Back to school! Israel's leaders greet students throughout country

About 2.4 million students entered kindergartens and schools on Tuesday, as the school year began amid restrictions due to coronavirus.

Israelis return to school amid coronavirus concerns, September 1, 2020 (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/ MAARIV)
Israelis return to school amid coronavirus concerns, September 1, 2020
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/ MAARIV)
Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion clapped his hands and greeted first grade students who were about to begin their first day of school at Tali Geulim Elementary School in Jerusalem on Tuesday.
Greeted by their future teachers, children walked on a red carpet as they entered the halls of knowledge through a gate made out of balloons.
Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion welcomes the start of a new school yer, TALI Geulim Elementary School, Jerusalem, September 1, 2020 (Credit: Hagay Hacohen)Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion welcomes the start of a new school yer, TALI Geulim Elementary School, Jerusalem, September 1, 2020 (Credit: Hagay Hacohen)
A juggler on stilts made the experience of parting from parents and grandparents a little easier to bear. One little girl was troubled by the presence of cameras and reporters and, when she cried, a cameraman engaged her and her mother in an interview to put her at ease.
Wearing a dark suit, blue tie and kippah, the mayor bumped elbows with children and chatted with a parent who apologized that he was unable to shake the mayor’s hand due to coronavirus restrictions.
A juggler greets the children ahead of the new school year, Jerusalem, September 1, 2020 (Credit: Hagay Hacohen)A juggler greets the children ahead of the new school year, Jerusalem, September 1, 2020 (Credit: Hagay Hacohen)
Principal Dana Carson walked with the mayor and showed him around the school, but not before two young mothers told him they had met in that same school as girls, and today they are bringing their own children to the same classes.
“How old is this school?” he asked Carson, who joked “a long time!”
All set to teach during COVID-19, the artwork on the school walls depicts children wearing face masks, and floors include reminders to keep social distance between pupils.
Carson showed Lion a recent addition to the school’s sports center: a rock-climbing wall honoring the memory of one of the teachers, the late Leah Barak. The mother of former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak, she was a teacher in the school for many years, Carson said, adding that the students collected the money to fund the wall.
When they entered a class of first graders, Carson asked the children to show her their “power bracelets” – plastic bracelets given out to the children to encourage them not to be afraid on the first day of their future academic career. “You are the champions of the world,” she tells them. “I trust you.”
“In case some of you don’t know, I’m the mayor,” a beaming Lion told the children, some of whom seemed more interested in their power bracelets.
He watched a brief play produced by the older children about overcoming hardships during the first day of school, and greeted the class before departing.
“The most important thing is that you ask us what we need as educators,” Carson told Lion before he left the grounds, “for which we thank you.”
Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz opened the school year on Tuesday, telling students at the Inclusive School in Hadera that “we are doing everything that we can to build a good and safe future for you in the State of Israel. Study – we’ll take care of the rest.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz visits a school in Hadera on the opening day of the new school year, September 1, 2020 (Credit: Avshalom Sassoni)Defense Minister Benny Gantz visits a school in Hadera on the opening day of the new school year, September 1, 2020 (Credit: Avshalom Sassoni)
“A very challenging, but also very interesting school year is at our doorstep, and I am confident that we will meet all the academic and educational goals we have set for ourselves,” said Shlomo Neeman, head of the Gush Etzion Regional Council. “This year we are experiencing an increase in the number of students entering the educational institutions, which reflects more than anything the strengthening of our settlement here in Gush Etzion – and gives us a lot of hope for the future.”
Neeman was joined by Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, who told students, “We made a difficult decision: to open the education system in Israel despite the outbreak of the virus.”
“Not all countries in the world have made such decisions, but the need to return the children to the education system and let the parents continue to work was before our very eyes,” Edelstein said. “One has to live in the shadow of corona, do everything to suppress the virus, flatten the curve and remember that coronavirus is still here. I do not accept the ‘no corona’ or ‘complete lockdown’ approaches.”

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein speaks ahead of the start of the new school year on a tour of Efrat, September 1, 2020 (Credit: Meir Elipour)Health Minister Yuli Edelstein speaks ahead of the start of the new school year on a tour of Efrat, September 1, 2020 (Credit: Meir Elipour)

About 2.4 million students entered kindergartens and schools on Tuesday, as the school year began with social distancing and distance-learning regulations amid the ongoing outbreak of the novel coronavirus.
Israel reached a new record number of daily cases on Monday, as 2,180 cases were reported in Israel, with 946 deaths, according to a Tuesday morning update by the Health Ministry.
The coronavirus cabinet decided late Monday night to keep students in 23 “red” cities home for the first day back, in a victory for coronavirus commissioner Prof. Ronni Gamzu.

Back to school, as the new school year begins, September 1, 2020 (Credit: Avshalom Sassoni)Back to school, as the new school year begins, September 1, 2020 (Credit: Avshalom Sassoni)
At least two schools in non-red cities in central Israel did not open the school year on Tuesday either, after staff members at schools in Bat Yam and Gan Yavne were infected with the coronavirus and came into contact with fellow staff members.
An ultra-Orthodox girls school in Jerusalem also closed its doors to some 300 students after a teacher tested positive for the virus.
The application used by the Education Ministry for students to fill out health declarations crashed on Tuesday morning, according to Israeli media.
About 650 toddlers with food allergies also did not begin the school year on Tuesday, after the Finance and Welfare ministries failed to agree on a source of funding for daycare assistants.
“It is a shame that wars over money and power are being held on the backs of our children – and at this time, our children will not be able to open the school year,” said the Yahel association for food allergies on Monday. “It is inconceivable and unthinkable. We will do whatever it takes for our children to start the school year immediately.”
Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman contributed to this report.