May 2, 2002
Students send letters to Israeli soldiers.
Thank you for protecting Israel. I hope you and your family are safe. I hope one day I visit Israel. I love Israel. Sincerely,
As the war between the Israelis and the Palestinians wages on, many people feel like they want to help, but they are too far to do so.
Not the students at Adat Ari El Trana and Ronald Labowe Family Day School in Valley Village. Like many schools around the world, the Valley Village day school has started a letter-writing campaign for second to sixth graders to write soldiers, to express their support.
"I think it gives them a 100 percent mental boost to know they are supported," says 11-year-old Ben Grenrock. In his letter, the fifth-grader told the soldiers he appreciates them and that they are in his prayers.
Head of School Lana Marcus came across an address for sending letters to the soldiers and distributed the information to her staff. However, she was taken by surprise when she discovered that all of the teachers had the kids write letters that very week at their own initiative.
It's not just the teachers who want to reach out to the soldiers. "Kids are asking what they can do to help," Marcus says. "They want an address where they can write to be politically active. In fact, one kid came [to me] because he heard that there were e-mails circulating against President Bush for supporting Israel, so he wanted to send e-mails from his computer supporting Bush and saying what he thought."
Third-grader Nathan Taft recounts the sentiments expressed in his letter. "I basically said, 'It must be hard for you to leave your homes and help fight for Israel, and I hope you beat Arafat and his terrorists." Eleven-year-old Sydney Spiegel expressed her gratitude. "God's with you, and not only are people in Israel supporting you, but also people all around the world. We're thankful for your gift in helping us in Israel."
The students clearly have opinions about the situation. Nathaniel Bernhard, 8, told the soldiers to "make peace with the Palestinians. If you give them what they want, they will stop fighting."
To help the students make sense of the recent events, Adat Ari El's Rabbi Moshe Rothblum and Associate Rabbi Jonathan Jaffe Bernhard went around to each class on Holocaust Remembrance Day and Israel Independence Day to answer questions. "We have a large Israeli population at our school," says Marcus, "so some kids do know more [about Israel] than others and have a different connection than some people because they might have an aunt, an uncle, or even a brother or sister who is directly involved."
In trying to understand what keeps the soldiers motivated, the students try to put themselves their shoes. "I think they feel a little sad, but I also think they feel a little proud of themselves because they're helping their country," Ben says. Nathaniel agrees. "They're feeling scared, afraid and sometimes they're just trying to hide instead of attack," says the second-grader.
On a larger scale, the day school has a special relationship with children in Israel, as they have a "sister school" called Nizanim in the Ramat Aviv area of Tel Aviv. The kids at Adat Ari El keep in close contact with their friends at Nizanim through letters, e-mails and gifts. After the rabbis spoke to the classes about Israel, students expressed their wishes for the kids at Nizanim. The fifth-grade class made a quilt incorporating these wishes, hopes and dreams for their Israeli friends, which they recently sent to them by mail. Sydney, who took part in the quilt-making says, "We wanted to make them happy and let them know that we're all the way with them. Even though bad things are happening, they can think of us and how we're praying for them."
Marcus, who is in close contact with the teachers at Nizanim, feels that when children from other countries send the soldiers letters and gifts, it truly makes a difference. "When letters come from Jewish kids around the world, the soldiers know that Israel is more than just their homeland. There's a bigger thing at stake. I know how much they appreciate it. It has to make them feel good and supported."
Each student seems to have found a personal connection to Israel. Nathan spoke about his grandfather, a rabbi, who just returned from visiting the country. "He basically had a tour around the whole place and I think the people really feel good about the U.S. and Southern California," says the 9-year-old. Students agreed that they believe their letters will instill confidence in the soldiers. In addition, the school raised money for Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. Through it all, the children seem to understand the reality of the situation. "I think that until they can both agree on something, it won't end," Nathaniel says.
Letters can be sent to: Letter to Soldier, POB 92, Jerusalem 91000, Israel. They can be faxed to 972-2-621-6133/6214; or e-mailed as an attachment to: email@example.com .