Israel opens schools with record number of students

Israeli schools opened for more than 2 million students, a record for the country.

The number of students included 145,374 first-graders, including Moshe Holtzberg, whose parents were murdered in the November 2008 terrorist attack on the Chabad House in Mumbai, India.

Many cities by Monday had not completed their new preschool buildings in time for the start of the term to accommodate the government’s decision to provide free preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds, the Times of Israel reported.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting: “Hello to all the first-graders. This is what Israeli children who are starting the 2012-2013 school year will hear tomorrow. Each one of us remembers this exciting day. I remember it, with my book bag, pencil case and empty notebooks. Today, the technology has changed a little, but the excitement is the same, the children’s great excitement, and that of the parents, teachers and principals as well.”

Netanyahu also spoke Sunday with Moshe Holtzberg, who is living in Israel with his grandparents, Shimon and Yehudit. Netanyahu wished him well and said the prayers of the entire Jewish people are with him.

Meanwhile, the Education Ministry and the city of Eilat agreed late Sunday that children of African migrants will be integrated into the regular school system instead of the separate school system they had attended. The agreement came after the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the end to the forced segregation.

Under the agreement, the migrant children will attend special classes in their regular neighborhood schools to help them overcome their language and educational gaps, and will be integrated into regular classrooms when possible after careful evaluation.

Eilat parents had threatened to keep their children at home until the threat of integrating the migrant children was rescinded.

Monday reportedly was the first time that the school year in Israel did not begin on Sept. 1; a new yearly school schedule was introduced last year.