As a mom raising her three kids outside of the United States, people always ask me to compare living in Israel to living in the U.S. Business Insider just ranked the 19 best countries to raise your family as an expat and rated Israel number three on the list based on factors such as education, healthcare and leisure. Upon moving to Israel almost two years ago, I also compiled a tidy list of reasons why raising my kids in Israel seemed to be working out, but with more experience comes more insight. The time is ripe for a new list:
Pro: The Business Insider article noted that around 80% of parents are satisfied with the education options and how affordable they are. Indeed, daycare is almost completely state supported from the age of three, and there are daycares on almost every block, making child care inexpensive and very accessible.
Con: Standards are more relaxed than in the US. For example, kids don’t start school until first grade or roughly six years old, which means my five and a half year old isn’t learning to read or write in school. While he is exposed to letters and numbers, his curiosity is not quelled. Other standards are more relaxed as well— many daycares boast computers and television, a trend that doesn’t seem appropriate for children six and under. As the teacher is responsible for thirty plus kids, s/he is not always able to control the content. I try to be grateful that my kids are focusing on being kids but I wish that there was a little more regulation.
Pro: There is no denying that the food in Israel it better than the US. It is. Hands down. The vegetables are fresher and the dairy is richer. The herbs are abundant and vibrant. Every neighborhood boasts its own bakery and fresh bread is affordable and delicious. Cafes are not only for coffee but for chopped salad, ready-made omelets and juice squeezed on the spot.
Con: Despite the endlessly healthy choices that abounds, Israeli insist on feeding their children food completely lacking in nutritional value. I haven’t yet parsed the code of why it is normal for parents to pick their kids up and hand them a bag of candy or why chocolate milk before dinner makes sense, but I feel like a pariah when I hand my kids apple slices or homemade granola bars. I find that the best balance is to create healthy options for them at home to balances the marshmallows and Bamba.
Pro: As opposed to the United States, it is almost impossible to live far from your family, especially considering that Israel is at most seven hours long and two hours wide. We live five minutes driving from almost every member of my husband’s family so holidays, birthdays and Shabbat dinners are celebrated together. Family is defined widely here and my children are as close with their second cousins as they are with their friends, making their social circles wide and diverse.
Con: There is no con. My mother-in-law is fluent in English and I love her.
Pro: Not only does the culture dictate time with family, but it allows for that time to be anywhere. Babies and kids are welcome in all spaces. The crying, noise and mess that follow small people wherever they go is fully accommodated in the endless parks that dot the country, the cafes that are equipped to handle kids and their messes, and an unusual amount of kid focused theaters and museums.
Con: As children are everywhere, everyone thinks they have a right to help you raise them. “Why is he crying?” “Where are her socks?” “I think he’s hungry.” These are all comments that I have received from passersby. Strangers. I try my best to find these comments endearing, but at a certain point, the village trying to help me raise my children is just a little too close for comfort.
Pro: Access to healthcare is universal and as Israeli citizens, my children have access to doctors, top-notch hospitals, and medicine at a ridiculously low cost.
Con: Daycares and schools are more lax about sick kids and annoying infestations like lice. No one is looking closely to see if your kids are healthy or clean, which means everyone is basically sick all the time.
Pro: You can literally be outside every day of the year here. Even in the middle of winter, we are picnicking, hiking, and spending the day by the sea. And once summer comes, the kids are outside all hours of the day, swimming, running and playing.
Con: Sand. Bugs. Enough said?
As with anything, it is easy to be critical, and to pick out the things that are uncomfortable and take getting used to. There are days when I feel like a total outsider and can’t understand why things are the way they are, but when I look at the big picture, I have to agree with the Business Insider rating. Israel is an excellent place to raise a family. Weekends are for the beach, holidays are for camping and in between the kids are at the park and the pool. They have wide social circles and the community rises up to create celebrations from even the most insignificant holidays. Their childhood is expressed in song, dance, art, and exploration. It feels as if the whole country bends toward the child, making sure they are fed and cared for and that most importantly, their imagination is stoked. If only there was a solution for the sand.