The traditional headline in the Hebrew media on the first day of the new school
year is “Shalom kita aleph” (“Hello, First Grade”). The transition from
kindergarten to school is an exciting, sometimes awesome and even traumatic
experience for many youngsters, and recognizing this, Israel’s education
authorities have tried to make the first day of school as pleasant an experience
For 120 Jewish and Arab firstgraders from different parts of
the country who are starting school today, the transition from kindergarten was
made a little more exciting by a visit with President Shimon Peres and Education
Minister Gideon Sa’ar at the official residence of the president.
number 120 is significant because that is how many members there are in the
Knesset, and that is how many members there were in the Great Assembly (Knesset
Hagedolah) in ancient times; it is also the age at which Moses died; and the
number of cubits of the height of the Temple. In short the number 120 symbolizes
democracy, wisdom, longevity and piety – and in the case of the 120 youngsters
their potential in all or any of these attributes.
A large mat was laid
out in the main reception room of the Presidential complex and on it were huge
bolster pillows like bean bags in a plethora of colors, also used on a huge sign
mounted on an easel displaying the words “Shalom kita aleph.”
that many of the youngsters did not previously know each other, and that they
were told to arrive well over half an hour before the start of the proceedings,
they were extremely well behaved – most of them sitting on the pillows –
although very noisy.
Some, who found it too difficult to stay in one spot
for too long romped around the room, while others who were restless began
pushing each other around.
One boy got so wild he started punching the
children sitting near him and a teacher quickly had to rush to the rescue and
move him away.
While the majority of Jewish children were in relatively
casual attire, the Arab children, both boys and girls, sported formal garb. The
boys wore long dark pants, long sleeved pristine white shirts and striped ties
and the girls wore white dresses with layered tulle skirts and pink
This was one event in which there was certainly no discrimination
against Ethiopian children and there were several boys and girls of Ethiopian
heritage, who fitted in just fine.
The warm-up before Peres and Sa’ar
entered the room was easy. The moderator and singer was popular children’s
entertainer Michal Tsafir, who instantly had the youngsters’ attention and who
bantered with them with considerable success.
The entertainment business
is rife with warnings about being upstaged by children and dogs. However,
neither Peres nor Sa’ar seemed to mind in the least that they were being
upstaged again and again.
Each has an excellent rapport with children,
and they sat with broad grins on their faces as the youngsters totally devoid of
shyness, answered questions, walked up to them and hugged them, sat on their
laps or pulled them into circles to dance.
Peres, whose birthday
celebrations continue unendingly, also celebrated at the
Tsafir told the junior audience that the president had
celebrated his birthday the previous week and asked everyone to join her in
singing the Hebrew version of “Happy Birthday.”
The youngsters sang, the
teachers sang, the parents sang and even Peres sang Happy Birthday to
Then began the comparing of ages and Peres asked the sixyear-
olds in front of him if they wanted to live to be as old as him 89, or even a
100 – and most of them did.
Later he asked them what they wanted to be
when they grew up, and the first reply was a clown. But the most unexpected
reply came from a cute, tiny girl with a big voice who said she wanted to be a
Tsafir launched into a series of songs about children,
and Sa’ar, who spontaneously joined in, knew all the lyrics by heart. Everyone
else in the room clapped to the music and some sang along too.
his young guests that God had given them the right to speak and to acquire
knowledge. He had given them ears with which to listen and had provided openings
in the ears so that they could listen well.
He urged them to get up in
the morning and listen to their teachers and to try to understand what was being
“In class you have to listen and not talk while the teacher is
talking,” he said.
After quizzing the youngsters as to whether their
school bags were ready and properly packed, Sa’ar asked whether any of them
wanted to remain in kindergarten.
No one did. Everyone was looking
forward to going to school. One little boy said that he was eager to know more
than he does now and he wanted to learn to read and write.
whole group, Sa’ar said: “I want you to learn a lot, but don’t forget how to
play and don’t be afraid to ask the teacher when you don’t understand something
or when you need help.
But most important, no violence.
Every problem can be solved by talking.”
Ziona, the children apparently don’t wait till they’re in kita aleph to learn to
read. They already learn in kindergarten, as demonstrated by Netta Barel and
Noam Shein who both attended the Tzippornit Kindergarten in Ness Ziona and
respectively read out long greetings to Peres and Sa’ar. Netta wished Peres
happiness, health and long life and thanked him for his great contribution to
the state, while Noam thanked Sa’ar for what he has done to advance the
Greetings to their fellow first graders were delivered
in Hebrew by Ro’i Kugler from the Ayelet Kindergarten in Modi’in and in Arabic
by Nizha Zaatri from the Ein Nekuba Kindergarten. Nizha’s teacher who had
obviously taught her the speech, mouthed every word as she spoke and applauded
in delight when she finished without having made a single mistake.
and Sa’ar then posed for group and individual photos with the children as
parents and teachers frantically clicked at their cameras.
for the opening of the school year, Peres will be in the Negev, which he has
frequently visited in recent weeks, and will tour the Shaar Hanegev
Technological High School – the first school to be protected against rocket
fire. Peres will visit an interactive classroom, and as he usually does when
meeting final year high school students, will have a Q&A session with them,
and will talk to them about their upcoming induction into the IDF.