Our Stories

MILTON Welcomes Students from Israel

November 20, 2023 by Elizabeth Zitelli (Faculty and Staff)

The first inquiry from an Israeli family seeking to send their students to MILTON came on October 10, just three days after the October 7th attacks on Israel.  

“The first reaction I had,” said Sindy Udell, MILTON’s Director of Admission, “was that we had to find a way to help these children and their families find a safe place, and our community could offer an environment that would feel supportive and familiar. I just wanted to hug each child seeking refuge and tell them it will be alright and they will soon be home.”

When the first child arrived, she was staying with her aunt and uncle and her parents didn’t know how they would get her to Milton.  Like any good Jewish mother, with her parents’ permission, Sindy picked her up at her aunt and uncle’s home and drove her to MILTON. “I told her that if she helped me with Hebrew, I would drive her every day,” Sindy said. On her first day, in a bit of remarkable timing, this new student got the chance to meet Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff on his visit to MILTON.  

And then another call came from an Israeli family seeking refuge in Washington, DC. And another. Many Israeli parents wanted to know that there was an option for a good Jewish Day School in the United States if they needed to leave Israel in a hurry. Many parents just wanted to talk and be heard.

“They needed someone to laugh with and cry with. They were so heartbroken to be leaving Israel,” Sindy said. “Most calls ended with a tearful Todah when I told parents that no matter what, their children have a place at MILTON, for as long or as short as needed and we will make it work and it will be easy, ” said Sindy Udell.   

Sensing the urgency of the situation, and wanting to give families a safe educational environment in the midst of chaos, Sindy worked together with Assistant Admission Director Lindsey Marks to streamline the process. They quickly excised several components that are part of a standard application process. Application fees were waived. Transcripts were deemed unnecessary (and most Israeli schools were still closed throughout most of October and unable to provide them.) Written assessments would no longer be required. The new process was condensed from a months-long dance of forms and assessments to an efficient series of phone calls, simplified forms, and one in-person visit. Some students were enrolled as quickly as four days after the initial inquiry was made. 

Lindsey Marks said, “We decided that if they could get here, and they were ready to be in school, we would take them. We wanted to meet the families and students to determine the right placement for grade level, but we didn’t want to put up unnecessary barriers during a time where we could meet a crucial need.” 

MILTON provided the new students with school supplies and Chromebooks, and MILTON students and families welcomed the new students warmly, setting up playdates and offering assistance in finding local resources. 

In the classroom, teachers and support staff worked to make sure that students’ social-emotional needs were met. All of the children had strong English skills and felt at home with our Hebrew instruction. Some needed a little time to settle in. So much change in a short time can be dizzying for anyone, but they ultimately found some degree of comfort in our warm and welcoming Jewish community, integrating into the rhythms of the school and making friends. 

Seven children in grades Pre-K-6 joined our MILTON community this fall. Some have already returned to Israel. Others will decide whether to stay on as their families discern where best to live during the conflict.  

As of November 15, the pace of inquiries is slowing from the October peak, but people are still reaching out. Many have heard of MILTON from a friend, or via internet search. Some people ask on the phone for help in finding housing, or recommending neighborhoods, or schools for older or younger children. Our admission team is happy to answer the call and stands ready to assist in any way they can.