Photo: Ashkelon Municipality / Students attend the first day of school in the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon, following the summer war that Israeli children in the south mostly spent in bomb shelters.
On Monday, September 1, schools across Israel opened for the new the school year, as 2,105,394 children took their places in the classroom -- merely a week after a 50-day war with Hamas ended in a cease-fire agreement. In southern Israel, where cities and communities were most affected by Hamas rocket fire and terror attacks, special activities took place to help children ease back into school following a summer spent mostly in bomb shelters.
"There are mixed feelings -- there is great happiness going back to a routine," Sharon, a mother from Kibbutz Or HaNer, near Sderot, told Tazpit News Agency. "On the other hand, we do not know what will happen next with the cease-fire."
"The children were really happy to go back to school, to walk around freely for the first time in months. Just today, the kids and I had ice cream for the first time all summer sitting out on the grass," Sharon told Tazpit.
"There is a feeling that the war stopped, but also that it hasn't. Parents here are full of emotions regarding the return to school after such a difficult summer. Many of us became refugees from the rockets. Just think, teachers who went through this horror themselves are opening the school year," she added.
More than 4,562 rockets were fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip during the summer, striking civilian population centers throughout the country.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Education Minister Shai Piron, and Finance Minister, Yair Lapid, showed solidarity with southern Israelis, visiting schools in southern Israel. In Sderot, Prime Minister Netanyahu visited a new religious elementary school with Sderot mayor Alon Davidi. The Prime Minister spoke with first grade students who spent the first lesson learning about the Hebrew alphabet.
"I know that you spent your vacation doing things not according to what you planned," the Prime Minister said." I hope that during the upcoming holidays you will have the chance to have some fun, to play, and to be with your families and friends," the Israeli PM told the first graders.
"Be good friends with each other and hunger for knowledge. This is what distinguishes us and gives our people special strength," he said. "We are the People of the Book and today the people of the tablet as well. We hold onto our heritage and also the future. Study the Bible, our heritage, math, computers, and science. Acquire knowledge for the sake of the nation of Israel, for the state of Israel, for the land of Israel, for yourselves and your families."
Among the two million students starting school, 149,705 are first graders and 122,750 students are entering the 12th grade. The Absorption Ministry also pointed out that 1,900 students are new immigrants and are entering the Israeli school system for the first time, which includes 250 first graders.
Education Minister Shai Piron further added that that he was assigning a special assignment to the first graders this school year, which he noted wasn't homework but classwork. "Look around you. See who may not have many friends and who may have had few visitors this summer. If a kid doesn't come to school because he is sick, don't forget to call him. Act with respect to your teachers. And when you speak to each other on the playground, do not forget to use clean language."
"Our biggest test is not how we act during times of war but how we act during times of peace. The true test is about morality, identity, and love of mankind," said Piron during his visit to the south.