Louisville teen recounts Israeli schooling during pandemic

Orli Feder

Guest Columnist
Orli Feder

My high school experience has not been anywhere near that of an average American teen.
I’ve spent the last four years attending an international boarding school in Israel that is part of a program called Na’ale Elite. The program, which encompasses several boarding schools throughout the Jewish state, prides itself on being a totally free boarding school experience for Jews from around the world. I attend a school called Mosenson Elite Academy in Hod Hasharon, near Tel Aviv, while my brother, Ari, goes to a school a few hours north that also is a part of Na’ale Elite.
The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated overseas study here. By mid-March, we were on a break for Purim, a time off expected to last just a few days. On the last day, though, the school announced that the break would be extended until after the weekend while the Israeli Ministry of Education deliberated whether to close schools for a longer period due to COVID-19.
Back then, the whole world seemed to be collapsing into chaos. Some of the worst stock market drops in history were recorded, and the World Health Organization classified COVID-19 as a global pandemic. In Israel, amid this chaos, the Ministries of Education and Health decided to close schools through the Passover break.
Once this decision was made, my counselor called my mother in Louisville, explaining that I would need to fly home in the coming days, if not that very night! My mother sat on the phone for hours with the airline, trying to get me a ticket. Days later, I flew home.
At the time, there were few regulations for flying. No one wore a face mask and no social distancing rules were in place. I arrived in the states, packed in with hundreds of people, like sardines, awaiting passport control. Miraculously, even under these conditions, I did not contract COVID.
I expected my trip home to last about a month, but as the days dragged on, everyone realized that the situation was not getting better. Schools closed for longer periods, and I began studying via distance learning, which proved to be somewhat difficult considering the time difference. (Louisville is seven hours behind Israel, so an online class scheduled for 8 a.m. there would start at 1 a.m. for me.) Fortunately, my teachers excused me from these early classes and recorded the lessons so I could listen later.
After a few months of distance learning, in-person classes finally restarted in some form. No longer were there full days of learning – just a few classes. Near the end of the school year, though, exams had to be taken, either in the school or at an embassy. I could either drive to Washington, D.C., three times to complete my tests or fly back to Israel for the remaining month of the term. Together with my parents, I decided it would be best to return to Israel.
I flew back in early June, with far more regulations in place. Face masks were now required, along with an empty seat between each passenger on the flight.
When I touched down in Tel Aviv, I was automatically sent to a government-run quarantine hotel, where I remained for 14 days. Surprisingly, the period seemed to pass quickly. There was a beautiful view of Jerusalem from the roof, so I went up there almost every day and sat at the edge, enjoying the view and breathing fresh air. When my quarantine ended, I returned to the dorms, where I spent the last month of the school year.
I flew home again in mid-July. It now seemed as though newer, stricter restrictions were being added every time I boarded an aircraft. Before each flight, including connections, health declaration forms needed to be filled out by every passenger and everyone’s temperature was checked before boarding. Luckily, I stayed healthy throughout all this back-and-forth traveling.
In a year for the history books, it wasn’t just my junior term that was affected by the pandemic. Now, my senior term is off to a rocky start, and the future remains uncertain. But there has been one benefit: I’ll have a good story to tell for years to come.

(Orli Feder, a Louisville teenager, is in her senior year at Mosenson Elite Academy in Hod Hasharon, Israel.)

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