On Friday, 2.2 million children begin the school year across the country, including some 163,000 who entered first grade.The Education Ministry’s situation room reported minor problems in Rosh Pina, Petah Tikva, Zichron Ya’acov and Haifa.Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett visited the Harish School in Haifa. Stressing Zionist pride, Netanyahu greeted pupils with the classic “Shalom, Kita Alef – veBet veGimmel – veHey” (hello, first grade, and second, third and fifth).He used this play on words to remind the pupils of their alphabet. “Now, because it is the first day of school, I want you to remember the alphabet: Alef for aretz [land]; this is your land. Bet, bayit [home], the State of Israel is your home. This is our land, this is our country; always remember this,” the prime minister said.He continued addressing the pupils: “I know that many of you come from different parts of the country, but you will learn in school that the Jewish people, our people, did not have a land, did not have a country and did not have a home. We were scattered and returned here.“Your grandparents, maybe even your great-grandparents, nevertheless returned here to gather in this land. This is your land, this is your country, this is your home and this is your school! Be good students; the most important thing is to learn well, study, study, study! Learn and then do. The most important thing is to learn and succeed, go forth and succeed! Welcome back to school and good luck!” Bennett said Friday’s events went smoothly. “The classes are smaller [than last year], there are teaching assistants for 5,112 kindergartens, and we are leaping forward in math and science. Now is the time to focus on improving spoken English skills,” he told the same group of pupils attending the Harish School.“We have a wonderful educational system and a wonderful country... I wish the principals, the teachers and especially the students a fruitful and successful school year. I am sure that together with the educational staff of this school, you will achieve great things,” Bennett said.
Meanwhile, President Reuven Rivlin paid a visit to the Nofei Haselah Elementary School in Ma’aleh Adumim.“Good morning to the president of the state, Mr. Reuven Rivlin,” 25 first-grade children chanted in unison as they stood up to greet the white-haired man in a black suit who walked into their classroom on the first day of school.It was a line they had practiced with their teacher Liat Valensy while they waited for Rivlin to arrive. They had even come to school two days early to prepare.“This is very emotional,” Valensy told the class of squiggling youngsters who struggled to sit still in the blue plastic chairs that had been set up in a circle.They wore white shirts, shorts or skirts, and sandals. Behind them on the board were the words, “Hello, first grade.”Valensy instructed the children to sit with their shoulders straight and their feet on the floor.“Do you remember how we are going to tell him good morning?” Valensy asked and made them demonstrate.“What will we do if he asks us a question?” she said.“We raise our hand,” one small boy said.“That’s right,” Valensy responded. “Show me how you will do that.”It was good that they practiced, because Rivlin had many questions for the first-graders once he took a seat in their circle on Friday.“Who here knows the Alef Bet [the Hebrew alphabet]?” Rivlin asked.Immediately hands went up.“Where did you learn it, in kindergarten or at home?”“In kindergarten,” they shouted. To demonstrate this, they sang and clapped to a song about the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet.The president had a few other questions for the children about their future career choices.“Who among you will be a minister in the government?” A few children raised their hands.The question about becoming prime minister received a much more enthusiastic response. Rivlin pointed out to the girls that this question was relevant to them as well and that there had once been a female prime minister called Golda Meir.“Who wants to be the president of the country?” Rivlin then asked.Upon seeing the flurry of hands, he said, “We will have many presidents.“Who will be his wife?” asked Rivlin. When a number of boys also raised their hands, Rivlin asked them if they set on this as a future vision or if they wanted to reconsider.“You have a birthday next week,” Noam told the president.“Very true,” he said, explaining that it was his birthday according to the Gregorian calendar, but that his Hebrew birthday fell on the day the world was created – Rosh Hashana.“But I was born a few years after that,” Rivlin, soon to be 78 years old, joked.On a more serious note, he told them, “Look out for your friends, ask if they need help and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.”He added that the New Year was also a time for soul-searching.“One of the first things we learn as citizens of the world and as Jews is to love your neighbor as yourself.This is true even when we don’t love each other, but we still have to respect each other,” Rivlin said.“In spite of our difference of opinions, we are all one society,” he said.“I hope that we will learn and understand that loving your neighbor is a necessity for engaging in dialogue,” Rivlin said.