, class get-togethers, and so on.

Meanwhile, informal educational frameworks should make a concerted effort to provide special activities, in addition to their usual summertime events.

5.Many young people feel that recreational or enjoyable activities during a time of war are a sign of unconcern and indifference. As they put it, “Anyone who can smile and be happy at a time like this has no heart.” They are determined to keep praying and not to forget – which, as far as they are concerned, translates into a prohibition against anything pleasant. Our job is to help them balance their admirable desire to do something with the understanding that in spite of our natural inclination to put our lives on hold, we must participate in recreational activities, not because we have forgotten or because we do not care, but because we are determined to continue building and living our lives.

In addition to all of the above, our primary job is to continue looking for other issues that need to be addressed. We must talk to our wonderful kids, pay careful attention, and anticipate the modern-day educational challenges that await us.

Finally, summer vacation is a time when we should be focusing on our families – each child individually and also everyone together. Our children and our families are also part of Am Yisrael, and they need us.

Together with them and with our students, we will continue to gather strength. We must remember that those who rise against us are driven by the fact that year after year, with Hashem’s help, we get closer and closer to the Redemption. As we experience these birth pangs of the Redemption, we will continue, with Hashem’s help, to educate and be educated, to act and to do, inspired by our strength and our faith.

The writer is the director of the Institute for Contemporary Chinuch with Emunah (Education with Faith) , Orot Israel College, Elkana, Shomron.