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And I Thought Finding a Kindergarten in New York was Hard

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I’m not sure that the word “Kafka-esque” is the one you want to use when you are looking for a gan (kindergarten) to send your daughter to in Jerusalem. But that’s the word that comes to mind.

When we moved to Sag Harbor with my first child, (then) a 2-year-old, I was so happy that I was leaving the madness that was Manhattan when it came to finding a school for my child. The interviews, the new clothes that had to stay clean on the way to the interviews, the pressure for your child to perform in the right way at said interview. Pretty tall orders for the highly irrational 2+ creatures in your care.

But I understood. New York City is a big place–lots of good schools and even more good kids. And there needs to be some kind of a process in place to decide who fits where.

Well, they do things a bit differently over here on this side of the pond.

We are very far from the “highly privatized” life of New York City. In Jerusalem, finding the right kind of education for your child is more in tune with the centralized communitarian approach from the country that gave you the world’s first kibbutz. The communal trumps the individual. Having children is just what people do, and educating them is just what the State does. While sure, each ganenet (pre-K/K teacher) will have their own style, they are mandated by the Ministry of Education as to what they will teach.

“Every gan is pretty much the same,” admitted one parent with a “don’t sweat it” glint in her eye. (That kind of approach makes me start to sweat.)

Here’s what I learned: You register your kid for school at the Jerusalem municipality. You decide between three different streams: a State-secular school, State-religious school, and the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) schools. Within your stream of choice, you put in your top three choices for schools. (You can even do this online at night–this is a high tech nation after all!). You get the results “sometime between Passover and Yom Ha’atzmaut,” so the pakid (clerk) at the municipality tells me. Sounds simple enough.

But how are you to know which is the right school for your child?  Which one will help nourish your child’s particular style of learning?  Which ganenet will stimulate her curiosity?  Which educational philosophy will help to grow her soul?

Well, I dunno.

That’s the answer I was left with after a friend (also a new immigrant) and I attempted (and failed) to gain any kind of information last week at our self-initiated tour of ganim in the neighborhood.

We rang the bell at one of them and were buzzed in (bad security we thought). We popped our head in the door and asked to speak with the main teacher. “You know you are not allowed in here.” (Umm, well why did you buzz us in?) “It’s not respectful to the children.”

We asked, “Do you have an open house for parents to learn about this program?”

“No, we decided not to this year.” Oh.

We went to a second one. We slipped in the gate with a parent arriving late to drop off his daughter. We knocked on the door and the ganenet came out to speak to us. We appreciated that she took the time.

“Parents usually don’t get past the front door,” she admitted. (Clever us we thought.)

We tried to ask questions that would give us some sense of her educational philosophy. How do you deal with a child who is acting out? (I wasn’t expecting them to put the child in a “Peace Place” or reflect on their misdeeds in the Zen garden–something I became accustomed to in Sag Harbor.)  Her answer was a good one.

“We don’t have time outs; I just keep the child close to me, because what they usually just need is some more attention.”

And then onto a third one. They wouldn’t open the door. So we called the number we had. They answered. We are standing outside the door, we announced. So the assistant came out.

“Can we speak to the head teacher?”

“She is not in.”

“Can you give us her number so we can get a sense of how this school is different from all the others?

“No, she doesn’t want to have her number given out. But believe you me,” testified the assistant, “she is the best and this gan is the best.”

Really? Is that the advice, which will send me rushing to entrust my child’s education and development to their hands?

So, we asked in our heavy American accented Hebrew, how are people supposed to find out about this gan?  “Well, they ask people,” responded the assistant with a shrug.

OK. Fine. We were hiding behind our, “we are new here, we don’t know people, please help us” masks. But then we shook it off. B’seder, my friend and I said to each other, in the aforementioned American accents. We are connected. We have friends here. We might not be veterans of this place, but we can do this. And within a few hours of calling around to everyone we knew, we got some good info.

I signed my daughter up for gan a couple of days later. Basically, my sole criteria came down to choosing the one where most of my friends send their kids. I guess that will have to be good enough for now.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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