As the world pays rapt attention to the staggering statistics of “Corona damage,” it’s easy to lose sight of the generation of youngsters who have lost a year of their lives. “Our students’ loss is far more than ‘just’ the crucial studies and matriculation exams that affect their future,” laments Boys Town Jerusalem High School Principal Rabbi Doron Taib. “They’ve lost socialisation with friends, daily routine and discipline, a normal homelife, and more. The long-term damage is frightening.”
Time is not in our favour, stresses BTJ Junior High Principal Rabbi Yehudah Rosencrantz. “The longer school is closed, the more boys we risk losing. Primarily those in single-parent homes, now more poverty-stricken than ever, are taking odd jobs day and night. Many have stopped even trying to connect to their “remote” lessons. Other students, deprived of friends and activities, are addicted to digital devices. Even normative families are crumbing, with their children tempted by drugs and alcohol. Worse, scores of boys and their families are ill, and many are hungry. There’s no money for food.”
In this frightening reality, Boys Town Jerusalem staff members are fighting a dogged battle to protect their students. “For boys losing motivation and hope, teachers have personally gone to their homes to encourage them. We were bringing students frustrated by distance learning to the campus until the latest national lockdown. We’ve personally delivered food and funds to families in desperate need, and we call to listen to and to boost boys in distress. Remote learning continues daily, even one-on-one,” Rabbi Rosencrantz stresses, adding that teachers, too, are suffering. “Today’s count is 18 teachers ill with corona or in quarantine.” “Our locked-down campus and dormitories are empty,” says Rabbi Doron Taib.
“Since 1 September, our year 7-10 students have studied in their classrooms for just 25 days, with little more for the older boys. The damage may take years to heal.”
Walking through the halls of Boys Town Jerusalem today, the lively sound of teachers giving their lessons can be heard loud and clear from every classroom. Yet, almost eerily, every teacher is speaking to a classroom filled with empty chairs, empty desks, and not one student.
“Boys Town’s halls have been packed with pupils for over 70 years,” mused Principal Rabbi Yehudah Rosencrantz as he gazed across the silent campus. “But it’s remarkable how ‘remote learning’ has enabled us to transform classes to the virtual realm during the pandemic.”
BTJ Teachers are required to teach from school
The rabbi noted that unlike in most Israeli schools, BTJ instructors are required to teach directly from their classrooms on campus. “The academic setting remains as is, regardless of the students’ locations,” he stressed, adding that being together on campus also facilitates (masked) teachers to readily exchange ideas and insights together.
Teaching via Zoom is a challenge
From his empty second-floor classroom, veteran Hebrew-language teacher Rabbi Alon Madmony reflects upon the challenge of “Zoom.” “Give me a blackboard and I can teach,” he declares. “But like most teachers, I had no training in digital instruction and must now invent new methods. Happily, I’ve compacted the material into very concentrated lessons in which my students excel. Yet I’m really struggling to maintain the personal connection so nearly impossible via Zoom.”
Not every student has a computer
Every teacher has expressed concern for the many students who have no access to a computer at home. “Each sibling in a family needs his/her own computer to connect to the classroom,” Principal Rosencrantz explains.
“Generous overseas donors have enabled us to purchase computers for scores of students, but there’s now a profound, urgent need for additional computers. Today’s massive unemployment has dealt a devastating financial blow to our boys’ families, who are barely putting food on the table. They are unable to pay any tuition fees, placing a major strain on the school’s operation. We need help to help our students in need.”
These boys need your help
Since the above update, our boys have begun returning to the school in some capacity, and scholarship assistance remains our top priority. Now more than ever, you can help a boy continue learning during this pandemic by donating here.
Boys Town Jerusalem’s first – and hopefully only – student to contract the coronavirus is now hospitalised and experiencing severe breathing difficulty. Ironically, Boys Town was the place where Micah* had finally begun to breathe easier after having faced painful hardships on his own for so long. Now the school is fighting to help him survive.
As the coronavirus spreads, the ambulances careening through the empty streets of Jerusalem-under-lockdown have become a familiar sight. For Boys Town Jerusalem senior Daniel Yemini, a newly-licensed medic working ongoing 8-hour ambulance shifts, the fierce crisis has transformed his volunteer work with Magen David Adom (Israeli Red Cross) from a passion to an urgent, lifesaving mission.
After Omer was born, his parents abandoned him and each other. Omer, who is 14, has lived with his maternal grandparents all his life, but his parents remain a major force of pain. Omer’s mother continually pressures him to visit his father, but each visit ends in disaster.