The significance of a visit

The Aseh Hayil elementary school in Efrat became the center of attention as the prime minister and education minister visited on the first day of classes.

Netanyahu at elementary school 521 (photo credit: Moshe milner/GPO)
Netanyahu at elementary school 521
(photo credit: Moshe milner/GPO)
Amid much fanfare, over two million children returned to 4,500 schools and almost 63,000 classrooms on Monday, the largest number of pupils the country has ever had.
In one part of the country, the excitement was at an altogether different level. It’s not every day that the prime minister and the education minister travel to Efrat, so it was a momentous occasion for its residents when, on Monday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar arrived at the Aseh Hayil elementary school to greet the new first-grade pupils on their first day of school.
The significance of this visit is two-fold.
A much-publicized trip to Judea and Samaria by the prime minister is a statement in and of itself. It is an unspoken and implied message to the rest of the world that the areas of Judea and Samaria are important to all Jews everywhere.
It is noteworthy that Netanyahu emphasized the importance of Efrat in his speech at the ceremony.
“Efrat and Gush Etzion are an integral, fundamental and evident part of greater Jerusalem,” Netanyahu said. “They are the southern gates of Jerusalem and will always be part of the State of Israel. We are building Efrat and Gush Etzion with enthusiasm, faith and responsibility; thus we are also building education in the State of Israel.
“Today I am here with Education Minister Sa’ar because this is a newsworthy day. First of all, there are children here who are going into first grade. Shalom, first grade! This is significant.
"You are standing on your feet and you are starting to go forward. You are learning to read and write – the alphabet, you are learning math, you are learning science and you are studying the Bible and Israel’s heritage. Everything is bound together.
“And I would like to wish you, children, the kindergarten children who come so open, so happy, to first grade; I wish that the first graders will pass through primary school successfully and reach high school and afterwards to university, and that you will achieve everything you dream of doing, every one of you. You can do everything. [As Theodor Herzl said,] If you will it, it is no dream; And today, the state is offering its support. Therefore, arise and succeed. Shalom, first grade; shalom to everyone.”
Sa’ar spoke of the importance of education and the heritage of the Jewish people. His vision is to raise the level of teaching and make Israel one of the top 10 education systems in the world.
A day earlier, at the weekly cabinet meeting, he said, “The education system is undergoing very deep changes related to the reforms that we are leading on all age levels. I believe that if we continue this way – both with investments and policy directions – in another decade, Israel will be among the leading countries of the world in terms of education systems. I absolutely believe that this is possible and achievable, and we will do it.”
The second part of the visit took place in the school’s Heder Tanakh (Bible room), a fitting location, as the prime minister has a special affinity for Bible study. One of the most distinctive aspects of the school, the Bible room is divided into activity areas that connect the pupils to the Bible through various subjects such as archeology, geography, drama, art and music. There, a group of young pupils demonstrated their knowledge and put on a show for the distinguished visitors.
In May, Netanyahu reinstated a Bible-study tradition started by David Ben- Gurion. The Bible Study Circle is in memory of Netanyahu’s father-in-law, Shmuel Ben-Artzi, who had participated in the original group.
At the start of the first meeting, Netanyahu said, “Ben-Gurion and [Menachem] Begin believed that the Bible should be the heritage of the entire nation – secular and religious, young and old, men and women. The Bible is the foundation of our existence. It unites the Jewish People, as it has throughout the generations. It also serves not only as a foundation but also as a map and compass. The Bible is always relevant vis-à-vis today’s problems and challenges. It inspires, it is a source of life for our people and I think that it is important to expand Bible-study and love of the Bible among all parts of the nation.”
THIS IS very much in line with the direction Aseh Hayil has taken and this is just one of the elements that sets the school apart from others around the country.
And this is the second reason that the visit was significant. The prime minister and the education minister purposely chose to visit Aseh Hayil, an award-winning school, from among other schools in the area.
Established in 1985, Aseh Hayil, a state religious school with co-ed classes through fourth grade and separate classes from fifth through eighth, has 700 pupils and maintains a multidisciplinary approach to education.
Aside from its rich Judaic and secular studies curriculum, the school runs a number of additional educational programs.
In addition to its emphasis on the Bible, Aseh Hayil has a petting zoo which allows the pupils to connect with nature, and which serves  as a therapeutic environment for special-needs children. There are two psychologists on staff and each grade has a special education class. The school makes every effort to mainstream the children from these classes.
A special extracurricular program, Veshinantam Levanecha (“and you shall teach them to your children,” a quote from Deuteronomy) brings parents and children together twice a month in the evenings for an interactive study session. The program’s founder, Rabbi Aharon Falk, remarked that schools “do not impact on children if they don’t work closely with the parents. When we created Veshinantam, I was very surprised. I was always under the impression that the kids hated school, but... the kids didn’t want to miss it.”
A few years ago, the pupils of Aseh Hayil learned about the Holocaust and specifically about the 1.5 million Jewish children who were murdered during that period. As a way to quantify, visually, what that number means, the school initiated an interesting project that involved the collection of 1.5 million buttons from people all over the world in memory of the 1.5 million Jewish children.
By viewing the buttons in glass display cases situated in the main hallway of the school, pupils are able to visualize what the number 1.5 million really means.
The principal of the school, Mateya Tor-Paz, has this to say: “Children are the future. What we invest in them is what we will receive. It is important to us, the staff here, to teach them about their rich heritage.
“It is of great importance that the parents remain involved in the future of the school, its activities and programs. Since education comes from the home as well, strong communication between the pupils, the parents and the teachers ensures that what is being taught at school is being taught at home as well.”
Concerning the visit by Netanyahu and Sa’ar, she says, “It is an honor for the school that they came and their attendance at the ceremony was very exciting. It is important to us that they see the school and they demonstrate that, by coming all the way to Efrat, the pupils are important.”
Dina Mann, chairwoman of the board of Hayil B’Efrata Parents Association, a non-profit fund-raising organization benefiting the student body of Aseh Hayil, says, “It was an honor to be able to show off the unique educational environment in our school to the prime minister and the education minister. We welcome the ministry’s efforts at improving the quality of the education in Israel, and see several concrete steps have been taken recently to improve things. We hope this marks the beginning of more such steps to come, and a continued partnership between the ministry and the parents in achieving the best education possible for Israel’s youth.”
IN 2010, for the second time in a little over a decade, a rarity for any school, Aseh Hayil was awarded the Israel Prize for Excellence in Education in recognition of its being one of the top schools in the country.
As Voices Magazine, a publication run by veteran Efrat resident Sharon Katz, describes, “the Ministry of Education noted the school’s emphasis on derech eretz [decent behavior] and mutual respect, and its plethora of social programs aimed at teaching and elevating social values and achieving educational goals.
“The Ministry of Education also congratulated Aseh Chayil for fostering a positive dialogue with parents and the community at large. Other programs that were lauded include the Musical Mishnayot of Pirkei Avot, ‘Chavruta [paired] learning’ between fifth and second graders, as well as fourth and first graders in an experiential way, plus the popular ‘Veshinantam Levanecha’ parent-child after-school project.”
Each year, the prime minister’s office receives thousands of requests from schools around the country to be chosen as one of the venues visited by the prime minister on the first day of school.
So it is a special achievement that Aseh Hayil was chosen. Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi says, “I’m glad the prime minister found the opportunity to come. The first day of the school year is significant, since we place a lot of emphasis on learning and teaching in a good atmosphere with enriched programs that can create curiosity and interest in learning on the pupils’ part.
“We invited the prime minister eight months ago, when building [in Judea and Samaria] was approved, so that we could personally thank him in public.”
A unique school has once once again been awarded – this time with a visit by the prime minister and the education minister, who came to deliver a twofold message: Judea and Samaria are important and so is education.