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JDS welcomes Israeli students relocated due to Israel-Hamas War

Courtesy Gili Schisterman
Ninio (far right) and family traveled Puerto Rico over winter break during Ninio’s time at JDS.

As soon as Hamas’ attack on Israel occurred on Oct. 7, the realities of Israeli citizens were flipped upside down, causing a number of unprecedented changes to their lives. For some Israelis, one of these changes was relocation to the United States.

Both the CESJDS Lower and Upper Schools officially announced that they were opening their doors to new Israeli families on Nov. 19 in a schoolwide email, stating that it is accepting any “[JDS] mission-appropriate student who is coming from Israel whether permanently or temporarily.” The email also encouraged any prospective Israeli families to contact the admissions team for further information.

After making the decision with her family, Tamar Ninio, who lives in Ramat David, Israel, moved to Potomac, Md. on Nov. 19 for a 2-month mental break from the war. Ninio moved to the U.S. alone, leaving her parents and two older siblings, 22-year-old Shaked and 24-year-old Omer, both of whom are serving in the Israeli Defense Forces. Ninio lived with and attended JDS alongside her older cousin, senior Gili Schisterman. Schisterman gave Ninio a shoulder to lean on, easing her transition into a new American school until returning home on Jan. 14.

“I knew [my visit to the U.S.] was an experience that I would never have, to meet other people and other cultures,” Ninio said. “It was different than Israeli schools and it was nice to see how you can be Jewish in a different place other than Israel, and be proud of it, without anyone shaming you. I’m really glad that I did it.”

Before junior Roi Beinart moved from Israel to Maryland on Jan. 16, he lived in a moshav (an Israeli agricultural settlement) called Sde Nitzan, which is located right next to the border of the Gaza Strip. Consequently, at the beginning of the war, his family was relocated to a hotel in Eilat, Israel, and his school and those nearby were shut down. Like Ninio, Beinart moved without his family, but until leaving on Feb. 6, he stayed with a host family. Beinart managed to make the most of his temporary visit.

“I was super sick of being in a hotel after like three months, so I thought it would be an experience to come to America alone,” Beinart said. “When I came, the teachers were so welcoming. Everybody made sure to tell me that they appreciated my courage [for moving from my home alone during the war].”

Director of Upper School Admissions Wendi Kaplan worked with 45 Israeli students as they entered the JDS community to ensure they felt welcome. The majority of these students joined the lower school. Whether it was over Zoom or in-person, Kaplan met with every “temporary Israeli family” prior to their arrival.

“It was a little bit different because they knew that their situations were temporary,” Kaplan said. “They were fleeing Israel, so what was most important to all of the families was stability for their children… They just wanted their kids to have the stability of being in a school setting, and learning.”

In addition to these meetings, the Upper School paired each Israeli with a student buddy and designated middle school Hebrew teacher Aviva Gershman as a liaison with each new family.  Kaplan and the admissions team did everything that they could to support these families as they joined our community.

“It was an unbelievable experience being able to work with these families,” Kaplan said. “Everyone was very emotional. The families were emotional that they were able to [come to JDS, and that] we were opening our doors.”

JDS continues to open their doors widely to serve the Jewish community, whether in the U.S. or abroad, in any way that they can.

“From the start, everyone was so supportive of Israel, and of me,” Beinart said. “…They all just understood.”

This story appeared in the CESJDS Lion’s Tale on Feb. 28, 2023.

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