Helping Displaced Israeli Children Return to School
By: David Parsons, ICEJ Vice President & Senior Spokesman
Among the many war relief efforts the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem is undertaking to help Israel through the current conflict is an aid project to provide 11 classrooms for children of evacuated families from the Eshkol Regional Council so students from kindergarten through sixth grade can resume school together again.
The Eshkol region in southern Israel is a fertile area where the 12 spies in the Bible once discovered massive clusters of grapes in a land that “truly flows with milk and honey” (Numbers 13:27). Today, the Eshkol region consists of 32 farming communities along the Gaza border area which were thriving once again with amazing produce year-round—that is, until the horrific Hamas terror attack of October 7.
In the immediate wake of that disaster, over 17,000 residents of the Eshkol region were evacuated from their homes and moved to temporary housing in hotels and guest houses in Eilat, the Arava, Dead Sea and Jerusalem. Once they realized it could be months before they can safely return to their homes, the community leaders started looking for ways to provide classrooms for their children.
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Tayir Azulay, director of a nonprofit group connected with the Eshkol Regional Council to meet the needs of their residents, decided to reach out to the Christian Embassy and request help for equipping 10 such classrooms. Her letter explained how the Eshkol region had suffered greatly from the mass invasion on October 7, as the Hamas terrorists not only targeted their communities, such as Be’eri, Sufa, and Nir Oz, but they also attacked several army bases in their regional council, as well as the outdoor music festival near Reim, where some 350 young people were massacred that dark day.
“We are shocked, heartbroken, badly injured. We grieve the loss of our flesh and blood,” Tayir wrote. “We are now burying youth who had their whole lives ahead of them and their grandparents who founded our communities.”
“The monstrous details of the disaster are still just being revealed as the days go by,” she noted, adding that amid all the horror, there were also acts of great heroism.
The ICEJ quickly agreed to help fund the project and later added a commitment for one more classroom for children from Kibbutz Be’eri, one of the hardest-hit Israeli communities. Thus, the Christian Embassy is providing eleven classrooms for displaced Eshkol region families lodging in hotels, and these classrooms will move with them once they move from their present temporary residence to intermediary housing.
The ICEJ’s donation includes equipment for the classrooms, as well as roomy tents to serve grade school classes. The classrooms will each hold up to 20 to 25 children, so this initiative will serve several hundred children over the coming school year.
Another part of the project is the ICEJ sponsorship of a special children’s book now being prepared for printing at the reopened Be’eri print house. The book aims to help children work through the trauma they experienced, and the 4,000 copies will each have a dedication page and blessing from the ICEJ in the front.
Recently, Nicole Yoder, ICEJ Vice President for AID and Aliyah, went to Eilat to meet Tayir and visit three of the kindergartens we are sponsoring, which are already opened for youngsters from families displaced from the Eshkol region. As Nicole arrived, some of the tables and other classroom equipment were just being delivered, giving the children reason for excitement.
Tayir explained to Nicole the thinking that had gone into how these communities were trying to help their children recover from the tragedy of October 7.
“We want to keep the same framework as before,” Tayir said. “It is very important for us, especially right now, to guard the sense of community, that the children and families still feel they are with the broader community of Eshkol. We have concerns among the leadership that the moment a kibbutz or community moves physically further away, their emotional connection to Eshkol may also weaken. We want to keep those ties strong and will do everything possible to protect them.”
“So to create stability, we are giving the children the same classmates, the same teachers, the same school buses from Eshkol. We want them to have the feeling that it is the same as what they are accustomed to,” Tayir continued. “We want to create the most secure and familiar surroundings so they can enjoy physical and emotional rehabilitation, to give them a little of their normal life back. A daily routine is one of the important elements of resilience.”
“You know, the kids are very vulnerable. Even though we are doing everything we can to create a stable place that is familiar, there is still something inside of them that knows that they are not in their normal place. Like bringing some of the same pictures from their previous kindergarten and so on. That calms them and reminds them of home.”
In addition, Tayir described how giving the children daily routines and school activities also frees up the parents to start working or planning for their family’s future, since the hotel rooms they are staying in can be cramped for large families and difficult for parents who can “work from home” to do so.
Tayir also shared a little about her own family. She has four children, including six-year-old twins (boy and girl) and two teenage daughters. They moved to Moshav Yevul in the Eshkol region just over a year ago and were used to rocket barrages. But what happened on October 7 was hard to grasp at first. Her children were getting messages from friends in Nir Oz and Be’eri of shootings and kidnappings. But it wasn’t until she went online and saw the news reports that Tayir realized the depth of the tragedy unfolding around them.
The family hid in their safe room all day Saturday and finally left at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday afternoon with other neighboring families in a convoy of vehicles driving eastward through fields. They saw the effects of fighting around them and soldiers and tanks coming forward to battle the terrorists before they finally reached safety.
Today, Tayir and the other residents of the Eshkol region remain scattered around Israel and are trying to hold their communities together as best they can until they can safely return home.
Until then, they have prioritized getting their children back in school in as familiar and uplifting an environment as they can create to aid their recovery and return to normalcy. Your donations to the ICEJ are helping to do just that.
Help Israel overcome the tragedy of the current war thrust upon them.