For the past few weeks, at school drop off, I have tried to disengage from my red-faced, hysterically crying and clinging children. My kids have never been those happy-go-lucky kids who skip into school, but the intensity of our morning separations has hit a new extreme this year. There is a reasonable explanation for our tearful new reality–we recently moved across the world from familiar Cleveland, Ohio, to our new home in the ancient city of Jerusalem.
We are thrilled to be living in the city of our dreams, but my four kids’ transition from their cozy Jewish day school to a bustling Israeli public school system has been challenging. Moving to Israel with preschool and school-aged kids is not for the fainthearted. Since the start of the school year on September 1st, school-related crying, whining, complaining, and defiance have become as much a part of our daily routine as breakfast and brushing teeth.
I dread school drop off probably more than my kids do. It is torturous to leave them in an environment where, although they are safe and being cared for, they can hardly communicate in or comprehend the rapid-fire Hebrew being spoken around them.
To keep my spirits up while we muddle through this tough transition, I started compiling a list of some of the parenting perks that come along with raising kids in Israel, gleaned from my initial experiences:
1. Looking out the window of our rented apartment and seeing the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City never ceases to fill me with awe.
2. Subsidized education and healthcare. School from age three through high school is free! Yes, we have to pay for books, school supplies, and some other fees but compared to what we were paying for Jewish education back in the U.S., the costs here are negligible. Similarly, for a nominal monthly fee my family receives world-class healthcare without having to go to battle with our insurance company and a privatized health care system.
3. Early drop offs. My kids’ pre-schools open at 7:15 a.m. No, I have not actually dropped off my (crying) kids this early, but knowing that I can, is intriguing.
4. Kids are everywhere. According to recent studies, Israel has the highest birthrate in the developed world, with an average of three kids per woman. And with all of these kids, comes a certain tolerance for rambunctious children’s (mis)behavior in public places. At restaurants, coffee shops, stores, the mall–basically everywhere–kids can be seen jumping around at almost all hours and no one really looks twice.
5. Jewish diversity. My kids’ school is filled with students of every shade of skin and of a host of cultural backgrounds and varying levels of religious observance, but every kid is just as Jewish as the next one.
6. Mandatory school t-shirts. Elementary school students in Israel are required to wear solid colored t-shirts with their school’s logo ironed on the front. I love this rule! The shirts are inexpensive and easy to replace, the kids get dressed in the morning in no time, and there is refreshingly little pressure to come to school wearing the latest fashions, yet the kids can still express their individuality via the rest of their outfit.
7. Food rules. My younger kids are only allowed to bring a fruit, a vegetable and a sandwich for their meal at preschool. That’s it. No candy topped yogurts, chips, juice boxes or other junk. Yes, some kids bring sandwiches smeared with chocolate spread but my kids have luckily not yet discovered that food phenomenon.
8. Walking wherever we go. We went from practically living in our minivan to being totally car-less, and we love it. We get lots of exercise just going about our day, we avoid the stress of being stuck in traffic jams, and we don’t have the expense of gas or car insurance. At first, my kids complained that they “couldn’t” walk, but now walking has become their default mode and no one seems to miss the van.
9. Kids are independent. While the media makes Israel out to be a scary place to raise kids, and there are indeed unique challenges here, the reality is that most of the time kids in Israel lead a pretty good life. The sign at the playground near our apartment reads: “Kids ages four and younger must be accompanied by an adult.” I can allow my 7 and 10-year-olds to walk together without a parent for the three minutes it takes them to get to school, without worrying about getting arrested for child neglect/endangerment.
10. The balmy weather and beautiful flowers. We used to spend most of the year talking about the weather and our beloved Midwestern city always seemed to be breaking some frightening weather record. But in Israel, no one really talks about the weather because for most of the year the forecast is the same: blue skies, sunny and hot. In Jerusalem, we have the added benefit of cool mornings and evenings accompanied by pleasant breezes.
11. School six days a week. After Shabbat, the country gets right back down to business with school and work on Sundays. The busy week winds down on Friday, which is a quasi-day off when many parents don’t have work and the kids only learn until around lunchtime. The rest of the day is devoted to family time and Shabbat preparations. The weekly rhythm here revolves around Shabbat, which infuses the work week with an element of spirituality.
I hope that as my kids get older they will discover deep reasons to love growing up in the City of Gold (deeper reasons than kosher Skittles). Today, though, my list of perks is helping me to endure my kids’ gloomy dispositions, as I await sunnier days.