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Dror Israel Continues Operating Preschools in Devastated Kibbutz Be’eri Community

"There was a rush of people and organizations here. Everyone was still in shock. There was general chaos," recalled Shaked Feldman of her first days at the David Hotel in the Dead Sea, where the entirety of Kibbutz Be’eri was evacuated after the outbreak of the war. 

Shaked, mother of two young daughters aged 8 and 1.5 years old, is a member of a Dror Israel educational kibbutz in the northern city of Akko. She and Elad Peleg, principal of one of Dror Israel’s high schools in Tel Aviv, arrived in the Dead Sea several days after October 7th to see what they could do to help pick up the pieces of Be’eri’s shattered early education system. 

Inbal Ron, the head of the Dror Educational Center network run by Dror Israel, immediately traveled to the Dead Sea hotels to meet her sister who was evacuated there. She saw the disaster-stricken community and sensed that her network of experienced educators could serve in the war’s educational front. She reached out to Shaked and Elad.  

Ido tours the destroyed preschools of Be'eri.

"Inbal was at the hotel from day one and very quickly recognized the need to establish educational frameworks,” Shaked said. “The [Dror] network took it upon itself to re-establish the preschool system. Together with Elad, we were asked to lead the move.”

When Shaked and Elad got to the hotel, they were only planning to stay for a few weeks before turning the preschools back over to the internal kibbutz education system. However, they quickly realized the full extent of the trauma and chaos, and decided to stay on until the end of the year. 

“This was an event of a completely different magnitude. The original staff of the preschools was severely traumatized or dispersed throughout the country,” Shaked said. “This required people who choose to be partners to Be’eri throughout the whole year.”

The two had never worked in early childhood education before the war, but decided to do a fast tracked professional retraining. Ido Blander, one of Dror Israel’s experienced preschool teachers, arrived soon after. He had been called up to reserve duty in the Home Front Command, but was released with his commander’s blessing after explaining the importance of this educational mission. 

From Hotel Lobby to Preschool

"Within a few days, we recruited teachers, set up tents and purchased equipment. On October 17, we had already opened seven preschools and a nursery, with the same names and age grouping of the original preschools on the kibbutz," Elad explained. "Over time, we expanded the operating hours of the preschools to a long day from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., including meals and daycare services.”

“We arrived on Sunday, and by Tuesday we were physically setting up the preschools, forming the educational staff, including a psychological staff training, conversations with the parents, and building an educational plan,” Ido added. “You could say that the preparation of two months to open a kindergarten was shrunk to two days."

Toys and dividers turned the hotel dining room into a colorful preschool

The preschools initially served about 90 children, providing them some sense of normalcy and routine as well as a solution for parents, who had the children by their side from the moment they were forced to leave their homes. Elad took on managing the entire early education system together with kibbutz member Alice Shahar, Ido became a team leader, and Shaked became responsible for frameworks for the older children and teens. Their staff is a mix of educators from the kibbutz who already know the children, and teachers who came to help from all around the country. 

"The children really connect with the educational figures they know," Ido said. “The familiar has great importance.” 

“From the moment we arrived here to rebuild the preschools, the most important thing was that they had a real preschool, that the staff would be consistent, so that they could feel safe after what they went through,” Elad added. 

According to Elad, getting the preschools going was not easy in the beginning. They started out in the hotel’s bar area, filling it with colorful toys and games and splitting off each age group with ropes. Later, some of the children were moved into large outdoor tents, with temporary walls built around the complex that helped create a feeling of safety. A few months ago, the preschools were moved to more permanent structures, large yurts in the hotel’s courtyards. 

Ido's class checks on the progress of the yurts.

"The establishment period was full of challenges, starting with technical and organizational aspects of how to set up preschools within a hotel complex, educational challenges for the staff and a wide range of emotional and mental challenges for the children and parents following the trauma they went through,” Elad explained. 

"We are very attentive to the parents," Ido said. “They said how much the children needed an educational framework, how much they needed space to breathe. Knowing that we heard their concerns gave parents and children the confidence to come.” 

Ido explained that the normal challenges of sending a child to preschool were amplified by the difficult situation. "Dealing with a child's separation from their parents at preschool is always tough. It takes on a different perspective when that child spent over 20 hours with their parents hiding in a shelter," Ido said. "The key is providing security and trust."

Relocating to the Evacuee Center

Elad's daughter has joined Be'eri's preschool.

Elad, Shaked and Ido all made significant changes in their own lives to allow this commitment to Kibbutz Be’eri, leaving their families for significant periods or partially moving them to the hotel. After two months from being separated from his partner and his two children in Tel Aviv, Elad decided to bring his 4 year old daughter Roni to live with him in the hotel and enroll her in the preschool. He sees his partner and his baby son Guy on the weekends.

“It’s definitely not ideal, it’s not the same conditions that we have at home,” he said. “But we are living here within the Be’eri community. If they need to deal with it, we can deal with it too. We are committed and connected to this community.” 

Shaked moved her entire family to the hotel weeks after her arrival, mainly to be able to take care of her infant who was still nursing. They returned to their home in Akko after Passover, while Shaked made plans to stay in the Dead Sea through the summer. Shaked explained that her partner was the one who proposed that the whole family move. 

"When I first arrived here, a kibbutz member asked me why I left my daughters behind and came. I told her that there are children here who will never see their parents again, and my daughters will be fine,” she explained. “When my family joined me at the hotel, there were kibbutz members who were happy that they were still a community that people wanted to be a part of."

“At first, saying goodbye to Ela, my partner, and Yuval, my daughter, was hard for me. The fact that they moved to be here with me in the hotel strengthens me a lot,” Ido added. "The decision to put Yuval into the preschool here, stems first of all from the fact that it is a very good framework that we have created here, and I am proud of it.” 

Looking Forward

The early education system at Be’eri is just one of 80 different sites where Dror Israel has set up temporary educational frameworks for evacuees. As the kibbutz prepares for its move from the David Hotel to its temporary new home on Kibbutz Hatzerim in the coming months, the preschool staff prepares with it. The Dror Israel educators will join them in Hatzerim to continue supporting the Be’eri community.

All three educators expressed that Dror Israel’s informal educational philosophy, flexibility and ability to respond quickly to disaster, and commitment to its partner communities allowed it to succeed where the Educational Ministry initially did not. 

Building a "safe house" during therapeutic play.

“A lot of people told us, ‘okay you’ve done your job, go home and let other people take over,” Shaked said. “This is a hard attitude, because who are these other people who will leave everything and come to the Dead Sea? Everyone just wants this to be over already, but the truth is that this is a long process and you need people who will agree to stay on and be part of it.” 

"The preschool teachers and educators of  Dror Israel arrived first at the evacuee centers and were among the first to set up frameworks for children who became refugees in their own country and met the social and educational needs of those children. A child who is placed in an educational framework starting in the first month of the war will better be able to deal with their post-trauma in the future,” read a Dror Israel statement. 

Ido confirmed this, maintaining that "without the pedagogical and organizational power of Dror schools, and without the choice of the Kibbutz Be’eri community to survive despite the terrible disaster that befell it, it would not have been possible to rebuild the kindergartens here.” 

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