9 Ways to Stay Sane With Kids at Home

There have been tweets, memes, and questions, as well as more than a few cries of despair from parents about being secluded with their children during this pandemic. Quality time and quantity time have at last become equal in the family home; however, many parents not used to having their progeny with them so much are reaching the end of their tether.

Here are nine ways to navigate the path of parenthood under lockdown.

1. Be happy. King David describes the transformation of laughter and joy are the best ways to raise their barren wife into a glad mother of children.1 When Isaac was born to Sarah and Abraham, “Sarah said, G‑d has made laughter for me; whoever hears will laugh for me.’”With the birth of the first Jewish child came laughter. Isaac comes from the root word of “laughter.” Children are a joy. (Yes, they really are!) “The heritage of G‑d is children; the reward is the fruit of the womb.”Laughter and joy are the way we both merit children and show gratitude for them. But most of all, they are the best way to raise them.

2. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Rediscover your inner child and play along. Be flexible. Resisting is not going to help in this particular situation. Get on the floor and do a puzzle, crawl, play hide and seek, and fingerpaint. Sarah died at age 127. “Sarah’s lifetime was one hundred years, twenty years and seven years, the years of Sarah’s life.”4 According to the Midrash, the years of her life are recorded in this manner because she kept the beauty and innocence of her youth even at her advanced age. Just because we’re older doesn’t mean we can’t keep our more innocent youthfulness and draw upon it when necessary. Like now.

3. Keep your perspective. There’s a Chassidic story about a man who went to complain to his rebbe about how crowded his house was. He lived in a small house with his wife and many children, and there was just no room. The Rebbe told him in turns to take in his goat, his cow, his horse, and his chickens. Each time the man returned to his rebbe more distraught until finally, the Rebbe told him to remove all the animals from his lodgings. Afterward, he came back to the rebbe gushing with gratitude as he now had so much more room. If you need extra space, you might want to rearrange your furniture and move some of it up against the wall so there’s more room to navigate and play (and so you don’t start climbing the wall).

4. Set boundaries for “me” time. The Holy Temple had many designated areas and they allowed entrance to specific groups of people: the men, the women, the Levites, the Kohanim, and the High Priest, who was the only one who could enter the Holy of Holies and only on Yom Kippur. Our homes are like our own personal Temples. There should be times and places where only you are allowed to go. Make sure your children are safe, then go into your bathroom and take a long bath. Go take a nap in your bedroom, or call a friend and tell your children that you’re not to be disturbed. You’re allowed some private rejuvenation time. You can only take care of others if you, too, are healthy—physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

5. Channel your children’s energy. Believe me, this is harder on kids than it is on you. Kids need to be running, playing, and learning with their peers. Find a way to spend their pent-up energy in a constructive way. Teach them to do something that requires concentration and physical acuity—gardening, sewing, baking, painting. Participate in an exercise class with them in the living room or take daily walks, if you can.

6. Have children help with chores. Before the 20th century, children were apprenticed at a very early age to learn a trade. Give your children age-appropriate tasks to help you. Set up a chart with chores, and let each child fill in their weekly contributions and expectations. Help them to organize and keep their rooms tidy. Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk said, “I do not want followers who are righteous, rather I want followers who are too busy doing good that they won’t have time to do bad.” Keep your kids busy doing something productive, and they won’t have time or energy to drive you crazy.

7. Create a story hour in your homeDownload stories to read to your children with extra points if the story has positive lessons for them. Chabad.org has lots of Chassidic stories. Whatever you’re complaining about, other people are praying for They’re entertaining, hold a child’s interest, and are great teaching tools. Print out a story, sit on the carpet with your children around you, and read to them. You can start with the one about the man who went to his rebbe to complain there was no room in the house. Older children can have this time to relax and read on their own.

8. Be grateful. Remember whatever you’re complaining about, other people are praying for. Your children are healthy and at home. Offer up a prayer of thanksgiving, along with your prayer that G‑d gives you the strength to cope. Whatever is going on, if you a.) have kids and b.) they’re well enough to be home, then c.) you are blessed. Anytime is a good time to pray and be grateful for the blessing of children. Let your children see you praying and set a time on the schedule for family prayer when each child can focus on something that they have to be grateful for.

9. Finally, reorder your priorities and change your expectations. Our No. 1 priority right now ( but really always) is to stay safe and healthy and keep those we love safe and healthy, too. Everything else is gravy, including the gravy. Keep your “To Do” list on the short and basic side, and enjoy this extra time spent with your wonderful children. Before you know it, life will return to its hectic pace, and you’ll actually find yourself missing this special time together. (Yes, seriously!) Getting through the day with everyone intact should be the most you aim for. And you know what, that’s still a pretty big achievement.

By Rosally Saltsman ( Chabad.org)

Back to school with healthier air thanks to Israeli device

Aura Air purifiers are being installed in thousands of American classrooms and school buses using federal Covid-relief funds.

Aura Air, an Israeli air-purifier, is being installed in thousands of American classrooms and school buses as the academic year begins, underwritten by federal Covid relief funds for school districts across the United States.

The purifiers have already been placed in many schools and universities in New York, Maryland, California, South Carolina, Florida, Washington, Mississippi, and Massachusetts.

Aura Air’s award-winning patented technology filters and disinfects indoor air through a unique four-stage purification process that captures and kills 99.9% of viruses, bacteria, germs, and allergens.

An accompanying app lets parents, educators, and facility managers monitor and control the air quality in classrooms in real-time and get alerts on allergy and virus risks.

Aura Air not only purifies the air but also allows for monitoring and controlling air quality via an app. Screenshot courtesy of Aura Air

In June, former US National Parent Teacher Association (“PTA”) President Leslie Boggs joined Aura Air as an advisory board member

“With Covid-19 cases rising and the Influenza virus spiking across the country, indoor air quality in our schools continues to be a top concern for parents and teachers,” said Boggs.

“Aura Air’s technology is scientifically proven to eliminate 99.99% of Covid and flu particles in 60 minutes or less. The platform enables schools and universities to monitor and purify indoor air quality in real-time across campuses to keep educators and students healthy.”

Founded in 2018, Aura Air is also helping to purify the air in homes, hospitals, businesses, hotels, restaurants, and buses in close to 90 countries. The company is headquartered in Israel with global offices in the United States and India.

Many Israeli school districts, including Tel Aviv, also ordered Aura Air units in time for the first day of school on September 1.

About the Author

Abigail Klein Leichman is a writer and associate editor at ISRAEL21c. Prior to moving to Israel in 2007, she was a specialty writer and copy editor at a major daily newspaper in New Jersey and has freelanced for a variety of newspapers and periodicals since 1984.

The 2022 Quick Guide to Celebrating Sukkot With Kids

This year Sukkot will begin in the evening on Sunday, October 9, 2022, and end in the evening on Sunday, October 16, 2022.

Sukkot, the fall holiday of thanksgiving, starts five days after Yom Kippur and lasts for a week. The most popular tradition of Sukkot is building, decorating, and spending time (even sleeping!) inside a hut called a sukkah.

On Sukkot, families welcome guests into their sukkah, or visit friends in theirs, enjoy delicious seasonal foods, and feel thankful for what they have.

Want a quick primer on Sukkot traditions and customs? Watch this video from BimBam.

Use the buttons below to learn more and celebrate Sukkot with your kids this year.


For small children and toddlers, Sukkot is offers a fantastic space for imaginative play and for doing small, easy-to-understand mitzvot like welcoming guests, being kind to animals, and celebrating with enthusiasm.

You can also:

Decorate your sukkah together.

  • Use your new PJ Library welcome mobile
  • Hang plastic play fruit from the dollar store (or the real thing)

Imagine what it feels like to sleep outside. Play pretend together – what sounds might you hear? Birds chirping? Wind blowing? Cars driving by if you live in a city? What would you see through the thatch roof on your sukkah?

Build a sukkah in your living room! Make a mini-sukkah from building blocks or play pretend with a pillow fort.

Sing a song like “Hinei Ma Tov.”


Great books for this age group include The Vanishing Gourds: A Sukkot Mystery by Susan Axe-Bronk, Shanghai Sukkah by Heidi Smith Hyde, Tikvah Means Hope by Patricia Polacco, and The House on the Roof by David A. Adler.

You can also:

Make your own decorations

  • Paper Lanterns for Your Sukkah via Creative Jewish Mom
  • Glitter Gourds via Jewish Boston
  • Suncatchers

Watch the Shalom Sesame monsters welcome guests into their sukkah!

What are some ways that you might welcome people into your sukkah?

Shake the lulav!

Invite ushpezin. Welcoming guests is a time-honored tradition in Judaism. The Talmud, a book of Jewish law and wisdom, notes that welcoming guests is even more important than studying Torah or worshipping God (Shabbat 127a). The beloved Jewish scholar and philosopher Maimonides insists that it is only in the presence of guests that one can experience the true joys of a holiday. A popular practice is to welcome a different Biblical guest, known by the Aramaic term ushpezin (guests), into the sukkah each night of Sukkot. Take the idea of ushpezin and make a guest list with your children – who will you invite? PJ Library characters? Friends? Celebrities? Far-away relatives?

Be generous. Generosity means giving eagerly to others, and even more than necessary. A common Hebrew expression for generosity is nedivut lev, literally a willing heart. Giving wholeheartedly is what distinguishes nedivut from ordinary giving. How can you be generous to others during Sukkot? Invite friends and neighbors to your sukkah, share delicious treats with them, give tzedakah and maybe find a family service project to do during the holiday as well.


Although kids in this age group are almost teenagers, they’re not too cool (yet) to join in on decorating the sukkah and preparing snacks to share. Let your kids practice the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim, welcoming guests, by planning a night in the sukkah. They can pick the menu (pizza and tacos are both solid Sukkot foods), invite friends, and play host for the evening.

PJ Our Way members from Orlando make apple pops together for a Sukkot celebration.

Since kids in this age group already know the customs and traditions associated with Sukkot, focus on books that build on themes of the holiday: gratitude, welcoming guests, and feeling pride and joy in celebrating. Here are some great titles to check out:


Regardless of your age, you can help enhance the celebration, hiddur mitzvah, by decorating, playing music, and enjoying and sharing delicious food. Hiddur mitzvah reminds all Jewish people that holidays should be enjoyed with great enthusiasm. For parents, holidays can often feel stressful or hectic, but by taking a step back and refocusing on the value of hiddur mitzvah, you can find ways to reframe the energy around your holidays. It’s easy to get caught up in thinking that we have to do a lot, or more, for each holiday – create a better sukkah, make a bigger meal, buy an expensive, imported, etrog, but that’s not what hiddur mitzvah is about.

Instead, think of hiddur mitzvah as an upgrade to your holiday – maybe you won’t do as many things, but you might do them better. Instead of trying to make twenty homemade Pinterest-worthy decorations for your sukkah, try to do one project as a family that you can reuse every year. Forget the artisanal cheese plate you were trying to craft and serve some imperfectly perfect hummus made by the kids as a sukkah snack. Order pizza, invite friends, relax, and enjoy your holiday together.

Reprinted with permission from “The 2022 Quick Guide to Celebrating Sukkot With Kids,” PJ Library, Beyond the Books, 2022, by the

Harold Grinspoon Foundation.

New York Jewish Parenting Guide

Daughter’s last wish: a hospital spa for patients’ parents

Gil and Karen Devora suffered the heartbreak of losing 14-year-old Ella to rare cancer. Ella’s Spa gives other patients’ parents much-needed TLC.

For many years, Gil Devora volunteered in the children’s oncology unit at Sheba Medical Center in Israel. He was inspired by his mother, who has also been a volunteer at the hospital for the past 42 years.

Devora, a high-tech executive, said he liked to joke around with the children, to make them laugh, to talk about their dreams. He knew every doctor and nurse on the ward.

He never thought, “never in my worst nightmare,” he says, that his daughter, Ella, would be a patient in that very same ward and that she would die at 14 from rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare type of cancer that most often affects children.

To honor his daughter’s memory, Devora and his wife, Karen Delaney-Devora, opened Ella’s Spa in Sheba on May 15, which would have been Ella’s 15th birthday.

The spa offers free treatment for parents of children with cancer. All the people who work in the spa are volunteers.

The family is now raising money to open spas in other hospitals in Israel.

Ella’s dream

Ella, says her father, was sick for two years and nevertheless “thought of other people before she thought of herself.”

A month before Ella died, she donated her guitar and drums to children in the ward.

And she mentioned that she thought it would be a good idea to have a spa for parents of patients.

As Devora explained, “Parents don’t feel comfortable going to get a haircut or have a massage when their children are so sick.”

But “they also need to take care of their own bodies and souls,” and when children see that their parents feel good, he said, they feel better.

That’s why Devora and his wife decided to follow through on Ella’s dream of a spa right in the hospital.

Ella Devora with her mother, Karen Delaney-Devora. Photo courtesy of the Devora family

The project was done in cooperation with Rachashei Lev, a nonprofit organization for children with cancer, which operates on the Sheba campus for children in treatment and their families. The spa was built through donations – even the building contractor and architect volunteered their services.

Ella’s Spa offers massages, facials and manicures as well as a jacuzzi bath and sauna, free of charge to all parents of pediatric cancer patients. Cozy white bathrobes are included.

Like another world

During the two years that Ella was treated at Sheba, her parents made a commitment to “have as much fun as possible” doing things together as a family, including their son, Tomer, now 17.

Ella Devora with her brother, Tomer. Photo courtesy of the Devora family

Two months before Ella died, they started to plan a trip to Seychelles, even though Ella’s doctor warned them against it.

“But we still wanted to take her so she could swim and be on the beach,” Devora said. “I realized it was impossible to save her.”

He also realized that not everyone can take family trips when their child is sick. But Ella’s Spa can be like a mini-vacation because it gives the feeling of being “in another world,” he said.

“When you open the door, you feel like you’re in a spa in a five-star hotel.”

Devora said that he no longer volunteers at the hospital. He doesn’t want to tell parents with children being treated there that he lost his daughter. He wants them to have hope.

“Through Ella’s Spa, she is still touching people, giving them something,” he said.

“She died after being on earth for only 14 years but she still brought a lot of meaning to the world.”

About the Author

Diana Bletter is the author of books including A Remarkable Kindness and The Invisible Thread: A Portrait of Jewish American Women, a National Jewish Book Award nominee. A graduate of Cornell University and resident of Israel since 1991, her work has appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Commentary, and many other publications.

New York Jewish Parenting Guide

Tutti-frutti chewing gum to halt kids’ sugar craving

Tiny amounts of an Indian bitter herb block taste receptors for two hours, says Israeli startup.

New chewing gum will halt kids’ craving for sugar, thanks to an ancient bitter herb.

Israeli food-tech startup Sweet Victory says tiny amounts of Gymnema sylvestre block the sugar receptors on their tongues for two hours, reducing the desire for sweet food or drink — and making them taste bland or even sour.

The company launched a mint-flavored version for adults in January and is now developing a tutti-frutti gum for kids, which should hit the market later this year.

Both the child and adult versions contain Gymnema, a naturally bitter-tasting botanical herb that has traditionally been used for over 2,000 years in Indian alternative medicine to stabilize blood-sugar levels. The gum is flavored to mask its bitterness.

Trials in Israel, the United States, and France showed children enjoyed the gum – and couldn’t eat sweets afterward, the company said. The active ingredient blocks sugar receptors on the tongue within two minutes.

“The biggest challenge in developing this gum for kids was to create boldly fruit-flavored chewing gum to overcome the bitterness of the herb Gymnema,” said Shimrit Lev, a nutritional instructor who jointly founded the company in 2020 with psychologist Gitit Lahav.

Lev and Lahav developed the children’s version of the gum, with a lower dose of Gymnema, in collaboration with Swiss flavor and fragrance manufacturer Givaudan.

“They helped us refine the product and develop a very flavorful, yet highly effective product—a sweet treat that can change eating behavior and help parents control their kids’ daily sugar consumption,” said Gitit.

Patients with sugar cravings reported beneficial effects from chewing the gum three times a day in a small study at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan.

“The gum does not change the taste buds permanently; it just occupies the sweet receptors for a specific time. Most people use it during the hours they crave sugar,” said Gitit.

Further clinical research is planned for diabetic patients, with endocrinologists at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center.

By John Jeffay (isarel21c)


Kit lets ill astronauts self-diagnose while in outer space

No trained personnel or complicated equipment is needed to perform tests identifying viruses and bacteria infecting the space crew.

A unique experiment aboard the International Space Station proved that a diagnostic kit developed in Israel can precisely identify viruses and bacteria infecting crew members during space missions.

Astronaut Eytan Stibbe conducted the experiment as part of the Ramon Foundation and Israel Space Agency’s Rakia mission to the International Space Station in April.

The study was led by Dudu Burstein from the Shmunis School of Biomedicine and Cancer Research at Tel Aviv University, and Gur Pines from the Volcani Center Agricultural Research Organization.

The CRISPR-Cas (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) system protects bacteria from viruses. Bacteria use CRISPR-Cas as a sort of molecular “search engine” to locate viral sequences and disable them.

According to Burstein, the results of the experiment proved the possibility of performing precise CRISPR-based diagnosis even in an environment with virtually no gravity.

This method requires minimal equipment and is easy to operate, allowing rapid diagnosis of diseases and pathogens even on longer explorations of the Moon and Mars.

Burstein explained that conditions in space are “extremely problematic, and treatment methods are limited. So it is essential to identify pathogens in a rapid, reliable, and straightforward method. Tests like PCR, which we are now all familiar with, require trained personnel and relatively complex equipment.”

The kit prepared by doctoral student Dan Alon and researcher Karin Mittelman for Stibbe to test in space, he said, allows “the whole process to be conducted in one tiny test tube, so it can suit the astronauts’ needs.”

Such kits, he concluded, “may help future astronauts on their extraterrestrial missions.”

About the Author

Diana Bletter is the author of books including A Remarkable Kindness and The Invisible Thread: A Portrait of Jewish American Women, a National Jewish Book Award nominee. A graduate of Cornell University and resident of Israel since 1991, her work has appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Commentary, and many other publications.

A book-filled childhood prevents later cognitive decline

Analysis of the aging survey shows a significant correlation between an early book-oriented environment with improved memory, fluency, and cognition.

Books intrigue and delight children, and now we know they may also help those children preserve cognitive functioning into old age.

Growing up in a book-filled home seems to improve memory in those 65 years old and older as well as preserve against cognitive decline, according to a study by Galit Weinstein of the University of Haifa, Ella Cohn-Schwartz of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and Noam Damri of the Israel Gerontological Data Center.

The researchers drew their conclusions from an analysis of results from two waves of the Survey of Health, Ageing, and Retirement in Europe (SHARE). In 2011 and 2013, the survey was completed by the same 8,239 individuals aged 65 or over who did not suffer from neurodegenerative disease.

Their analysis concluded that a book-filled childhood home – defined modestly as containing 11 to 25 books — correlated significantly with improved immediate memory, delayed memory, verbal fluency, and less global cognitive decline.

“If we can identify early life factors that affect brain aging and give an advantage to people in late life, then we can preserve cognitive function in older age,” explained Cohn-Schwartz, from BGU’s Department of Public Health.

The team’s findings were published recently in the journal Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders.

“This study contributes to our understanding of the importance of our childhood environments for brain health in old age. More studies are needed to determine the long-term effects on the brain of the transition from reading printed books to using digital media,” said Weinstein.

About the Author:

Abigail Klein Leichman is a writer and associate editor at ISRAEL21c. Prior to moving to Israel in 2007, she was a specialty writer and copy editor at a major daily newspaper in New Jersey and has freelanced for a variety of newspapers and periodicals since 1984.


Newborn baby smell makes moms aggressive, dads docile

A new study shows that the smell of a baby’s head makes women aggressive, and dads less so. This cute aggression is all part of the survival process.

Catching a whiff of that delightful “baby smell” on a newborn’s head turns out to have a very practical purpose.

A volatile organic compound, hexadecanal (HEX), is the major component of this scent. This “chemosignal” triggers mothers to be more aggressive and fathers less aggressive, according to a study published in Science Advances by researchers from the Azrieli National Center for Brain Imaging and Research at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

It seems this cute aggression effect is beneficial for all kinds of mammal babies, as the mother is primed to protect the newborn and the fatherless is inclined to act aggressively toward his offspring.

To test this “sex-specific social chemosignaling” phenomenon, the scientists– led by Eva Mishor from Prof. Noam Sobel’s research group — asked 67 men and 60 women aged 21 to 34 to sniff a mineral oil. Half of them received oil that had HEX added to it.

The results of the double-blind trial surprised the researchers, who’d expected it to reduce aggression in both genders.

Instead, it had markedly different effects in men and women, quantified in a computerized game that tested their aggressiveness level. Three separate analyses confirmed their findings.

Brain scans further confirmed that while both men and women perceive HEX as odorless, it triggers distinct, gender-related neurological reactions, increasing activity in a brain area implicated in the perception of social cues.

“Babies cannot communicate through language, so chemical communication is very important for them,” explained Sobel. “As a baby, it is in your interest to make your mom more aggressive and reduce aggressiveness in your dad.”

He added that this study is among the first to provide a direct link between human behavior and a single molecule picked up through the sense of smell.

About the Author:

Abigail Klein Leichman is a writer and associate editor at ISRAEL21c. Prior to moving to Israel in 2007, she was a specialty writer and copy editor at a major daily newspaper in New Jersey and has freelanced for a variety of newspapers and periodicals since 1984.

5 Ways to Stop Your Kids Getting Spoiled this Chanukah

Chanukah is a highlight of the year for the Jewish family! Delicious latkes, beautiful songs, and unforgettable family experiences.

But for most of us, these aren’t the only memories we have. Many of us have seen our kids show more interest in their presents than in the family celebration. Siblings fight over gifts and donuts and before we know it our beautiful holiday devolves into an exercise in self-indulgence.

How do we ensure that Judaism’s beautiful values are not lost amidst our Chanukah celebrations?

  1. Appreciate the Givers

Help your kids to appreciate the people who bought them gifts. Encourage them to text or email a photo of them using the present they received, together with a personalized thank you message.

  1. Donate

Jewish teaching and psychological research both emphasize how what we do influences who we are. If Chanukah is a festival of taking, our kids become materialistic and feel entitled. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Have your kids put money in a tzedakah box each evening before opening presents. If they receive Chanukah gelt, teach them to give 10% of it to charity.

There are other ways of giving over Chanukah. If you are in the northern hemisphere then Chanukah falls in the Winter. This is a time when clothing is particularly needed by those who are homeless. Socks are the most needed (and often least donated) item of clothing. Go with your children to a shop and pick out one or more pairs to donate.

  1. Spread the Joy of Chanukah

Chanukah can be a very sad time for those living on their own or away from their families. Make some Chanukah cards and then go on a family visit to a Jewish residential home to celebrate with the residents. You can check out this excellent page which gives ideas for doing it in the most meaningful way.

Or take latkes or donuts to a sick or lonely neighbor.

  1. Set Limits

Whether it’s the number of latkes or the amount of time playing on the iPod during school vacation, teach your child boundaries. While it’s not good to be overly strict, it’s important that sometimes the answer they hear is ‘no’. Teach them to realize that they won’t get their way through screaming and rude behavior. This also applies to your toddler – don’t wait until they are five before you teach them how to behave!

  1. Setting the Example

The most important rule – what you do matters more than what you say! Set the example by talking openly about the things you appreciate this Chanukah.

Chanukah Sameach!


Rabbi Anthony Knopf  is the Rabbi of Congregation Beth Ora in Montreal. He previously served as Associate Rabbi at Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue in London and as Rabbi of Camps Bay Shul in Cape Town. He has received rabbinical ordination from Rabbi Zalman Nechemia Goldberg, and also has a BA in Theology and Religious Studies from the University of Cambridge. He is married to Carly and is the proud father of Dovid, Rachelli, Yehuda, and Avrami.

The lesson kids won’t learn in school this year, but should

Cyberattacks pose a real threat to children, but the adults in their lives don’t know enough to prevent the problem. Here’s the lowdown.

Our kids being the tech mavens that they are, you’d think that they’d know all about cyberattacks and how not to fall prey to one. They don’t. And for a very simple reason: No one talks to them about it.

“Parents aren’t aware of the risks and therefore can’t explain them to their children, so the kids don’t act responsibly on their phones in terms of cyber,” explains Oleg Brodt, the chief innovation officer for cyber at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

“For example, they download apps from unsafe sources, they press links that come from people they don’t know, and they take photos that can often embarrass someone or even their future selves, and all this is happening on their mobile phone, which is very hackable.”

Neither teachers nor parents are familiar with the issue, let alone the solutions, he notes.

As the new school year starts, we caught up with Brodt, who heads research and development at Cyber@BGU, the umbrella organization for cybersecurity research and collaboration at BGU, to learn more on the issue of cyberattacks in the field of education.

No black hoodies

Brodt says we need to differentiate between schools and universities, as well as between two types of attackers.

“In the movies, we see the hacker as a character in a black hoodie, but that’s not actually how it is. These are full-fledged organizations. They’re crime organizations with a CEO, a CFO, a human resources manager, and employees who happen to specialize in cyberattacks.”

These organizations specialize in ransomware attacks, in which hackers encrypt their victims’ data or threaten to leak it unless they get paid a stated amount. And since they’re out for money, they tend to choose victims who can pay them: private companies, large organizations, and, at least in the United States, colleges, private schools, and public school districts.

According to a recent report, this year the data of children from around 1,200 schools across the US was published by ransomware groups.

“In the States, we’re seeing significant growth of attacks on schools. Schools there are undergoing digitalization processes and they have the ability to pay money,” Brodt says.

In Israel, schools aren’t as vulnerable to cyberattacks because they’re less digitized in general, but they do suffer from data leakage. This can happen when education personnel use apps that aren’t well-protected. Only recently, data from an app used in schools for Covid tests was found to be easily accessible online, including the children’s names, ID numbers, and medical status.

Israeli universities take greater cyber-protection measures but often these aren’t enough. Bar-Ilan University, for example, is dealing with a ransomware attack that encrypted the research of some faculty members and led to leakage of personal data of students and employees.

Unlike schools, universities are susceptible to attacks from both ransomware groups and state actors.

“If the attacker is a ransomware group, then it can attack the university and encrypt whatever it can to obstruct the university’s regular activity. If it’s a state actor, then clearly what interests it is valuable to research, for example, research that can be used for security purposes,” Brodt says.

“It remains mostly undisclosed to what extent these attacks happen in Israel, and what data was stolen, like in the case of the Chinese espionage campaign that hit Israeli institutions in 2019-2020,” he notes.

“In the US, we keep seeing attacks on academic institutions, both ransomware attacks and others. About a decade ago, Americans started seeing attacks on their high-tech companies. It was called Operation Aurora and has been attributed to the Chinese, who tried to obtain commercial secrets from private companies such as Google as well as from universities.”

Important tips

Here are Brodt’s top tips on how to be cyber-savvy.

  1. Don’t click links from people you don’t know.
  2. Don’t download apps from anywhere that isn’t an official app store.
  3. Always activate two-factor identification in your apps. A password isn’t enough; you also need another means of identification. That way, even if the password leaked – and there’s no shortage of passwords leaking from all kinds of apps – it still won’t be possible to access the app.
  4. Operate on the assumption that everything on your phone can be leaked or has been leaked. That means all your passwords, messages, emails, and photos could easily be out in the open. So don’t store embarrassing photos or write embarrassing emails on your phone.

About the Author:

Naama Barak is a writer at ISRAEL21c. A Ph.D. student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, she loves all things history and politics. Food and fashion come a close second. Prior to joining ISRAEL21c, Naama worked for Israel’s leading English-language dailies and cutting-edge startups.