For many years, Talia Tsa’idi (Talila Ben Kasus), 49, a resident of Rehovot, searched for Haya Danino, who’d been her teacher from first through sixth grade at Zur Shalom School in Kiryat Bialik.
“I even went to the school itself a few times looking for her,” Tsa’idi recalls. “In the end, I found her through a Facebook group called Closure, which helps people locate individuals from their past. I finally got to tell Haya in person all of the things I’d wanted to tell her for so long.”
What led you to begin looking for her?
Haya was an extremely charismatic teacher. She had such a strong presence in the classroom. She was a warm person and was extremely sensitive to what was going on with her students. I always felt loved when she was around. The classroom was always relatively quiet when she was there. No one made a peep – we all wanted to hear every word she said.
Haya really helped me boost my self-confidence. I simply felt that she loved me, that she believed in me. When someone feels that way when they’re a child, they never forget that feeling, even if 30 years have gone by since that time.
I’ve kept memories of Haya very deep in my heart – there’s no way I’d ever forget her. That’s why I wanted to find her after all these years. To tell her that she’s remained a presence in my life, that she’s part of my soul, that I love her.
What did it feel like when you finally got hold of her by phone?
I was overwhelmed with excitement. It was really important to me that I be able to come full circle, to express my gratitude to people who supported me when I was young, since I didn’t have much self-confidence back then. When I told Haya my name, she remembered me right away, and also my mom. She even recalled that I’d been Israel champion in gymnastics apparatus. At the time, I used to train at Hapoel Kiryat Bialik, and I would perform at school, too. She told me, ‘Of course I remember you – you were always doing back flips and somersaults.’
“It surely took me back many years,” says Danino, 76, who is now retired. “It’s of course very meaningful when a student calls you to say thank you. At the time, I felt like I was just doing my job. But I must admit I was very moved by the phone call from Talia. It’s a great feeling to know that someone appreciates your hard work.
“I remember that Talia was an athlete, and so I had to be a little more understanding with her, if for example, she hadn’t had time to prepare for a test. I tried to be flexible so she could express herself in every way.”
HAIM TERAMIN, 37, from Yavne, felt a strong desire to get in touch with a teacher he had when he was a child. “My teacher from second grade through fourth grade at Amirim School in Holon was Eti Cohen,” Teramin explains. “I looked for her on social media but couldn’t find her anywhere. Then I found out that she’d changed her name. I finally found her two weeks ago through the Closure group.”
What had you wanted to say to her?
Remembering events that took place in my childhood is very important to me, and Eti was my teacher during the most critical years of my childhood. She had a very strong influence on me as a child. I felt like she cared about me deeply, that she really saw me. I suffered terribly from ADHD, but nobody understood what it was back then. Eti, however, totally got me and kept me on the straight and narrow. She believed in me and helped me stay focused with the lessons she was teaching in the classroom. I can’t thank her enough for going out of her way to help me succeed.
My daughter just started first grade, and as I was sitting with her one day, helping her with her homework, I all of a sudden had a flashback to when I was her age. I had an urgent desire to know how Eti is doing, to say hello to her and tell her that she had made an extremely strong impression on me when I was a kid.
What did you talk about with her?
I told her, ‘I know this might sound weird, getting a call from a student you had 20+ years ago.’ It took her a moment to understand what I was talking about. But then all of a sudden she began telling me about things she remembered from our class. It was amazing. We even decided to meet up in person. I really want to see her, and sit and talk with her about the old days.
“I got goosebumps when I realized who Haim was,” says Eti Av, 69, who had been Teramin’s teacher. “It really made my day to know that students are still thinking about me decades later. I taught Haim’s class for three years in a row, which was unusual. I got very close to the students in that class, and I think they felt the same way. Haim was a special boy. I spent a lot of time helping and encouraging him. He was a challenging student, and I felt so much pride when he would succeed on a project or test. His parents hosted our end of year party on their roof. I remember most of the students from his class, and it is wonderful to know that I left such a lasting impression on them. I really felt like teaching was my calling.”
FOR YEARS, Shiri Skori, 42, from Modi’in, looked for her former teacher, Meir Shabbat, who’d been her teacher for sociology and political science in 12th grade at Ironi Zayin School in Jaffa.
“About a year after I finished high school, I began looking for Meir but couldn’t find him. It turns out he wasn’t living in Israel anymore,” Skori says. “He had a very positive influence on me. He believed in me, told me that he knew I was intelligent, that he knew I would go far in life.
“From that time on, whenever things were hard, I would say to myself, ‘You’ve got this!’ And I would imagine being able to call up Meir and tell him about my successes. He was so charismatic, he knew how to express things in just the right way. He encouraged us to never give up our dreams and that our own personal development was of the utmost importance. He believed in us, bolstered us. He was like a life coach, not just a regular teacher going over material in the textbook for the next test.”
How did you locate him in the end?
I was able to get hold of his email address at work. I wrote to him, and he replied. We exchanged telephone numbers. He still lives overseas – he’s the political science department head at a college in London. I was thrilled that he remembered me. I told him that all of the successes I’ve had in life were because of him, since at each juncture in my career I imagined him standing in front of me, and how he would have counseled me. Meir taught me to think outside of the box, to expand my mind and think in a new way. He seemed very happy to hear me tell him that. We even met up a few times when he was on visits in Israel. And I’ve consulted with him on projects I’m working on.
MEIR BRUCHIM, 39, from Jerusalem, works in the Israel Ministry of Internal Security. For many years he searched for Gershon, who’d been his Arabic teacher in the fifth and sixth grades at the Gilo Hey School in Jerusalem. “My friends and I were pretty wild in those days,” Bruchim recalls. “I remember Meir as being an older teacher. As I’ve grown over the years, in the back of my mind I started regretting how I’d behaved in his class, considering he wasn’t young. We didn’t do anything terrible, like throw chairs or anything, but we weren’t very nice to him, and this was weighing heavily on my heart.”
In what ways were you disruptive in class?
We were always making a commotion, not paying attention to whatever he was teaching. When it would get really out of hand, he would bang his hand on his desk and yell, ‘Enough! Be quiet.’ We used to make fun of his accent. I don’t think we did anything terrible, but I’ve never been able to get over this niggling feeling that I made his life miserable. That this wasn’t the proper way to treat an older person. And now, whenever I see my son behave like that, I will reproach him and explain to him that this is not proper comportment.
All through the years, I’ve kept these thoughts and feelings about Meir, and it caused me deep feelings of regret, but I never knew how to overcome these invasive thoughts. Then, one day I was on Facebook, and I realized I could try to look for him on social media.
What did you want to say to him?
That despite the fact that we were disruptive, we still loved him. That he was nice and a great teacher, and that we made noise because we were just children, and not because we didn’t think he was a good teacher. I felt a strong need to apologize to him directly. I finally was able to speak with him just two days ago. He didn’t remember me specifically – he’s over 80 now – but he was very moved by my words. He asked me questions about what I was doing nowadays and wished me much luck in life. He told me to pass on regards to all my friends from those days, which meant a lot to me. I feel so much relief now, like I’ve been able to set down this heavy rucksack full of rocks I’ve been carrying around all these years. My mind feels so much lighter.
“Lots of people who post on my Facebook Closure page are searching for teachers they had in their childhood,” explains Sam Zybert, who is an international private investigator. “Most of the time they want to thank their teacher for helping them forge a path, encouraging them, saying that they can succeed if they believe in themselves. One person posted that his teacher had seen past his poor test scores and validated his inner worth.
“People want to be able to tell their teachers: ‘Because of you, I have succeeded.’ They want their teachers to be proud of them. Reconnecting with their teachers, and thanking them for believing in them when they were young enables people to feel a sense of closure.” ■
Translated by Hannah Hochner.