HAFTR Middle School keeps hostages top of mind with Forests 4 Hope


The Hebrew Academy of Five Towns and Rockaway Middle School in Lawrence marked Rosh Chodesh, the start of a new month on the Jewish calendar. Students from all grade levels honored the hostages held in Gaza by Hamas by participating in the “Forests 4 Hope” initiative.

“This started in Chicago, some Chicago schools have been doing it, we’re the first New York School that we know of to implement it,” Yali Werzberger, HAFTR middle school assistant principal said.

“Forests 4 Hope” is a program to serve as a constant reminder of those still held captive, Hebrew department chair Einat Rabinovich wrote in an email.

“Each student will write a hostage’s name along with a message of hope and tefilah (the Hebrew word for prayer) for his/her safe return,” Rabinovich said. “It promises to be a really meaningful activity for everyone.”

Students wrote names on bright yellow ribbons, then tied them to trees outside of the school.

Fanilyn Shaw, a HAFTR student, wrote hostage Ariel Bibas’ name on an orange ribbon as an ode to his and his families red hair.

“I did an orange ribbon because Ariel Bibas is one of the youngest captives and his hair is orange,” Shaw said.

HAFTR student Hattie Feit felt particularly connected to the Bibas family, because she shares a birthday with Kfir, the youngest child held hostage.

“Baby Kfir, everyone wants him back because he’s the youngest,” Feit said. “He turned 1 in captivity.”

The students have also helped with sending supplies to soldiers serving in the Israeli Defense forces, praying for soldiers whose photos are posted on the school bulletin board daily and discussing the war regularly.

“It feels like there’s a light even if it’s dark,” Ava Zalta, HAFTR middle school student said about how these aid efforts make her feel.

Students also shared that writing names on yellow ribbons and hanging them, made them feel like they could help and communicate with those in Israel.

“We always are connected with them, even if they’re not here, we’re always like family with them,” Shaw said.

Along with “Forests 4 Hope “the school will continue reminding students of their Israeli counterparts and community, Avi Shaver, director of marketing at HAFTR said.

“They’re constantly being made aware, they used to wear these numbers on their shirts that said this is the number of days it has been since the war started,” Shaver said.