South Bay youths send e-mail support wishes to border town

As Kiryat Shmona residents began pouring into bomb shelters or out of the northern Israel city last week, at least one Bay Area family temporarily lost contact with relatives there.

"My dad's really worried," 11-year-old Ephrat Bitton of Milpitas said Monday.

But that morning, Ephrat joined classmates at South Peninsula Hebrew Day School in e-mailing messages of solidarity to the border town under siege by Hezbollah missiles fired from Lebanon.

The sixth-grade girl doubted the e-mails would reach her grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins — who by Tuesday were tracked down and safe.

But Ephrat, who was born in Israel and has visited Kiryat Shmona seven or eight times, said she was glad to send e-mail messages anyway.

"I told them hopefully the war will soon be over," she said.

Fifty classmates in fifth through eighth grades sent similar tidings:

"I feel horrible that this has happened. I really wish I could do more to cheer you up…It really doesn't matter if you have to evacuate, all that matters is you are alive," wrote sixth-grader Raphael Mahpour.

"When I was listening to the news and I heard what happened I almost cried because I didn't understand why kids my age would have to be put through such a horrible thing," wrote Natalie Korthamar, also a sixth-grader.

Rabbi Yossi Ohana, who heads the Sunnyvale school's computer studies, forwarded the students' e-mail to Natan Golan, director of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation's office in Jerusalem.

Golan spent three days in Kiryat Shmona this week visiting families in area bomb shelters. He planned to relay the e-mails to children there.

This isn't the first time South Peninsula Hebrew Day School students have e-mailed Israel.

Before Passover, they sent messages to a Jerusalem teen who lost his father and uncle in separate suicide bombings on the No. 18 bus in late February and March. They also trade e-mail with eighth-graders who live near Beersheva.

"We want to make the bond between our students and the Israeli state much stronger," Ohana explained.

About a month ago, Ohana first considered an e-mail exchange with youths in Kiryat Shmona.

"I'm sorry it will start at such a sad occasion," he said.