Schools help worried students cope [pg. 2]

As Prime Minister Ariel Sharon began breathing independently on Sunday morning, students in schools continued to discuss his condition, and its implications for Israeli democracy. "From the moment we heard the news, we thought it was important for students to be able to express their emotions," said Mirit Shapira, the principal of the junior high and high school at the Rogosin-Bialik school campus in Tel Aviv. Shapira told The Jerusalem Post that teachers at the school began by presenting the students with the facts and exposing them to various publications in the media. "It's an opportunity for them to expresses their sadness and the very depressing sense of uncertainty," she said. Following demands by the school children themselves, the teachers at the school also discussed Sharon's biography in their classes. "We were worried that due to all the uncertainty, this could be interpreted as a eulogy, but we consulted with the school counselors and decided to respond to the students' request," Shapira said. While some classes studied the medical terminology related to the prime minister's condition, one teacher initiated a discussion about the unity necessary at this time between Israelis of different political opinions. In one civics class, the students focused on the legal situation related to the prime minister's absence from office, discussed the ways in which Sharon's condition would influence the elections and debated whether or not political parties should pursue their election campaigns at this time. "We wanted to give everyone a clear message that the country remains under government control, to quell their anxieties," Shapira said. "They also raised a lot of questions - they were curious to know who he was as a person, they wanted to speak about his right to privacy vs. the public's right to know, and they raised different concerns, such as whether Iran might exploit the situation to harm Israel." Similar discussions and wishes for the prime minister's recovery have been taking place in schools across the country, following Education Minister Limor Livnat's instructions, last Thursday, to touch upon the matter in all Israeli schools. At Tel Aviv's Zeitlin High School, which is affiliated with the national-religious sector, students recited psalms on Thursday, praying for Sharon's well-being. "Tomorrow we are also going to have a special discussion in class," said Daniel Cohen, a ninth-grader at the school. "It's a very disturbing situation, and it's shaken everyone's confidence because there is no one to replace him," she said. Cohen and her classmates added that in the days that have elapsed since the prime minister's hospitalization, they have learned information about his life that has positively colored their impressions of him. "I didn't know he was so good a man, that he had done so many things and participated in so many wars," Cohen said. "If he could still run for prime minister, I would definitely vote for him after everything I've learned." Shaul Simor, a tenth-grader at Tel Aviv's Ankori High School, said he was still angry at Sharon for disengaging from the Gaza Strip. "I hope he gets better, but I wouldn't want him back as prime minister," he said. Students at a number of other Tel Aviv high schools, who spent Monday afternoon shopping at the Dizengoff Center shopping mall, reported similar discussions in their schools. "Some kids said they didn't care if he died, because they had been opposed to the disengagement," said Ana Avraham, a twelfth-grader at the Ironi Yud Bet school. Gal Moshe, a student at the Lady Davis High School, said that she was bothered by the fact that Sharon is already being eulogized, even though he is still alive. "I don't think he should be spoken about in the past tense," she said. "But even if he can't go back to office, I would still vote for his party."