Crisis and Response:
Post-High School Yeshiva Programs in Israel and the Matzav

Dodi F.Tobin, Ph.D.

The "Al Aksa Intifada", commonly known in Israel as "the Matzav (situation)" refers to the tense security situation that began on Rosh Hashana 5761 (September 2000) and unfortunately continues to the present day. This matzav has consisted of recurrent incidents of stonings, shootings, and bombings by Arab terrorists throughout Israel. The aim of this project was to examine how the one-year yeshiva programs have dealt with the matzav, and the impact of the matzav upon the students' Israel experiences, based upon feedback from students and their parents. The author offers recommendations, which may be useful to programs in the event that the matzav continues.

The author conducted interviews with administrators and distributed questionnaires to students and parents. The student sample consisted of 29 females and 13 males, and the parent sample consisted of 13 parents. The small size of the sample limits the generalizability of the findings. Nevertheless, the observational information obtained is valuable in that it provides an initial read on how students, parents and programs are functioning in light of the matzav.

The questionnaire responses in this study indicated that the primary concern of parents regarding the matzav was the physical safety of their children. Their concern was not reported to be excessive. The author suggests some possible explanations as to why parents are relatively calm, including the fact that the matzav is not a "war"; that at the time of the study, parents had already adapted to idea of the matzav; and that they had more frequent contact with their children via cell phone and email. Additionally, regular emails from the yeshiva to the parents were greatly appreciated by parents who received them, and seriously missed and needed by parents who did not.

The responses indicated that shana aleph students were concerned about their own safety, but also about the future of the country and the well-being of other Israelis. Students admitted being less scared about the matzav with the passing of time, and felt that learning in Israel during the matzav was a way of showing support.

How did the one-year programs safeguard their students during the matzav? According to student and parent responses, the female yeshivot generally implemented more specific interventions such as travel restrictions and requiring parental consent to travel to certain destinations, than did the male yeshivot. Other measures taken by yeshivot included disallowing or strongly advising against riding buses; providing phone numbers of "safe" taxi companies; establishing an emergency calling system to account for every students' safety in the event of a bombing; daily news updates and informative lectures; and frequent emails to parents to keep them informed and reassured.

Shana aleph students and parents were generally satisfied with the safety precautions taken by their yeshiva programs. One salient point that emerged from the responses was that students were appreciative when their yeshivot related to them as mature adults when establishing safety policy. Female shana aleph students in particular were grateful when their programs provided frequent and updated information about the matzav. The author points to sex-role socialization as an explanation for the gender differences in the approaches taken by yeshivot vis--vis safety.

The matzav impacted the students experience in Israel by limiting the extent to which they could travel the country. These restrictions often resulted in the student spending a greater amount of time in the Beit Midrash, with their learning becoming more intense earlier in the year than is typical. Despite travel limitations, students reported that the matzav had instilled their year with meaning, and engendered a strong connection between them and the country and people of Israel. Many students reported that they planned to, or were considering aliyah.

In sum, while the matzav was a concern for students and parents, it was not one that ultimately elicited panic. How yeshivot responded to the matzav vis--vis their students varied from institution to institution, and between genders. Overall, students and parents were satisfied with the measures taken by their yeshivot to ensure their safety, with females finding provision of updated information particularly useful. The matzav has had a powerful impact upon the students' connection to Israel and its people.

Crisis intervention literature suggests that schools must prepare to deal with crises if they are to do so effectively. The author suggests that one-year yeshiva programs approach the matzav as a crisis and respond accordingly. Based on the findings reported above, the author recommends specific measures administrators should take to prepare for another matzav year. These measures include sending information about the school's security policy to students and parents in advance of the year; frequent emails to parents; heeding parental suggestions regarding security; consistently updating students regarding the events in Israel as they transpire; and keeping in mind the maturity level of the students when setting safety precautions. The author suggests that these recommendations are useful in dealing with any crisis the yeshiva program may encounter.


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