New French immigrant Adam Lugassy, nine, hoped to make friends on his first day in the fourth grade, but he never imagined that one of those new faces would be President Reuven Rivlin.
The thin boy with large black glasses, jeans and a white T-shirt, smiled shyly as he recalled their exchange in the school library where Rivlin met with a dozen new pupils from France.
“Hi Mr. President, I am glad to be here in Israel and to learn Hebrew in ulpan,” Adam told Rivlin in French as he read from a note he prepared that morning after learning he would get to meet one of Israel’s most important leaders.
Rivlin had chosen to open the new school year on Tuesday at the Shilat elementary school in the Peduel settlement in Samaria.
He told the French children in the library, with the help of a translator, that it is always a happy and emotional moment for him to meet new immigrants.
“I myself was never able to do this Zionist act, because I come from a family that arrived here over 200 years ago. I am the seventh generation in Israel. Your children will already be the second generation here and your grandchildren will be the third.”
Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan added, “The president came here because he loves Samaria and he loves you.”
Since Adam knew some Hebrew from his time in a Jewish day school in France, he was chosen to speak briefly to Rivlin during the large public ceremony in the elementary school courtyard, where hundreds of boys and girls sat on folding chairs.
There he said in Hebrew, “My name is Adam. I came from France to the Land of Israel. Our aliya is part of the process of redemption that will come soon.”
Those lines were written for him, Adam said. He recalled his meetings with Rivlin in French with the help of his parents, Stephan and Yael, who stood with him outside his new school and helped translate as he spoke of the “big steps” he had taken since the family arrived in Israel on August 7.
Adam’s two sisters, Tali, six, who started first grade and Elia, three, played with balloons they had received during the ceremony.
The family of five, is among some 120 French immigrants who have moved to the Samaria region of the West Bank and among the almost 5,000 who made aliya from France this year.
Stephan wore a black kippa as he stood outside the school, as did Adam.
They could never have worn something so openly Jewish in France, because it is too dangerous, said Yael.
Here her children do not speak the language, but they are free to be who they are, she said.
She was so frightened in France that when Tali spoke loudly and excitedly about their upcoming move on a public street, Yael harshly told her, “Be quiet.”
They had understood they would be moving to Israel for two years, but they knew for sure last summer when they witnessed a particular violent protest against Israel because of Operation Protective Edge in Gaza.
“In France a lot of people do not agree with what Israel is doing. They link Jews with Israel, so they are not very friendly with us,” said Yael. “We knew we did not have a future in France.”
From the moment their luggage hit the ground in Israel, they felt that they were home.
Their children were not the only ones to be in awe at Rivlin’s presence on the first day of school. They stood the back of the courtyard with the other parents during the ceremony, which ended with the singing of the national anthem, “Hatikva.”
“We sang ‘Hatikva’ with our president. It is a real dream,” said Yael.
Both she and Stephane said they had not taken ideology into account when they chose to make their new home in a settlement, but rather took into consideration the school system and the community’s overwhelming hospitality.
“Everyone here has been so kind and everything is prepared and organized for our children,” Yael said.
In the days before their furniture arrived when they did not yet have a kitchen set up, their neighbors came to the door with cooked meals.
“No other place would welcome us like this,” she said.
The national-religious elementary school of 620 boys and girls from the settlements of Peduel, Bruchin and Alei Zahav, was first built 15 years ago.
Its principal, Elyakim Newberger, said he had taken on the children’s absorption as a special mission.
A nonprofit organization that had helped the families make the move, had given him money to fly to France last spring so he could meet the pupils and gain a better understanding of the country they were coming from.
He is proud to have figured out how to have someone in each of their classes who knows French and can help them with the transition, this includes a young French speaking woman who will do her national service in the school, as well as an ulpan teacher.
Newberger said that he is impressed by the families who made such a large move.
“I live nearby in Revava and I can not imagine moving,” he said. “I told the children it is difficult to leave you home and move to a new place. I said, ‘We are here with you and we will be here with you.’”