President Peres bids Shalom, first grade

Peres, Education Minister Sa’ar meet 120 youngsters at the President’s Residence ahead of the opening of the school year.

President Peres with 120 children 370 (photo credit: GPO)
President Peres with 120 children 370
(photo credit: GPO)
The traditional headline in the Hebrew media on the first day of the new school year is “Shalom kita aleph” (“Hello, First Grade”). The transition from kindergarten to school is an exciting, sometimes awesome and even traumatic experience for many youngsters, and recognizing this, Israel’s education authorities have tried to make the first day of school as pleasant an experience as possible.
For 120 Jewish and Arab firstgraders from different parts of the country who are starting school today, the transition from kindergarten was made a little more exciting by a visit with President Shimon Peres and Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar at the official residence of the president.
The number 120 is significant because that is how many members there are in the Knesset, and that is how many members there were in the Great Assembly (Knesset Hagedolah) in ancient times; it is also the age at which Moses died; and the number of cubits of the height of the Temple. In short the number 120 symbolizes democracy, wisdom, longevity and piety – and in the case of the 120 youngsters their potential in all or any of these attributes.
A large mat was laid out in the main reception room of the Presidential complex and on it were huge bolster pillows like bean bags in a plethora of colors, also used on a huge sign mounted on an easel displaying the words “Shalom kita aleph.”
Considering that many of the youngsters did not previously know each other, and that they were told to arrive well over half an hour before the start of the proceedings, they were extremely well behaved – most of them sitting on the pillows – although very noisy.
Some, who found it too difficult to stay in one spot for too long romped around the room, while others who were restless began pushing each other around.
One boy got so wild he started punching the children sitting near him and a teacher quickly had to rush to the rescue and move him away.
While the majority of Jewish children were in relatively casual attire, the Arab children, both boys and girls, sported formal garb. The boys wore long dark pants, long sleeved pristine white shirts and striped ties and the girls wore white dresses with layered tulle skirts and pink sashes.
This was one event in which there was certainly no discrimination against Ethiopian children and there were several boys and girls of Ethiopian heritage, who fitted in just fine.
The warm-up before Peres and Sa’ar entered the room was easy. The moderator and singer was popular children’s entertainer Michal Tsafir, who instantly had the youngsters’ attention and who bantered with them with considerable success.
The entertainment business is rife with warnings about being upstaged by children and dogs. However, neither Peres nor Sa’ar seemed to mind in the least that they were being upstaged again and again.
Each has an excellent rapport with children, and they sat with broad grins on their faces as the youngsters totally devoid of shyness, answered questions, walked up to them and hugged them, sat on their laps or pulled them into circles to dance.
Peres, whose birthday celebrations continue unendingly, also celebrated at the gathering.
Tsafir told the junior audience that the president had celebrated his birthday the previous week and asked everyone to join her in singing the Hebrew version of “Happy Birthday.”
The youngsters sang, the teachers sang, the parents sang and even Peres sang Happy Birthday to himself.
Then began the comparing of ages and Peres asked the sixyear- olds in front of him if they wanted to live to be as old as him 89, or even a 100 – and most of them did.
Later he asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up, and the first reply was a clown. But the most unexpected reply came from a cute, tiny girl with a big voice who said she wanted to be a computer engineer.
Tsafir launched into a series of songs about children, and Sa’ar, who spontaneously joined in, knew all the lyrics by heart. Everyone else in the room clapped to the music and some sang along too.
Peres told his young guests that God had given them the right to speak and to acquire knowledge. He had given them ears with which to listen and had provided openings in the ears so that they could listen well.
He urged them to get up in the morning and listen to their teachers and to try to understand what was being taught.
“In class you have to listen and not talk while the teacher is talking,” he said.
After quizzing the youngsters as to whether their school bags were ready and properly packed, Sa’ar asked whether any of them wanted to remain in kindergarten.
No one did. Everyone was looking forward to going to school. One little boy said that he was eager to know more than he does now and he wanted to learn to read and write.
Addressing the whole group, Sa’ar said: “I want you to learn a lot, but don’t forget how to play and don’t be afraid to ask the teacher when you don’t understand something or when you need help.
But most important, no violence.
Don’t hit each other.
Every problem can be solved by talking.”
In Ness Ziona, the children apparently don’t wait till they’re in kita aleph to learn to read. They already learn in kindergarten, as demonstrated by Netta Barel and Noam Shein who both attended the Tzippornit Kindergarten in Ness Ziona and respectively read out long greetings to Peres and Sa’ar. Netta wished Peres happiness, health and long life and thanked him for his great contribution to the state, while Noam thanked Sa’ar for what he has done to advance the education system.
Greetings to their fellow first graders were delivered in Hebrew by Ro’i Kugler from the Ayelet Kindergarten in Modi’in and in Arabic by Nizha Zaatri from the Ein Nekuba Kindergarten. Nizha’s teacher who had obviously taught her the speech, mouthed every word as she spoke and applauded in delight when she finished without having made a single mistake.
Peres and Sa’ar then posed for group and individual photos with the children as parents and teachers frantically clicked at their cameras.
This morning for the opening of the school year, Peres will be in the Negev, which he has frequently visited in recent weeks, and will tour the Shaar Hanegev Technological High School – the first school to be protected against rocket fire. Peres will visit an interactive classroom, and as he usually does when meeting final year high school students, will have a Q&A session with them, and will talk to them about their upcoming induction into the IDF.