Preschool in Israel is free starting at three years old. This is epic. Your three year old can get an education without it costing you any money. If you're staying in Israel you can easily (well, relatively) get your kids into a preschool.
We really wanted Sadie to go to preschool where Hebrew was the primary language. Getting Sadie enrolled in school has been a process. The first week we were eating and trying to survive horrible jet lag, Aaron was unable to accustom himself to the new time zone. We spent the second week of our time here walking from apartment to apartment in search of the perfect place to live so we could get a lease and enroll Sadie in school for this school year.
First Logan thought he needed to go to the Ministry of Education to sign Sadie up for school. When he got there, a long distance from where we live, he was told he needed to go to the City Hall to enroll Sadie in gan. The next day he took the kids in the late afternoon and walked to the City Hall while I sat at a cafe enjoying a cup of hot tea and uninterrupted time to write. When he arrived he could not find anyone sitting at the front desk. He was encouraged by someone working the security detail to walk through and past the cubicles to find the employees drinking and eating.
They were annoyed with his presence and asked him, "what do you want?" He was informed if he wanted to sign Sadie up for school he needed to return the next day between 9 am and noon. Logan is in Yeshiva in the morning, so I had to take the epic journey with the kids. Sadie woke up the next morning congested and coughing. I spent the next hour encouraging her to leave the house. Finally she agreed to leave and we arrived at 11:15am. We walked through a security check and walked into a large room with two men sitting at separate desks. One man was on the phone and looked away from me when we made eye contact. The other man sat at his desk, bent over until his chest almost touched his thighs and whispered fervently into his cellphone in Hebrew. I waited for a few minutes before he put his phone away and acknowledged me.
As I tried explaining to him that I needed to enroll my daughter in school, he told me to go to the other side of the building and then a man asked him something in Hebrew and was sent to the row of cubicles behind the front desks. I was momentarily confused until I explained that my husband said this is where I needed to be to sign my daughter up for preschool. The man looked at me and said, "kindergarden, not school?" and I said, "school, kindergarden, same thing, no?" He shook his head at me and said, "kindergarden, kindergarden (head nodding twice), school is school."
Okay, so "kindergarden" is preschool and kindergarden, if I understand correctly it's called "gan"; "school" is elementary school. He pointed behind me and said, "go, Adina, go." I looked at him confused, "what? Adina?" I ask him. He said, "yes, go, Adina." I walked into a small hallway dividing rows of cubicles. I looked around until I saw a woman talking to the man who had interrupted my conversation earlier. We spent 20 minutes waiting for him to wrap up his conversation. By the time we got to Adina it was 11:40, cutting it very close. I became nervous hoping 20 minutes was enough to enroll Sadie in kindergarden. Adina and I spoke for a few minutes, she then photocopied our passports, told me there was a kindergarden open for Sadie in Nachalot that was religious but not too religious and then apologized but she had a meeting to attend. I wrote down my phone number and watched her exit the building with some co-workers. I did not know what to do. I expected to finalize Sadie's educational plans and was left with a promise of a phone call the next day.
The next day I was shocked to receive a phone call from the department, it is one of Adina's co-workers. After our funny experience with property managers I did not really expect anyone to call me back. I was informed that all the schools in our area were full and we had to wait until next year to enroll her. My voice rose in frustration. I told the woman on the phone that Adina promised there was an opening this year in Nachalot for Sadie, a 15 minute walk from my location. We argued back and forth, finally she puts Adina on the phone. At this point I am upset, my voice thickened with a Russian accent as I argue with Adina. I demand to know why in 24 hours the class that had an opening no longer had one. I ask for a gan in a religious neighborhood nearby. Adina is surprised saying it's very religious and I need a Rabbi's approval to get in. I admit that is too religious for me, and beg her for any other options. Unfortunately the language barrier made it difficult for both of us to understand each other. Despite the differences in language Adina really did try to make it work and finally mentioned a gan (kindergarden) with an opening in a neighborhood 25 minutes away by foot. She explained that it's religious but not too religious, which is perfect for us.
Two days later we were awake early preparing Sadie for school. We got lost on the way but finally made it there. Her gan is in a little building, there are exactly two classes. From the outside the gan does not match the facilities Sadie enjoyed in San Diego. But they were still cute and cozy. There were some planter beds and playground equipment, nothing fancy. There were lots of toy bikes and sand. I was curious to see what the inside was like. When we entered the classroom we were met by two beaming teachers. Neither of them really spoke any English. One was young and slender, the other older and very motherly in figure and manner. I loved them both immediately. We spent some time trying to communicate in broken English, Hebrew, gesturing repeatedly and asking the help of parents trickling in as they dropped off their kids. There were many laughs and hand shakes and smiling. The older teacher and I felt close immediately. I was relieved almost to the point of tears to see what amazing teachers Sadie was going to have for the rest of the school year.
We spent two hours in the classroom allowing Sadie to integrate into the class. The students were very curious and followed her around as she played at different stations. Aaron ran around and eventually broke a wooden stroller by sitting in it and falling backwards. Her classmates were very cute and shy, smiling sideways as I attempted to communicate with them in Hebrew. Sadie transitioned from being completely attached to my leg to wandering the room quietly. After two hours I was able to have Sadie sit down and do an activity of filling a container with little sticks. She was happy to empty the container on the teacher's orders, running to her teacher to show her the empty container. When they sat down for circle time she wanted Logan to sit next to her. He gently told her no and we stood watching the circle time until she forgot we were there. We were able to leave and grab a quick lunch waiting for Sadie's day to end.
When we reentered her classroom, Sadie was sitting by the teacher in a circle with the other kids. She was smiling. Despite not speaking Hebrew and despite her teachers not speaking English, she was able to feel comfortable in her new environment. For this I have many people to thank. I am grateful for the amazing teachers Sadie had at CHA who taught her with love and patience, who obviously made school a great experience. And then, I have to thank these two women who took Sadie in with so much love. When we were leaving they both grabbed her cheeks and kissed her repeatedly. Neither of them had to show so much affection and care for my child, they could have resented the difficulty of having a non-Hebrew speaking child in their class. Instead, they loved her and nurtured her and gave her a peaceful space where she could grow and learn.
Today was Sadie's fourth day of school. She comes home tired, worn out, her mind taxed by the challenge of learning a new language. And yet, every day she is happy to go back to gan. I will eternally be grateful to the teachers in my daughter's life who go out of their way to love, love, love their students and my daughter.
Meet the Blogger!
I'm a mom. A writer. A lover of good fantasy. A proponent of nursing when possible. A birth advocate. I am absolutely horrible at keeping my house clean or the dishes washed or the laundry done. I strongly believe in women having a positive birth. When we start to respect women's rights to birth the way they want, we can start to treat women as equal people in this world.
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