Archives for category: School

To end the school year, Noah’s class had a mesibat siyyum, a big party to celebrate their graduation. They performed songs and choreography to show off all they had learned this year about modern Hebrew.

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This was the event where it sunk in that we were leaving Israel. We had been in denial for the couple of weeks leading up to our departure. When we saw how much Noah had learned this year and how much he loved his friends and they loved him (after the show all the girls wanted to take their picture with Noah), well, the tears just wouldn’t stop. Roy didn’t really cry, but he couldn’t form a complete sentence either.

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There are several differences between kindergarten in Israel and in the US.

  • Schedule – School is 5 1/2 days per week here. The school day goes from 8-4, Sunday-Thursday, and 8-1 on Friday. We do pay a little extra for him to stay until 4, and we rarely get him to school by 8.
  • Food – every day Noah’s class is served breakfast and lunch. The children are served the same dishes that adults would eat, not coddled with a special “kids menu.” A typical breakfast might include eggs, tomatoes & cucumbers, sardines, bread and gvina levana (a creamy white cheese, reminiscent of sour cream or yogurt, but its cheese). At lunch the children get soup every day, and a typical meal might also include falafel or fish balls, cooked vegetables, hard-boiled eggs, rice or pasta. The school is kosher, so no meat dishes.
  • Extra-curriculars – at the beginning of the school year, the parents vote on which outside teachers will be hired to teach the chugim, or electives in the afternoon. We pay a small extra fee to have a sports teacher, music teacher, and math teacher come in once a week each.
  • Government  – in US schools it is not uncommon to have a picture of the President and to say the Pledge of Allegiance, but I don’t remember doing much more than that in kindergarten regarding government. In Noah’s classroom, they raise the flag each Sunday and sing HaTikvah, the national anthem. On one of the bulletin boards are pictures of the Prime Minister, President, and IDF Chief of Staff. When Benny Gantz was recently approved as Israel’s new army chief, the children were asked to bring in a picture of him from the newspaper.
  • Independence – Children are given much more responsibility. For example, they help move the chairs around the room for different activities and help with set up & clean up (including sweeping and washing down the tables). This is done voluntarily. At any given time, some children are playing, while others are helping run the classroom. They don’t see it as a chore, but take pride in taking care of their space.

So, what is Lag BaOmer? The Omer period, the 50 days between the holidays of Passover and Shavuot is a sacred time of year for religious Jews, in which many activities such as weddings are forbidden. It commemorates the 50 days the Israelites wandered in the desert before receiving the commandments.  Lag BaOmer, the 33rd day, is an exception, and it’s considered an especially auspicious date to get married, and to give your son his first haircut.

Lag BaOmer  commemorates the death of Shimon Bar Yochai (Rashi), one of the great rabbis of old.  Many religious people celebrate by visiting Mount Meron, to Bar Yochai’s tomb in the North of Israel. Other sources say it commemorates the failed Bar Kochba revolt against Rome.  This is the war of the Masada story, and the one that led the Romans to ban Jews from Jerusalem.

Noah told us a nice story he learned in school about Bar Kochba and a green donkey.  He decided, as an adult that he should learn Torah, but was afraid that people would laugh at a grown man in a school full of children.  His wife, who was very wise, told him to plaster grass all over a donkey.  They took the donkey to the market, and everyone laughed at it.  The next day they did it again, and only half the people laughed.  On the third day, they took the donkey to the market, and nobody laughed, so that’s how bar Kochba learned to get over his fear of mockery and go learn.  Noah told the story very well.

One thing that everyone agrees on is that Lag BaOmer is a day for bonfires.  Noah’s class organized a bonfire for 5pm on Saturday. Everyone had to sign up to bring something.  I didn’t notice the signup sheet until late, so all that was left was cucumbers, but it’s okay, because I know a place that sells them.

The other tradition, somewhat strangely, is archery.  This is either because (a) the Rashi was so holy that no rainbows appeared in his lifetime, rainbows, of course being a sign that the world’s people are being sinful and need punishing or (b) because the Jewish rebels used bows and arrows.

At the appointed hour, we brought our cucumbers to Noah’s bonfire on a scrubby vacant lot within walking distance of our apartment. It’s hard to get used to how much trust and independence five and six-year-olds are given here. People are much more laid back about letting children near a fire than in the US.  It took some self restraint to keep myself from taking on the role myself. The parents cooked potatoes in the fire, covered in foil and threaded onto a long piece of clothes-hanger wire.  Perhaps the wire was clean–the potatoes were tasty. There was corn and hotdogs, marshmallows for roasting, cake, and most of Noah’s class and their friendly parents.

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Last week was a week of national holidays full of celebrations & remembrances: Yom HaZikaron (memorial day), Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day), and Yom Huledet shel Roy (Roy’s birthday).

As with other holidays, the city starts getting ready weeks in advance.

Decorations at the zoo...

along the highways,

and lit up on buildings.

These were taken around our neighborhood.

Memorial Day has a completely different feel here than in the US. Since almost everyone has served in the military here, its an important part of their life stories and most people know someone who served in a war, or who was killed, either in war or terrorist attacks. In the US its easier to ignore the meaning of Memorial Day because its only a small proportion of the population who currently serve and whose friends & families are directly affected. Here most of the population has shared in the responsibility of defending the country, whereas at home, the demands placed on non-military citizens are minimal; certainly real sacrifices are made only by a few.

Noah’s school held a tekes (ceremony) on Sunday which we attended.

All of the children wore blue & white...

the building was decorated...

each class presented an art project, there was singing...

and Israeli dancing!

There was only a half day of school on Monday and no school/work at all on Tuesday so that people could participate in and attend the various ceremonies and special events held all over the country. We went to a small memorial service Monday afternoon a couple of neighborhoods over that the mayor of Haifa was participating in. There were some prayers and a reading of the people from that neighborhood who had died. We didn’t stay for the whole thing because we didn’t understand everything that was going on and Noah was getting antsy, but we wanted him to understand why he had an early day and show him what was going on throughout the country. Noah’s teacher told him that he could see soldiers on TV, so we let him watch a bit. Most channels had no programming at all out of respect and throughout the day the state channel broadcast profiles of soldiers who had died. In the evening there is a ceremony broadcast nationally from Har Herzl in Jerusalem that is a transition from the solemn Yom HaZikron to the festive Yom HaAtzmaut. We were told that everyone watches it & then goes outside to celebrate. In Haifa, there were music festivals in several neighborhoods & fireworks, so as soon as the show was over we ran outside & saw a fireworks show right above our heads. One of the music stages was at the bottom of the hill where our neighborhood is, so all we had to do was go to the edge and look down & we could watch the whole thing.

And it was Roy's birthday! Maybe those fireworks were actually for him.

Noah decided that we needed to bake Roy a chocolate cake with strawberries, so "we" did.

The next day we had the whole day off and there were so many things going on.

First, we went to the Haifa port, where the navy had ships on display.

Then we went down to Tel Aviv and caught part of the flotilla that sailed down the coast.

We went to the Namal (the old port), which is now a boardwalk lined with shops & restaurants.

There was a pottery activity - Noah made a candlestick on the wheel.

And a juggling/acrobatic act which Noah thought was fantastic.

Another pleasantly re-imagined former working waterfront!

Today Noah’s class had a mock seder and yesterday I volunteered in the classroom to help them bake their own matzoh.

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Noah said that when they were making the clay bricks, Yaffa (the teacher) would pretend to hit them on the arm and say “work harder” so they could imagine what it was like to be slaves in Egypt.

(pictures of me are on the teacher’s camera. hopefully I’ll get copies.)

One lovely tradition in Israel, regardless of level of religious observance, is spending Friday night (Shabbat) dinner with family. We have been graciously welcomed into the Yeshurun-Ben Menachem family and have spent several Shabbatot with them since we arrived, but there is nothing like being with your own family. Last week, Noah skipped school on Friday and we drove to Jerusalem. Noah got to spend 2 full days with his cousins and Aunt Deborah (Sarah’s sister) & Uncle Dani – what a treat. Deborah graciously kept an eye on Noah for us Fri. morning/afternoon and we went to Yad VaShem (the Holocast museum) located on Har Hazikaron (Mt. Remembrance) in Jerusalem. We can’t describe it as a pleasant or fun experience, but it is something that everyone has to do. Roy had never been and Sarah was last there 17 years ago., before a big, recent renovation. It is a powerful and moving place with every last detail thoughtfully functional and/or symbolic. Children under the age of 10, including infants, are not admitted to maintain a respectful mood.

After a quick trip to Machane Yehuda to get our favorite cheese in Israel, we checked into our hotel near Deborah’s place and headed over. Noah was so happy to be with his cousins and I was so happy to get to cuddle with Chaya Rachel! Turns out that we were visiting on a special weekend because Dani & Benyamin Tzvi finished a chapter they had been studying in the Mishnah and we got to have a siyum (a special celebration for finishing). Kol Hakavod!

Also interesting about our timing that weekend: The day that we arrived was the Jerusalem marathon and earlier that week was a terrorist bombing at a bus stop near the central bus station (across the street from our hotel, as it so happens). This was the 1st such attack in several years and in several discussions I’ve had in the aftermath, we noted the sense of complacency that Israelis (and visitors) have been feeling lately, and the irony that the only person killed was a Christian.

We are all a bit under the weather this week to varying degrees, so we’ll briefly hit the other highlights of the week:

  • Tuesday evening there was another Fulbright event held at the home of the Counselor for Public Affairs at the US Embassy in Kfar Shmariyahu, just outside of Tel Aviv. After an elegant dinner, we heard a talk by Ofra Bengio, a senior lecturer at the Moshe Dayan Center for middle east studies at Tel Aviv U., on the latest events unfolding in the Middle East. We had a very interesting discussion afterwards, particularly about the implications for Israel of all of the recent turbulence/revolution/uprising in N. Africa. We are in a very unique position to be able to observe the events, history in the making, from a relatively close and relatively stable place.
  • Roy was one of the class parents who accompanied Noah’s class on a field trip to the Ecological Garden on the Technion campus

Yaffa passes out freshly-picked chamtzutz--cape sorrel. You suck the sour juice from the stems and pucker.

Algae from a stagnant fountain is lots of fun.

Happy at the end of a nice trip

  • Today may have been the 1st day of summer (80 degs!).
  • Noah decided to pick wildflowers in our yard.

    He's such a big boy - you can tell he dressed himself too!

Last week when I went to pick Noah up from school, Yaffa, his teacher, pulled me aside. She said that he had been talking to Suha, the assistant teacher, about something that he was planning to do next year. She said (in Hebrew, of course), “Remember, Noah, you won’t be here next year. You are going back to NY.”  He burst into tears, “I don’t want to go back! I want to stay here!” I didn’t bring it up with him right then because at that moment he was happy & he had a babysitter that night, so I didn’t want to upset him when we weren’t going to be home.

The next day he brought it up during our hike. He told us that he didn’t want to go back to NY. I reminded him of all of our friends back home who we miss and who miss us. He said, “but my two best friends that I’ve ever had in my whole life are here.” I tried to explain that he could write and email them, but I’m not sure I convinced myself. At that age, what is in front of you is your whole world. I knew I couldn’t change his mind. Before we came, my two hopes for Noah were that he would learn Hebrew and make friends. He has done so much better than I imagined. Yesterday, he had a playdate with one of his best friends, Tomer. When Tomer’s dad came to pick him up, he told us that Tomer asked if he could join him on a business trip he is taking to the US next year so he can visit Noah.

Best buddies

Noah is such a good boy, but was unusually aggressive (for him) this week. Luckily, he is also exceptionally verbal and could explain that he was nervous about school starting in the morning. We were able to talk about it and by the time we tucked him in last night, he was excited to get to sleep so that he could start school today. We think also that he likes the structure of school and camp and that this big transition combined with several empty days was unsettling. He was ready to go back.

Very excited for his new school

Today was the big day Noah began kindergarten [Hebrew: gan].   At the last minute, we decided Sarah didn’t need to come with us, since it’s on the Technion campus.  By last minute, I mean after walking part way from the apartment to the bus stop without figuring out where on campus the gan is located, since Sarah had been there and could presumably find it again.

When you get to campus, a soldier gets on the bus by the driver, checks things out, gives his okay, and exits.  The campus is large and has many bus stops.  After the first stop, Noah thinks he has seen a playground, so we get off.  We are not near a playground, and although there are plenty of wayfinding signs on campus, we encounter no “You Are Here” type maps, so we wander around asking people “Eyfo ha gan?” [“Where is the preschool?”] and then, once they start answering, admitting that we don’t understand Hebrew.  We get many contradictory answers, but eventually find it.

Noah’s teacher gives him a sticker with his name on it (נח), and shows him into the classroom.  The preschool director suggests I call in an hour and half to see how he’s doing, and that I pick him up at 1pm instead of 4, since it might be a rough day.  When I call, the director’s assistant assures me that “He’s not crying” which I take to mean he’s adjusting well.  When I pick him up at 1, I see his teacher in the hall.  She says he’s doing “fantastic” and that he’s playing with the kids as if he’s known them his whole life.  I go into the classroom, where he’s finishing his lunch.  He gives me a big smile and tells me the food’s really good, and tells me to try it: noodles with butter.  He also had soup! As we’re leaving he tells me he made two friends, but can’t remember their names.

A good first day.

(In between I found my office, got a key, met some people in the math department, went to a good seminar, got a very good cup of tea for only 3 shekels, got a passport photo, but nothing as excited as buttered noodles.)