Azi Cutter of Modi’in describes the current atmosphere in Israel as “a combination of the Corona pandemic and the aftermath of 9/11.” The isolation. The fear and uncertainty.
“We’re scared,” he says. “We sleep either in our safe rooms or near them in case there are sirens. And we all have family and friends on active army duty. It’s impossible for our children not to overhear adult conversations about what’s happening. They are traumatized.”
With schools closed, Israeli children also have very little to do. When Jews in the States began asking how they could help, Cutter saw a chance to fill some of that free time while providing a sense of normalcy for them.
He and his wife Jessica and their four children made aliyah from Long Beach, New York, in 2018, but still have a connection with Hebrew Academy of Long Beach (HALB). So Azi contacted Richard Altabe, the school’s Lower Division principal, about setting up a Zoom class for English-speaking kids in Modi’in.
Within hours, HALB was ready to go. Altabe recalls, “Our teachers were on board. We were primed because of Covid. We just had to dust off the equipment.”
Midway through their first session, the girls disappeared from the screen . . . Hearing sirens, the girls had raced to their shelters.
Jessica partnered with the family’s shul in Modi’in—Kehillat Shaarei Yonah Menachem (KSYM)—to reach out to local parents. She now manages the logistics with the school for the approximately thirty-five community students in second to fifth grade taking part (as of this writing). Afternoon timing in Israel gives them access to HALB’s daily morning limudei kodesh classes.
From the first Zoom session, the two groups of students bonded. As Azi envisioned, “They can be mechazek one another” at such a difficult time.
Rabbi Moshe Steinberg, who teaches a fifth grade Mishnah class, agrees. “It’s like we are with them in Israel, learning together. The boys are getting to know one another. It’s having a really meaningful impact on all of us.”
“HALB kids now have a better sense of what life is like for their peers in Israel, while the kids in Modi’in can experience being back in a regular yeshivah classroom,” Altabe reflects.
The point hit home when midway through their first session on October 16, the girls disappeared from the screen. The morot wondered what happened, concerned that their new students had perhaps lost interest. But that wasn’t the reason. Hearing sirens, the girls had raced to their shelters.
Merri Ukraincik has written for Tablet, theLehrhaus, the Forward and other publications, including Jewish Action. She is the author ofI Live. Send Help, a history of the Joint Distribution Committee.