By: Emanuel Barkagan (11th Grade) and Jeremy Dobin (12th Grade)
If you were to tell me on New Year's Eve 2019 that in several months I would be removing my face mask to eat lunch on the school roof while sitting six feet apart from my friends, I would call you a liar. Month after month, 2020 seemed to grow more bizarre. A pandemic, a botched color war breakout, and the rise of the mosh pit all seemed to signal chaos. Some enjoyed it, some not so much, but all we can do now is look toward the future and think back on what a strange year it has been for us all.
A relatively peaceful month for the Hebrew Academy, January presented itself as a new and hopeful beginning. The school commemorated Sammy Farkas, who was a sophomore at the school when he passed away in January of the previous year. The ceremony was a touching reminder of our lost friend. On a lighter note, mosh pits were going strong, making the boys bathroom the center of excitement.
The second semester started with a seemingly unimportant threat from a foreign land. Eighty thousand cases of the novel Coronavirus had been tallied in China as the country closed down. In the United States, not many precautions were taken and schools stayed open. Day after day new cases came into our country and communities, but we took it lightly. Our chances for the Israel Trip and Heritage Trip were slowly decreasing. The country wasn’t closed yet, but by the end of the month it certainly felt dire. Mosh pits continued throughout the halls as students guessed when their color war would arrive.
This month was by far the most remarkable and outrageous month of the year. Not just for the county as a whole, but for Hebrew Academy. When we left off in February, the Coronavirus was spreading as the situation was looking worse and worse by the day.
In March, that did not change at all. The first major event of the month was the celebration of Adar, a month in the Hebrew calendar that denotes joy and celebration. Like a shepherd rounding up his cattle, former Director of Student Activities Rav Oded decided to infiltrate each classroom with a speaker, stop the class, and take the students with him. After amassing a crowd of at least 70 students, a giant mosh pit formed, the greatest the school had ever seen. Similar to the sacking of Rome, students ran wild as the rule of law faded into obscurity. Although the riot was stopped, it would not be the last of 2020.
Before school shut down, students embarked on AIPAC and YUNMUN conferences, enjoying traveling unknowingly for the last time for a long time. The color war finale served as the perfect send-off to normal life. As soon as the explosive celebration was over, Dr. Lieber gathered the entire school together and announced that it was our last day of in-person learning and that everybody needed to go clean out their lockers. Students joked as they packed their books into garbage bags and assumed we would be out of school for a week at most. Yet the virus had finally caught up to us, and we would not be back for a long time.
Students and teachers continued school in front of their computer screens. Everyone adapted to remote learning in a short amount of time. Challenges included technical issues, teaching and learning difficulties, and Zoom bombers. But the school adapted quickly and efficiently and in less than a week, remote learning seemed like it would be a success. Students got used to the new way of learning, but expected to be back after Passover break. Little did they know of what was to come.
The Remote Months
The official cancellation of the Israel Trip and Heritage Trip is how students began their April. Governments around the world started shutting down their borders. Teachers and students continue to adapt to remote learning well, beginning to realize that a return to school could be impossible. These original remote months were quite successful, as many students enjoyed their long break from the grind of regular school. The class of 2020 even managed to have their graduation with social distancing. Only immediate family was invited to attend by parking their cars in the field next to the school and watching the presentation from a giant screen. The graduates stood on a stage in front of the screen, all spaced six feet apart. This was a great achievement considering that most schools did not attempt this and simply canceled graduation altogether. Many graduates and their families, as well as Hebrew Academy staff members said it was one of the more unique and inspiring graduations they had attended. No graduation had ever been done like this, and it was certainly an impressive feat.
The world was still under lockdown, and school was out of session. Students enjoyed their summer, often attending town hall Zoom meetings held by the school. Meanwhile on campus, administration and the maintenance staff were working around the clock to prepare the school for an eventual in person return. Walls were knocked down to make the rooms bigger, social distancing signs were posted throughout the school, and water fountains were replaced with Covid safe, water bottle refill stations. Yet Corona didn’t seem to be going away any time soon. While the virus continued to spread, protests for racial justice started cropping up throughout the nation. By the time August came around, the school officially announced that it would start out virtually and resume in person in October.
September started off with new Principal Dr. Elizer Jones starting after much anticipation. Students were able to meet new teachers as well ... via Zoom. Although school was remote, everyone found a way to be together through virtual gatherings (hello, morning assemblies!) and presentations, including a touching 9/11 Memorial Service. All the work to make the school safe continued, and by the end of September, most of the pieces were in place.
Back to School
Before everyone returned to campus in mid October, the administration required that everyone get tested. They even provided free testing done by the University of Miami, which yielded results showing everyone was safe. Students finally got to meet their new teachers in person, while some stayed on Zoom. It had been seven months, but finally we were back. Masks were mandatory, and social distancing was too, but students seemed to enjoy the social interaction they lacked for so long. As the year progressed, students were warned against going to events, as they would be punished with suspension. As the Presidential Election rolled around, the school and the country became anxious in knowing the victor - a process that would last multiple weeks. Some students contracted Coronavirus, their grades being quarantined for weeks.
In school, we got to do many activities, even with the Covid restrictions. On Chanukah, we played laser tag and got donuts and latkes. On birthdays, students each get a small cake with their name on them. Everyone is trying to make the best out of the situation.
As we embark on this new year, let us not forget the good and bad times of 2020; it was the introduction to a new decade and hectic for a lot of people. We made it through and we can only look forward to what comes next. Here’s to a --- new year!