Judith Brown
Young enough not to quit and old enough to know better.

Restoring education post October 7th, A story of resiliency and hope

Until a few weeks ago, I had not heard of Dr. Dafna Granit Dgani, place-based education, or, for that matter, a podcast called “On the Education Path.” Dr. Dgani is the Director of the School for Professional Development at the MOFET Institute and lectures at Kaye Academic College of Education. Dr. Dgani is a researcher in holistic educational topics such as place-based education, local identity, and professional development for educators. But this story is not about Dr. Dgani or her prolific resume in education but about Israeli tenacity in times of crisis.

Dr. Dafna Granit Dgani Picture courtesy of Dr. Dgani

Dr. Dgani co-wrote an analytic thesis with Dr. Gal Ben-Yehudah, a researcher at the MOFET Institute and Levinsky-Wingate Academic Center. This was not the run-of-the-mill research study that most of us are accustomed to. It delved into the innovative decisions made by several leaders who, under their own initiative, created groundbreaking educational initiatives post-October 7th. As the horrific events unfolded, communities were uprooted and evacuated to hotels, homes, or any available shelter for safety. The dire need for crisis management was not ignored. As schools and businesses closed and a large segment of the population was called back to the army, communities and educational leaders emerged with innovative ideas to combine crisis management with compassion and the need to reconnect the children who were inadvertently displaced from their homes back to education.

May 29, 2024, Conference – Picture courtesy of Dr. Dgani

October 7th brought chaos, but it also ignited a spark of inspiration and imagination that united people in pain and tenacity. Communities across Israel, including retired educators, community leaders, and regular citizens, set aside their differences and acted. They temporarily left their lives to work in the fields, demonstrating a powerful collective spirit of resilience and determination. This is the inspiring story of their collective action, a testament to the indomitable human spirit in the face of adversity.

In a recent interview with Dr. Dgani, a picture and a story started to unfold, which dumbfounded me and compelled me to share. It is a colorful mural of courage and challenges but, most of all, of determination. As Dr. Dgani so eloquently explained, implementing the unique educational modules deployed from Tel Hai to Eilat is a story of success in leadership and resilience. That was an understatement.

To put the situation in perspective, children from kindergarten to 18 were evacuated and displaced in locations far from war and without schools. However, the educational and social communities where these evacuees found themselves decided to go rogue as they hankered down to develop autonomous educational modules specific to the environment, the needs, and the resources available. “School” was opened and attended in hotels, community centers, and anywhere that was deemed acceptable for a class. Individual donors and organizations stepped up, donating supplies that ranged from computers to school bags. Israelis were determined to restore quasi-normality to an otherwise abnormal situation. The intrinsic vision of a group of individuals managed to establish sustainable crisis management education in a very tenuous and dangerous situation.

May 29, 2024, Conference – Picture courtesy of Dr. Dgani

A couple of months after the October 7 massacres and abductions, Dr. Dgani obtained firsthand accounts from six regional education leaders responsible for the reorganization and redefinition of education to displaced families and their children. The interviews recorded in their natural setting and on-site cut through the narrative noise of politics and went straight to the core of the chaotic situation in which these communities and families were dropped. In a series of podcasts hosted by Dr. Dgani, the raw experience came through in waves. These interviews were later analyzed independently to research how decision-making can be viable in times of crisis by utilizing stamina, resilience, willpower, and hope.

Attendees May 29, 2024, Conference – Picture Courtesy of Dr. Dgani

Regional educational leaders and communities came together for both personal and national reasons. Immediately after October 7, the concept of ‘business as usual’ was shattered through murder, hostage taking, shock, chaos, and fear. The educators understood, without a shadow of a doubt, that education systems had to be restored to resume and maintain continuity, not only educationally but psychologically. The short-term mission was to restore ‘schools’ and inadvertently give hope to the displaced and the communities that took them as neighbors.

Conference, May, 29, 2024 – Picture courtesy of Dr. Dgani

October 7 changed the roadmap to routine. The event threw the nation and communities into another level of emergency that had no playbook or template to go by. Although Israel is not foreign to terrorist attacks, October 7 broke the mold and threw the drawing board out on routine response because the situation was not only fluid but without conceptual reference to any other past event. This new educational territory had to be managed with deliberation and self-assurance.  However, routines that were established pre-October 7 still played an essential role in decisive processes that started the groundbreaking transition from a makeshift school to rewriting the book on value-based education systems in a war-stricken region thrown into shock and chaos. The proverbial bureaucratic educational establishment was turned on its head as autonomous educational structural learning established a temporary school presence wherever a room, desk, chair, or table was available. The norm was no longer relevant as academic, and community leaders strived to get kids back to school and families back to some semblance of normality.

Dr. Anon Ben-Israel & Dr. Dafna Dgani – Conference May 29, 2024.
Picture courtesy of Dr. Dgani

The importance of the measures taken to give school children and their families a chance at normalcy and continuity was showcased at a May 29, 2024, conference at the Kay Academic College of Education in Be’er Sheva presented by Dr. Armon Ben Israel, and Dr. Dgani. The conference “Reconnecting: Community, Education, Place” highlighted the unprecedented and creative unorthodoxy implemented by the various “firsts” teaching concepts that adapted to the circumstances of evacuation, exposure to war, and resilience in times of crisis. Those present were either directly responsible for the various dynamics created in neighborhoods and communities or were educators eager to learn about these frameworks that can now be utilized as templates for educational crisis management and leadership anywhere in the world.

Dr. Dgani – May 29, 2024, Conference – Picture courtesy of Dr. Dgani.

The various lectures addressed topics ranging from living in a hotel to learning communities outside the physical space while discussing education during war. However, the most important outcome of this conference was the interpretation of authentic educational frameworks that have been gathered and are a viable vision of future educational endeavors during disasters, crises, or emergencies. The complexities of war and displacement were absorbed into resilience teaching and flexibility. Bureaucratic formalities were tossed out the window and replaced with solutions, team spirit, and shared responsibilities.

Conference May 29, 2024 – Picture courtesy of Dr. Dgani

Approximately 300 educators and community leaders attended the conference on May 29. They came from as far north as Golan Heights and as far south as Eilat. They came to listen, learn, speak, share, and recognize the commonality they all shared. Small, mostly women-run businesses were present to discuss the challenges and successes of running family businesses at war. The conference brought people of all trades and faiths.  A short article on one of the conference sessions was published in Arabic. A testimony that October 7 impacted everyone in Israel.

From the ashes of war often rise hope, determination, inspiration, and love of life. After the death, pain, chaos, and anger of October 7 had subsided to barely manageable, grassroots leaders buckled up and reinvented themselves and their communities. The restoration to education story is a story of resilience, courage, critical thinking, and love of humanity. Most importantly, it teaches self-efficacy, conceptualism, determination, and sustainability under abnormal conditions that otherwise could have been disastrous for the children, families, and communities in Israel. The playbook for educational crisis management has been written with alacrity and purpose, and as a live document, it can now be deployed and modified to assist any location around the world at war or natural disasters. A template that lit the flame of hope and possibilities when we often think none exist.

Trust yourself. Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life. Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement.Golda Meir

About the Author
Judith was born in Malta but is also a naturalized American. Former military wife (23 years), married, and currently retired from the financial world as Bank Manager. Spent the last 48 years associated or working for the US forces overseas. Judith has a blog on www.judith60dotcom Judith speaks several languages and is currently learning Hebrew.