Thursday was a big day for three-year-old Sofia. She returned to her daycare after a month at home with her parents and two siblings.
“At the beginning, she was a bit shy, but she was also very excited,” her father Arik Bendaud said.
The Bendauds live in central Tel Aviv near Rabin Square in one of the neighborhoods that met the criteria to reopen preschools and grades 1-4. Sofia was one of the approximately 500,000 Israeli children residing in cities and localities classified as green, yellow or light orange by the Health Ministry that could go back to their classrooms.
“We are happy that she went back even though we are also a bit anxious about the risks of contracting corona,” Bendaud explained. He said that he was satisfied with the arrangement the facility made to reopen safely, in terms of cleanliness and logistics.
However, the father does not know if Sofia’s teacher, or the parents of her classmates, got vaccinated.
“We did not discuss the issue. I did not ask because I felt it might be invasive of the teacher’s privacy. However, I would like to know it, especially because she comes from Bnei Brak,” he stressed. Bnei Brak has one of the highest infection rates and lowest vaccination rates in the country.
Also four-year-old Rephael was very eager to see his friends, his mother Jael Zarfati said.
Rephael was among the few children in Jerusalem who went back. While the capital as a city is considered red according to the traffic light outline, parents in several neighborhoods with a low infection rate received a message that their children’s schools and daycare would open again around 2 p.m., only to be notified that the decision was canceled a few hours later because the municipality lamented lack of clarity in the government’s guidelines.
However, since meetings outdoors in groups of nine children with a teacher is permitted everywhere in the country, regardless of the color code of the specific area, Rephael’s pre-school organized for two capsules to meet in the courtyard respectively between 8:30 and 11 a.m. and 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
“He was so happy to go back this morning,” Zarfati said. Her two younger children, ages 2 and 1, are also looking forward to kindergarten.
“Our two-year-old Jacov asked us if he could also go back like his brother. I told him that God willing they will all be able to return to daycare by Sunday, and today my husband took him out so he would not feel jealous,” she said.
Jacov is not the only one who is waiting: about two million Israeli students are still in remote learning.
Among them are also the two eldest daughters of Ra’anana resident Deborah Langer.
“My 17-year-old is a little sad that this is what is happening in her last year of high school, but she has been back a few times for matriculation exams and other activities,” she said. “On the other hand, my daughter in eighth grade has basically not been in school for a year. She has kind of gotten used to it.”
Langer’s youngest son Eytan went back to school on Thursday.
“He loves being at home so at the beginning he was not so exited, but this morning he was up and ready to go at 6:30 so I guess he was not so sad after all,” she explained.
Langer and her husband were happy to send him back. “Most of the time we work from home so it is hard when everybody is there,” she pointed out. “Sending him to school is a relief, also because it means that he is not in his room ten hours a day.”
The fear of getting infected or being exposed and forced to enter isolation is a cause of concern for Langer’s family.
“My son was also worried about it, he had to quarantined two times,” she explained. “However, all the teachers have been vaccinated, he wears his mask all the time so we just hope for the best.”
For some parents, the risk was not worth taking just a day before the weekend.
“We have four children ages 11, 9, 6 and 4. Our two middle children could have gone back Thursday but we chose not to send them because we felt that it was not worth taking the risk of exposing them just for a day before the weekend,” Liz Cohen told The Jerusalem Post.
The family lives in Tzur Hadassah, where schools, including Cohen’s youngest child’s preschool, are still closed. However, the two middle children go to school in yellow and green localities.
“I think it is funny that the system allows children from orange and red cities to return to classrooms with those from yellow and green cities, but I guess everybody is trying to figure out what to do,” she said. “My children were a little disappointed not to go back today, but they understood.”
Finally some children were not so eager to return to their classes, like Alessia Levi’s daughters.
“Eden and Keren who are in first grade and in the last year of preschool went back today, while my three-year-old Avigail will go back tomorrow because her kindergarten did not have time to get organized. However, they did not want to go back to school,” Levi said.
“If on the one hand these three lockdowns have been terrible – also for us parents working from home,” she pointed out, “I feel that the bond between parents and children, and between siblings got strengthened.”