Anxious, Overwhelmed, Scared: Seeing The Impact of October 7 On Our Global Schools Network


By Jennifer K Saber

I struggled with what I was hearing, holding back tears, hoping no one noticed my desperation to keep my composure as I facilitated the discussion. Once, as a teacher at an American Sunday school, my greatest problem was unearthing sharpened pencils. Such innocent concerns paled in comparison to what I was hearing on Zoom.

I was participating in World ORT’s Educators’ Forum, convened to discuss the impact of the horrific October 7 attacks and rise in antisemitism on staff and students from across ORT’s network.

The stories I heard shook me. Teens frightened watching social media posts of “war porn” and antisemitic images hitting too close to home; schools in the Diaspora opening their doors to students from Kfar Silver Youth Village needing respite from war-ravaged Israel; teachers worldwide not knowing how to comfort their students, while in need of comfort themselves.

At World ORT we knew we couldn’t sit idly by. We are driven by our priority to give our schools the tools to support the social emotional wellbeing of their students and staff. The Educators’ Forum was a space to gather, hear from professionals about the benefits of addressing the mental health needs of our beneficiaries, and an opportunity for schools to share their lived experiences.

Daniel Tysman, Head of World ORT Education Department, opened by sharing a message of solidarity and unwavering support. Dr. Moshe Leiba, Chief Pedagogical and R&D Officer of Kadima Mada, gave an insider’s view of Kfar Silver. Julia Alberga, Wellbeing Manager at Partnerships for Jewish Schools, addressed using Social Emotional Learning as a tool to support students and teachers during these tough times.

Boarding school students at World ORT’s Kfar Silver Youth Village are dealing with the ongoing impact of October 7

Listening in breakout rooms, the facilitators heard exactly what we had hoped – and dreaded – staff would raise. They painted a heart-wrenching picture. One teacher described her students with constant anxiety. She said the students are fortunately not familiar with what war looks like based on its absence from their own country. But then how to explain the anxiety? “Even though the war is far away from them in Israel, the war is in their hearts.” She said students have family and friends fighting for the IDF so are worried around the clock. “They are thinking about it every moment. Every time someone brings up the war it reminds them of their brothers and sisters on the front lines.”

Another concern for students is their own security. Participants spoke of an increase in security at schools worldwide as a preventative measure against rising antisemitism. One teacher said this was a red flag for her students. “Increasing visible security around the school had the opposite effect. The students questioned why there was all of a sudden more security and asked if they were in danger. One teacher said following October 7, some students were scared to come to school for fear of a terrorist attack. Parents kept their children home under their protective eyes until they understood that life needed to go on as usual and sent their kids back a few days later.”

An unexpected topic that emerged was the effect on Jewish identity. “Some of the recommendations students were given were to be careful with things like wearing sweatshirts with Hebrew lettering,” explained one staff member. “Students are grappling with the internal conflict of ‘I want to be safe but this is my sweatshirt, it’s who I am.’.”

Emotions running high were not just reserved for students. Faculty shared their own personal anxieties and frustrations. How do we support teens who are viewing antisemitic social media? How do we navigate the mental health issues of our students when we need to address our own? How do I come to work to tackle the day when I am not trained in mental health and trauma and don’t have the tools to deal with what is happening? It is completely overwhelming.

There are no easy answers. This is a crisis with no end in sight. World ORT’s Education Department will support our network of schools – both as a shoulder to cry on and to lend a helping hand. We are taking the emotions, thoughts and directives we heard at the Educators’ Forum as fuel to move forward with an action plan.

In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers) 2:16, Rabbi Tarfon said: “It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it.” The social and emotional wellbeing of our global network is our top priority. It is our duty to work towards finishing the work of emotional and mental repair.

Jennifer K Saber is a project manager in World ORT’s Education Department