Guest Blog by Scott Kuperberg
The reasons people immigrate to Israel are as varied as the people themselves. For most, it is the fulfillment of a generational dream to build their homeland. For those brave enough to make the journey, opportunities abound, both in their careers and in the unique, Israeli, way of raising their children. Beginning in 1948, Israel threw open its doors to let in millions of immigrants from around the world. Some years it’s a gentle stream. Other years the new citizens flow like a river. In 2018 alone, approximately 40,000 new immigrants arrived in Israel, primarily from North America, France, and former Soviet republics.
Immigrants come in all ages and in all points of life. A significant number of immigrants are families with young, school-age children. Navigating the Israeli education system is daunting for those native-born who grew up in the system. For new arrivals, it can be one of the most difficult parts of integration into the new society, both for parents and their kids.
For the kids, it can be frightening… will they make new friends easily? Will they be able to understand what the teacher is saying? For the parents, their kids’ well-being is the primary concern… will they be OK? But there are logistical challenges for parents like enrolling in school, helping with homework in a foreign language, adjusting to a difficult school culture than how they grew up in their home country. And that ever-confusing school supply list.
The first day of school in Israel is practically a national holiday. In any country, the first day is always accompanied by nervousness and anticipation. But here, the trepidation is mixed with a good dose of hilarity. Read on for some great “first day of school” stories from recent immigrant parents.
How parents handle the first day of school
It was our second year after Aliyah. My wife and I dropped our kids off at their new classes… the first day of gan (kindergarten) and Kitah Gimel (grade 3). After the kids were settled into their new classrooms, I walked to the local mall to go to the gym. When I arrived at the mall, the security guard at the front door yelled at me (in Hebrew), “Why are you here?! Why aren’t you taking your kids to their first day of school?!” He must have assumed that I have kids… probably based on my age. I responded (in my broken Hebrew), “I took my kids to school this morning. Class started at 8:15 AM and it’s 8:45. I took them to their classrooms and they are fine”.
The guard replied to me with a smile,
“Kol hakavod, Abba! (Great job, Dad!) They should have hatzlaha (success) in the New Year! Yalla, get to the gym, you’re getting fat…”
How kids handle the first day of school
It was 2014, two months after we made Aliyah. We were completely new to the Israeli school and gan (kindergarten) systems. My wife and I each took one of our children to their first day of school. My wife brought our oldest daughter to Kitah Bet (Grade 2) and I took our son to gan (kindergarten). The class for my son was for 3-4 year-olds and he had just turned 4. The first day of school for his group was only a couple of hours and the parents stayed with their children most of the time.
When we arrived the entire gan was open, including the playground in the back. Of course, the playground was a big hit with the kids. After a while, to begin the day’s program, the teachers managed to corral all the kids back inside the building and locked the door to the playground. They hid the key to the door on a high shelf. Of course, the children demanded to go back outside and were trying unsuccessfully to push open the locked door.
My son had a plan… he decided to go up on a chair, then onto the counter to reach the hidden key. After grabbing the key with a huge smile, he proceeded to unlock the lock, and threw open the doors like a prison break yelling (in English), “it’s open!”.
To the dismay of the teachers, many kids ran outside, yelling with joy down the stairs. However, some of the younger children, those that had just turned three, were reluctant. So my son took them by the hand and led them outside! The teachers tried so hard to be upset, but in the end, we couldn't help but laugh.