The big fat word, which I’m a teeny bit terrified of, ‘SCHOOL’ loomed closer and closer as September first drew near. School is bad enough in your mother tongue. How were my boys going to cope with school in Hebrew?
The school we chose in Jerusalem is called Mekor Chaim, it was established by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, a Rabbi whose books I love to read and I admire. When we visited it in December the warmth of the school was heard in shouting, laughing, running children in the hallways. The staff were lovely and warm. Of course when choosing a school it’s important to remember that there’s no such thing as a perfect school, just as there is no such thing as a perfect kid.
The day before school began a get together at the school was organised for new Olim. I received a message about it in French on my Olim Mekor Chaim chat group. Luckily the school also sent out an email in the three universal languages of Hebrew, English and French. With curious hearts we arrived to hear only French spoken. There were at least fifteen new French families who had made Aliyah. Rather than feeling threatened and left out as Anglos tend to feel, I felt nothing but admiration for these families who have left France and chosen to come to Jerusalem. They bring good fashion, good food and the language of romance to the streets of Jerusalem, all of which I love.
The afternoon was run in Hebrew, translated in French and then translated into English just for our little South African crew. (An American family actually appeared towards the end of the event. So we aren’t the only new Anglo family.) The children were told how special it is that they’ve made Aliyah. They were also told that their main job at school is to make friends and learn Hebrew. Super – as the French would say.
They also gave the children a present. A meaningful, creative present. Drawing boards where they wrote on small rectangular note paper what they wanted to wish themselves for the year, and then stuck onto the board, which we then decorated as a family. We came out of the event with a beautiful family board with all our heartfelt dreams and wishes for the year. We came out glad that we chose Mekor Chaim. Glad that we’d come early enough in the summer for the children to make friends at camp so that they were walking into the unknown with friends.
When I woke my seven year old the next day he jumped out of bed with a hoot, ’Yay school.’ It boded well for the day which in South Africa was a bouncing Spring day, and for us marked the beginning of Autumn. Arriving at school bright and early as you only do on that optimistic first day. Fresh in their new school shirts (There is no proper uniform in Israel. The only requirement is a plain T-shirt with the school logo printed on.). To our surprise the children found their classrooms and friends and shooed us away. Dazed we left. This was it the adventure of school in Israel had begun. All of Jerusalem seemed to be reverberating that morning with the celebration of children returning to school. The beginning of new potential for a new year.
Next we had to take our three year old to Gan, which is kindergarden in Israel. They were easing them in slowly with a couple of hours for the day. Luckily our little one had already gone to summer camp at the Gan so he knew his teacher and some of the children. He eventually let us go…
Care free hours pass too quickly. I fetched a happy child and we walked with some really lovely mums to play at a nearby park. I was swiftly introduced to the University of Mothers. This was a new experience for me. Hanging out with mothers after Gan finishes. It never existed in South Africa, where after nursery school ended we all returned to our respective homes, the most we got was chatting in the car park at pickup. Here in Jerusalem, the university of mothers took place at the park. As the children played and ate ice lollies, we hucked about Aliyah, not speaking proper Hebrew, and the best places to buy kids pyjamas.
It felt organic and wonderful being together as women, living parallel lives and sharing important information, like best cake recipes, weight goals and where you’d have plastic surgery one day.… (That’s right mommy discussions are the same world over.) This is the way to be a mom and raise children, at the park. (And fathers just so you know there were fathers at the park. And in the late afternoons there are MANY fathers hanging out at the park.) I won’t have it every day in Israel, because my children are bigger and the afternoons are like a never ending ferris wheel. But it made me realise why Israel is such a happy society, with happy children. It has many many parks!