By ELAN LUBLINER
The mood was ecstatic. Many of the children had never been to Jerusalem before, and to get out of school for a day was something particularly special. Buzzing excitedly, the three busloads emptied out onto the street of the Old City on Wednesday morning, where all the children and teachers of Haroeh elementary school started their tour of the capital, relieved and elated to be out of Sderot for a day.
Their trip to Jerusalem was hosted by the Efrata College of Education, which organized a roster of activities, the first of which was a walk through the Jewish Quarter. Dr. David Brody, academic dean of the college, explains that the purpose of the program is to provide some relief for the young Negev residents who lived under fire before, during and after the last war in Gaza. "People don't realize that Kassams are still falling there," he says. "For these kids, this danger and pressure are all they know."
Separated into three groups by age, the youngest children visited the Sephardi synagogues; the third and fourth graders visited the birdhouse; and the fifth and sixth graders took the virtual tour of Jerusalem and walked through the archeological park. Following this, each group was led through the Jewish Quarter by Efrata College students, who taught the youngsters about Jerusalem in general and the Temple in particular.
All the children visited the Western Wall briefly, and many placed written wishes or prayers in the wall. One second grader said that he had wished for no more Red Alerts. A sixth grader asked that the Kassams stop falling. "Living under fire and being forced to study in bomb shelters has powerfully affected their lives," says Brody. "It's no wonder they wish for safety."
The activities culminated with an entertaining puppet show at the Midreshet Harova building in the Jewish Quarter. Before returning home, the Sderot children made a wall hanging for their main sponsors, the families of the Heschel School in Manhattan. Last year, the students there organized a walkathon and raised $5,000 to bring the children of Sderot to Jerusalem.
Brody was very enthusiastic about the outcome of the Sderot children's trip to Jerusalem and is already beginning to plan next year's trip. "We're going to continue this as an annual project," he says, "and hopefully develop more curricula for the staff by bringing them to Jerusalem some time in advance of the trip."
In addition to Wednesday's event, on June 10 Efrata College will continue a successful program from last year, which brings early childhood students to Haroeh's preschool for a special educational activity. "The point of these programs is to show the children in Sderot that we are there for them," says Brody, "and to give their teachers a much-needed break."
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