Miri Sharon (right) with a student at Epstein Hillel. Sharon is a native of Israel, and Epstein Hillel’s Upper School Hebrew and Jewish Studies teacher.

Epstein Hillel’s Israeli staff helps build community on campus during crisis

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Epstein Hillel’s Israeli staff helps build community on campus during crisis

Miri Sharon (right) with a student at Epstein Hillel. Sharon is a native of Israel, and Epstein Hillel’s Upper School Hebrew and Jewish Studies teacher.

Late in the evening of Oct. 6, Ori Baruch called his parents from his Boston apartment – as he usually does – to catch them as they were waking up in Israel.

This night, however, was different.

As he made the call, Baruch – who’s in his third year of teaching music at Epstein Hillel School in Marblehead – saw the news about Hamas terrorists invading Israel.

“It was so surreal,” he recalled. “I stayed with my mom on the phone for more than five hours. It kept getting bigger and bigger and we were just stunned. I was physically frozen. The fact that I am thousands of miles away from them made me feel so helpless. I remember that we were waiting for some silver lining from the news – and it just didn’t come.”

Baruch, who completed his mandatory service in the Israel Defense Forces a decade ago, spent the next few days glued to the news and in constant contact with his family in Israel. After the weekend, he returned to work at EHS, where he’s one of four Israeli staff members.

Once at school, Baruch said it was “lifesaving” to be embraced by a Jewish community that understood what he was feeling, especially as his sister, a reservist in the IDF, was called to the war. He appreciated the staff meetings and talking circles, where he could freely share his feelings, and the opportunities to join the school community in raising money and collecting donations for Israel.

“Epstein Hillel became a place where my pain, my sadness, and my grieving were seen and accepted,” he said. “I didn’t need to hide my emotions. I didn’t need to apologize for my existence. I didn’t need to apologize for being an Israeli.”

Miri Sharon felt the same way. After Oct. 7, the Haifa native, who teaches Hebrew and Jewish Studies in the EHS Upper School, said she unabashedly “put my Israeli on display.”

Sharon attended rallies supporting Israel, both in North Andover, where she lives, and in Boston. She worked with EHS Head of School Amy Gold to display a large Israeli flag on the school’s exterior and smaller flags throughout the school. In partnership with her colleagues, Sharon adjusted her Israel curricula to address current events about Hamas, Israeli geopolitics, kibbutzim, Zionism, antisemitism, and other topics related to the war.

“As an Israeli, I felt supported from the first step,” Sharon said of her EHS community. “And I also took it upon myself to explain, educate, and lead.”

Sharon collaborated with Gold to organize an evening of education in November and a fundraiser walk in December to support Kibbutz Nahal Oz, an Israeli community near the Gaza Strip that was destroyed by Hamas.

Sharon and Gold visited Nahal Oz last summer and were hosted by Ofir Libstein z”l, the Mayor of the Sha’ar HaNegev Regional Council, who was killed on Oct. 7 while defending his community.

Through the walk and the educational event, EHS raised $15,600 for Nahal Oz. For Hanukkah, students also made cards and menorahs to send to kibbutz families.

“I feel overwhelmed and grateful and so proud of our very small school,” said Sharon. “With all we’ve done for Israel, we’ve gotten into people’s hearts – and we’ve touched them.”

For Gold, it was important for EHS to be there for its faculty, students, and families as soon as school resumed on Oct. 9 – the first day back after the attack.

“Being a K-8 school, we had students with very different levels of knowledge about what happened,” she said. “As a close-knit school community, we provided time and space for age-appropriate conversations to support our students. We took a similar approach with our faculty, some of whom are Israeli. We decided to use the “Heart-Head-Hand” framework from the Shalom Hartman Institute to plan our response to the attacks. We wanted our community to feel a connection [heart] through education [head] so they would be motivated to do something to help [hand].”

In November, EHS hosted a staff workshop with Yotam Dagan, a former Israeli Navy SEAL commander and a certified clinical psychologist with expertise in trauma and resilience. Recently, Gold and Rabbi Samantha Safran, the school’s director of Jewish life & learning, co-led a workshop to help staff continue to process the trauma of Oct. 7.

To show even more support for Israel and her Israeli staff, Gold added the prayers for the State of Israel and for Israel’s soldiers to the weekly EHS all-school meeting, student minyanim, and the all-school Kabbalat Shabbat celebration, held each Friday.

Prior to the attacks, Gold said, teaching about Israel from the perspectives of Am, Eretz, and Medina (People, Land, and State) has long been a core part of the EHS curriculum.

“Our goal is to cultivate and nurture a love of Israel from all perspectives in the next generation,” she said.

With the school’s upcoming winter concert on Feb. 6, Baruch, the music teacher, is doing just that.

For the concert, each class will perform Israeli children’s songs in Hebrew. Baruch is thrilled that students are enthusiastic about the music from his homeland, creating their own choreography to the songs and practicing the lyrics.

“The concert is a way for me – as an Israeli and as a musician – to bring the two countries together, which is now more important than ever,” he said. “I want to help the Jewish community here in America feel more connected to Israeli culture and music.”

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