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Emergency Efforts on the Ground- “They just want to be children, but their stories are so horrible"

Updated: Nov 22, 2023

Interview with a preschool teacher for the children of Kibbutz Be’eri.

Bat Be’eri is actually a high school teacher in Akko, but following the war she moved for an unknown period of time to serve as a preschool teacher for the children of Kibbutz Be’eri. Now she tells us about her special mission

Bat plays with children from Be'eri's Preschool.

Michal Arieli, Hidabroot Magazine, November 5, 2023

Translated by Dror Israel from the Hebrew original:

My name is Bat Be’eri, and I know that the first thing you are thinking when you hear my name is that I am from Kibbutz Be’eri, but that is not true at all," Bat Be’eri says this sentence at the very beginning of our conversation, when she introduces herself as a preschool teacher.

Bat lives in Akko, and she works as a high school teacher at the Dror Educational Centers network. However, in light of recent events, the network asked her to help open preschools for the children of Kibbutz Be’eri, and so she ended up at a hotel in the Dead Sea, where all the evacuated families from the kibbutz are being housed.

In its new location, the preschool aims to recreate a familiar environment.

"The preschool opened about two and a half weeks ago," Bat says, "We did this only after we had preliminary conversations with all the parents, to understand a little about the children's situation and also to hear about what each child was like before everything that happened, we tried to understand who they really are. These conversations were held about a week after the attack, when the atmosphere was awful and everything was fresh and difficult. Despite this, Dror Educational Centers made a clear decision to open the preschools, and as time goes by we realize how important it is."

The importance of routine

"I am a preschool teacher for 3-4 year olds," Bat points out, "and I see from up close that the children need a framework and a routine as similar as possible to what they had before the disaster. This is also the reason why we intentionally left the names of the preschool classes exactly as they were in the kibbutz, because in the kibbutz every child knows exactly which class is theirs. The composition of the children in the classes is almost completely the same as in the original. It was important for us to give them the familiar things that they loved, as much as possible."

Birthdays and other traditions help to reclaim a sense of routine.

What do the children remember from what happened?

"These are really small children, but it is clear that they remember every detail. We have children in my class who were in their safe rooms for twenty hours, without toilets, water or electricity. There are those whose father went to join the kibbutz’s volunteer defense force, and were left only with their mother. There are children who didn’t even hide in a safe room, but rather in bushes, or who were on the run. There are children whose house was burned down and they remember the smell, and there are also children who were not at the kibbutz at all that day. But of course they too have their own struggles - the loss has also taken up a big part of their lives. There are children who have lost grandparents, there are those who have lost parents or other close family members, and even those who have not lost any family members - they know many kibbutz members who were murdered, because this is a kibbutz, and in a kibbutz everyone knows everyone."

Do the children talk about it, and share memories?

"They share a lot, but in accordance with their age. For example, they can say to me: 'Do you know that my house burned down?' or 'You know my dolls stayed in Be’eri?' But mainly I see that they bring out their feelings and memories through play. For example, we have a play house in the yard of the preschool, and they constantly enter it as if it were a safe room and literally recreate the situations they experienced there. They say, for example: 'Let's hide and be quiet', and also explain: 'There are bad people out there' or 'thieves' or 'terrorists'. Each according to what they were told. The instruction we received from the psychologist is to talk to them about these issues and try to take the game in a positive direction so they have control and power, to make sure that this time they come out of the situation as the winners. The idea is to get them out of the very difficult frozen situation they were in when they were in the safe rooms."

A variety of areas give the children space to process through play

Marching forward, to victory

But beyond those memories and talks, Bat emphasizes that the routine in the preschool is a normal one. "We have a daily schedule that includes a class meeting, playing in the yard, breakfast, and the like. Just like in a regular preschool. We also sing the same songs, just like they had in their preschool back home, and we make sure to sing them every day, to connect them to what they remember and what was familiar."

​ And what are your plans for the future? How long do you think you will continue this job?

"Before they brought me and the other workers here, they made it clear to us that we had to commit to at least a month, because the whole point is to create a permanent framework for the children, so that they won't experience something that changes every few days. With every passing day, I see how much the children do adapt to the new place, they bond with me very much and it gives them a lot of stability in the insane reality they are experiencing. I also think it’s very important for the parents to get to know the people who are with their children, and they have already bonded with us and trust the team. This is why I don't see myself leaving anytime soon, and at this point I continue with these sweet children."

Bat has difficulty answering the question "until when". "Do any of us know what will happen to us tomorrow?" She finally asks, "Even the families from the kibbutz don't know how long they will stay in the Dead Sea, when they will be able to return to Be’eri, if at all. But one thing is clear - I have become very attached to the children and the parents, it will be very difficult for me to leave them."

The preschool's safe environment provides crucial support for the traumatized kids.

Bat pauses for a moment, then frankly adds that she thinks there is a lot to learn from these children. "The whole country has been in a process of terrible mourning for a month now, and the children are also going through something like it, but they manage to raise their heads and look forward. Despite everything they've been through, they manage to smile and be truly happy, from their hearts, most of the time. When you see them playing, laughing and having fun, it really gives me hope, and a feeling of victory," she concludes.

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