The teleconference for the sixth graders at Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley in Woodcliff Lake got off to a rocky start on Sunday morning. But its sudden ending was memorable and educational.
Since the beginning of the school year, the sixth graders have been communicating with fifth graders at Remez, a school in Nahariya, using email and shared message boards. (Nahariya is the sister city of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.) The program is part of Emanuel’s commitment to having a strong Zionist component in its religious school education. Online messaging has enabled the two groups to pair up and communicate across the ocean and the seven-hour time difference.
Sunday, however, was to be a big day. For the first time, the two groups were to see each other and communicate in real time.
Unfortunately, like many first attempts at using technology with people watching, it didn’t work, at least not completely. Rabbi Shelly Kniaz, Emanuel’s director of congregational education, was able to connect her classroom to Israel. But from the Israeli side, even the school’s principal, its fifth grade teacher, an English teacher, and the computer teacher weren’t able to make the Nahariya classroom show up on the screen.
Once the audio connection was established, and the failure to get a video connection accepted, the Americans sang their song of welcome: “Hineh mah tov.”
“Good morning, New Jersey,” the Israelis said.
“Good evening, Israel,” the Americans said.
Then the Americans approached the front of the classroom and the camera with questions they had prepared. One side was in English. A Hebrew translation, which they presented to the camera, was on the other side.
“What is your favorite Disney character?” an American asked.
“Mickey Mouse” came the reply.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Dov was chosen to answer this question. “I want to be” — the fifth grader giggles nervously — “a doctor.”
“What do you like and don’t like?”
“I like my house. I don’t like girls. I like English — it’s a beautiful language.”
Whether because their English teacher was in the room, or because this was the class of fifth graders that excelled most in English, or because English really is just that great a language, several of the Israelis explained they liked English.
“What was it like to be in the bomb shelter?” asked another American.
“It was not very pleasant,” came the answer.
Then it was the Israelis turn to sing an English song.
A Jewish song? Yankee Doodle? Maybe the Beatles?
No, something for English as a second language students, with lyrics like this: “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday.”
Then it was time for some more Q&A. A group of students stood up and approached the front of the New Jersey classroom.
Suddenly, a siren began to wail.
It took a moment or two for Rabbi Kniaz to place it.
It was coming from Israel.
“Excuse us, we have to go,” said one of the Israeli teachers, in rapid Hebrew.
“We understand, go, be safe,” Rabbi Kniaz replied in Hebrew. She turned and faced the classroom.
“Do you know what that is? That’s a siren saying that it’s time to go to the shelter.”
“Holey moley,” a child said.
The concern for the Israelis under attack remained on Rabbi Kniaz’s face, but she stepped smoothly into educator mode. She pointed to the pudgy map of Israel at the front of the classroom and began asking about where Nahariya was (north) and who its neighbor is (Lebanon.)
Then the class concluded by singing Hatikvah, originally planned as a joint activity.
Later on, Rabbi Kniaz learned that three Katyusha rockets had come from Lebanon and landed in an open area, in retaliation for the killing of Samir Kuntar, a Hezbollah leader. The students wrote notes to their twinned classmates and asked Rabbi Kniaz to find out how long they were in the shelter.
And also: The Israelis sent a one minute video of pictures of their class during the teleconference. There they were in the classroom, listening attentively, better late than never.