Photo Credit: Yossi Aloni / Flash 90
Israeli children in face masks on their way to school. (archive)

The Israeli government on Tuesday night approved an outline for the partial opening of the education system starting Thursday. Classes will resume in kindergartens and first to fourth grades in green, yellow, and some orange municipalities.

The orange cities that meet these conditions where classes will resume Thursday are: Tirat Carmel, Kfar Yona, Karmiel, Mevaseret Zion, Ness Ziona, Savyon, Kiryat Motzkin, Ramat Gan, Ramat Yishai, and Raanana.

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Click here for a list of all the municipalities according to the traffic light layout (in Hebrew, on Google Drive).

Across the country, classes can still be held in groups of up to 10 in the open air.

The number of patients who tested positive in Israel shot up to 7,191 out of 81,715 tests obtained on Tuesday. However, the number of Corona patients in serious condition has gone below 1,000 for the first time in a while, to 993, 306 of whom are on respirators. To date, there have been 5,216 dead since the outbreak of the pandemic. So far, 3,576,638 have received the vaccine’s first dose, and 2,201,845 the second.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Israel’s Association of Pediatricians called for the return of all Israeli children to schools immediately. In a position paper they issued, the children’s doctors described the severe damage caused to children as a result of the failure to open the education system and the incessant arguments among politicians over the outlines.

The position paper shows a large increase in the incidence of tantrums, anxiety, depression, alcohol and drug abuse, and anorexia in girls and boys. The pediatricians report that the mental health departments for children are collapsing under the pressure, the waiting time for a bed in hospitals has doubled, it is impossible to get psychiatric appointments, and the system as a whole has lost its ability to respond to children experiencing emotional difficulties.

The association doctors call for the system to enlist in helping Israeli children and stress that this includes minors of every age group.

According to them, the lack of a study routine for 11 months, the lack of an agenda, boundaries, orderly meals, and regular sleeping hours are what cause the damage.

The pediatricians also report an increase in cases of obesity among children. They express concern about the long-term consequences of the damage from the pandemic-related lockdowns and demand that pediatricians be included in the team that formulates the outlines for returning to school.

“The association accuses the Israeli government of criminal neglect of children’s education,” the report concluded. Shocking power struggles are taking place among politicians, teachers, and kindergarten teachers over the children’s soft bodies and sensitive minds. Everyone is paying lip service, as if speaking in favor of education, but in practice, there is no limit to the cynicism, callousness, and evil.”

The pediatricians’ desperate warnings were matched on Tuesday by Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, the great Haredi Lithuanian leader who expressed his chagrin at the prolonged shutdown of the entire education system, religious and otherwise. His circle said that in recent days the leader of many Israeli Haredim had expressed “pain,” as they put it, “over the fact that the education of all Israeli children from all cities and all sectors is at the bottom of the authorities’ concern, and that every other subject is given preference over education which is the soul of the nation.”

Rabbi Kanievsky also cited the Talmud which says that “boredom and idleness lead to sin, and millions of Israeli children have been in their homes for about a year in spiritual and mental danger, and an immediate solution must be found in order to return them to the classroom benches as quickly as possible while observing the regulations and health requirements.”

An Israeli couple sits on the steps outside their Jerusalem apartment building with their small children, March 31, 2020. / Hadas Parush/Flash90

The first stage in the exit plan will be run as follows:

  • Opening of kindergartens until fourth grade in green and yellow cities
  • In borderline orange cities in which the percentage of vaccinated among residents ages 50 and up is over 70%, classrooms will reopen the same as in green and yellow cities
  • In other localities: groups of up to 10 (including a teacher) are allowed in open-air educational activities
  • Prioritizing the implementation of a protective education program (testing among school students) for borderline orange cities

The next phase in the program of departure from the lockdown, which will take place not before February 23, will require fewer than 900 patients in serious condition and 3 million vaccinated with the second dose. Should those prerequisite conditions be met, the next will include:

  • 5th-6th and 11th-12th grades in green and yellow + borderline orange cities with over 70% vaccinated
  • Malls, gyms, sports and cultural events, and hotels will be open to individuals with a green passport
  • Street shops will open without the need to present a green passport

The third phase in the exit plan, to take place not earlier than March 9, with 4 million vaccinated with both doses that will include 95% of ages 50 and up:

  • 7th-12th grades in green and yellow cities + in borderline orange cities with over 70% vaccinated
  • Event gardens, attractions, and restaurants will admit individuals with a green passport
  • Small cafes and restaurants will open without the need to present a green passport
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David writes news at JewishPress.com.