First day of school: Israel's universities open their gates for the academic year

Students at Tel Aviv University on October 10, 2021.

"A very exciting day," said President Herzog. "Education is the most fundamental root of a society's ability to function."

Sunday marks the first day of the academic school year, ushering in thousands of university students across Israel. It is the second year in a row operating under the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic.

Here is how Israeli universities opened the momentous day:

The Reichman  University (previously known as IDC Herzliya) opened its doors to about 8,400 students, 3,300 of whom are new students. They are pursuing a range of first, second and third degrees. This is the first time the institution opened up the new school year with the official status of a university. Out of the entire student body, 2,200 students are international, and hail from 90 countries worldwide.

"The necessity of adapting quickly to the realities and challenges created by the virus required us to think creatively and respond swiftly, both at the technological and pedagogical levels," said Dr. Ayelet Ben-Ezer, the university's CEO and vice president. "This year the students will have an even richer, better, and more innovative learning experience.”

Reichman is adopting a hybrid model for lecture attendance, in which, for every undergraduate program, one day a week, lectures will be held remotely, while the rest of the lectures are planned to be in person.

“The experience we have gained over the past year, similar to that shared by leading institutions in Israel and around the world, has shown that the in-person method is the most effective,” said Prof. Rafi Melnick, acting president and provost of Reichman University.

Hebrew University of Jerusalem drew the same conclusion, and many of its courses are implementing a joint method of some live and some remote lessons. The faculties made an effort to record the in-person lectures as well, so that they may be available to students unable to enter the campus due to COVID, isolation or lack of a Green Pass.

"The Hebrew University community is sending a warm welcome to all new and returning students, who are beginning a new academic year today!" wished the Hebrew University Facebook page.

The University of Haifa posted a joint blessing by the heads of Tel Aviv University, Hebrew University, Weizmann Institute, Technion, Bar Ilan and the Open University. 

"How many presidents does it take to wish a happy new academic year?" read the tweet.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz visited the nursing school in Tel Aviv University (TAU) alongside Ariel Porat, TAU President, to give his blessing to the new students. 

"Incredible people, who come to the profession with love and a great sense of purpose," said Horowitz. "Nurses provide outstanding work in hospitals, in difficult conditions. It doesn't have to be this way... we've already added 450 student positions for nurses, and there will be a significant raise in medicine faculties too," said the Health Minister. "That way, we'll give the system oxygen, ease the workload... and shorten shifts."

Nurses in Israel usually work 8-hour shifts, sometimes back-to-back in departments with over 100% capacity and in the dynamic conditions of COVID wards. Doctors in their first years of practice work 26-hour shifts, a current source of friction between the medical residents' union, Mirsham, and the Health Ministry.

Prof. Ariel Porat joined Horowitz in welcoming the students. "The steep rise of 50% (in two years) in students in the nursing faculty of Tel Aviv University in general and in the academic track, in particular, is a badge of appreciation to the dedication of academic nurses in hospitals and clinics," said Prof. Porat. 

President Isaac Herzog joined a virtual conference with Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton and the university and college presidents. "A very exciting day," said Herzog. "Education is the most fundamental root of a society's ability to function.

"I wish for a healthy, fruitful, continuous year," blessed the president in a tweet. "Education and employment are the two legs on which any youth can build himself a worthy, good life in the State of Israel," signed Herzog, including a picture of himself on graduation.

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