As Rockets Strike Southern Israel, Kids Take Day Off to Go to the Mall

Some parents debate whether closing schools in response is the right thing to do.

Amid the rocket attacks in the south, confusion is growing over the decision by some mayors to shut the schools. Some children are treating it like an unexpected holiday, while the grown-ups, at least in Ashkelon, are debating whether closing the schools is the right thing to do.

But not all the approximately 150,000 school children in Be'er Sheva, Ashdod, Ashkelon and Kiryat Gat are staying home with their computers and televisions. For many, the day off is a chance for some unexpected mall time. In Ashdod, the malls have been as full as on an ordinary day.

mayors - Eliyahu Hershkowitz - March 25 2011
Eliyahu Hershkowitz

Schools in Be'er Sheva and Ashdod were completely silent Thursday. But in Ashkelon, confusion reigned. Many students showed up for class because Mayor Benny Vaknin had said the schools were going to remain open, heeding the recommendation of the Home Front Command.

But some students stayed home because the city's parents committee declared the schools closed.

Sophie Hotovely Pinchas, a member of the parents committee, said she doesn't think the mayor can make such a decision.

"It's a decision that should be made by the government, since the government's job is to give people security. Under half the school children in Ashkelon came to school, and it was impossible to have a regular day," Pinchas said, adding that she thought the parents committee would keep the schools closed. "You can't ask us to go back to normal as long as we're not properly protected in the schools."

Ashdod's Mayor Yehiel Lasri decided on Wednesday to shut the schools, after a Grad missile strike.

"A missile exploded after two years of quiet. Still, the city is active and vibrant as usual. The logic in closing the schools is very simple: The decision had to be made so as not to put the children at risk," Lasri said.

"Protection in the schools is partial, and a missile fired at a kindergarten or a class damages national morale. We can't take the chance. As long as we're not persuaded that the escalation is over, we won't send the children back to school. The responsibility for the safety of the children is mine."

A number of people in Ashdod said they supported the mayor's decision, although the school closure was hard on working parents. "I'm very glad the mayor made the decision; we're trying to convey strength and security to the children," said Ofer Tzaban, a resident.

"Some of them live with the feeling of fear and anxiety when there is an alert, and they're not with their families. Many children, including my own, are not sitting in front of the television but studying with their teachers via the Internet."