It’s become a nightly ritual: I settle into bed, grab my phone, and check in with my friends who live in Israel. I haven’t even moved there yet, and already, I have hundreds of them.
About a year ago, we learned that my husband, a college professor, was eligible to take a sabbatical, so we decided to fulfill our dream of moving our family to Israel for a year. And with that, I entered Planning Mode.
Although I crave novelty—new people, cultures, foods—I’m hardly laid-back or spontaneous; I’m a planner. I like to know what to expect. I like information, as much of it as I can get my hands on.
And what tool is more alluring to an information-seeker than Google? Once we decided to make the move, I started Googling all the relevant search terms I could think of: “How to tell your kids you’re moving overseas;” “School in Israel;” “Jerusalem neighborhoods.” I sought information to help us make important decisions about our move: where to live and where to send our kids to school. But I also searched for details that would paint a picture of life in Israel with young kids.
So when I discovered a Facebook group specifically for parents of young kids in Israel, it felt like I’d stumbled onto a goldmine. The group is comprised of hundreds of expat moms (and a handful of dads) who moved to Israel, mostly from the US and the UK. In other words, people like me—or at least, like me in one important way.
The group gives me exactly what I want: By describing their frustrations and joys, often in candid detail, these parents provide a glimpse of daily life in Israel. Of course, some parenting experiences are universal—parents in the group vent and/or solicit advice about the same mundane issues as parents everywhere, from picky eating to sleep problems to mysterious rashes.
But what intrigues me are the experiences, no matter how banal, that are particular to parents in Israel. I gobble up these tidbits—they feel like clues for what my life in Israel will be like. I learned, for example, that children in Israel are regularly offered sweets at school—every week seems to offer some excuse for a sugar fest. Another common occurrence is lice, which children in Israel apparently can’t escape, despite their parents’ many and varied efforts. I also discovered that while my habitual lateness won’t be a problem in most situations—Israelis are known for being chronically tardy—it probably won’t fly at school, where gates are typically locked and people forbidden to enter once the day has begun (primarily for security reasons).
Some of this information has helped me prepare in a practical way. I’ve invested in a nit comb that will be making the trip to Israel with me, for example. But much of what I’ve gleaned has helped me feel prepared in an emotional sense. It’s given me what I crave—my very own “What To Expect When You’re Moving To Israel.”
Although the parents in the group come from different backgrounds and came to Israel for different reasons, I identify with them. Like me, they come mostly from Western cultures. When they moved to Israel, they had to adjust to different routines, attitudes, and practices.
Like parents anywhere, they don’t always agree—in fact, they regularly engage in vigorous but mostly respectful debates about issues such as the appropriate amount of religious content in the public school curriculum. But their posts give me a sense of the issues I might grapple with as a parent in Israel.
As is often the case with online research, information begets information. I’m now a member of two more Facebook groups, one specifically for parents in Jerusalem and another where parents seek and give advice about things to do with kids in Israel. I check them all nearly every day. Yes, I’m an information junkie.
Recently I scored a particularly delectable information fix when I discovered a blog written by an American couple currently living in Israel for a year with their kids—basically our family, one year earlier.
Naturally, I read the blog posts from start to finish in one sitting. Their candor made them especially illuminating. In the posts, the parents recounted their children’s frustrations at school, especially in the early weeks, navigating lessons conducted in rapid fire Hebrew and boisterous Israeli peers. They described how their children came home in tears, comparing notes at the dinner table about who had the worst day. Their son even made up a song about how awful Hebrew is.
You would think reading these posts would be terrifying, but it’s just the opposite. I can picture my kids having the same reactions as the kids described in the blog posts, especially my 7-year-old son, who isn’t a huge fan of change. It’s reassuring to know that if my kids have a hard time adjusting to life in Israel, there’s nothing unusual about that. Others have been through these struggles—and have lived to blog about it.
And they don’t just write about their lows, but also their highs. On the blog and elsewhere, parents in Israel describe family adventures, from hiking in the desert to whitewater rafting on the Jordan River, festive holiday celebrations with newfound friends, amusing interactions with warm, generous (if slightly nosy) Israelis—the very experiences that made me want to move my family to Israel for a year. Reading these accounts reassures me that taking our kids on this yearlong adventure is the right decision—that in the long run, it’ll be worth all the hardship and frustration.
I know, I know. No matter how much planning I do, there’s no way I can prepare for every scenario. Situations will catch me off guard, both in good and bad ways. Even my kids, who I think I know so well, will surprise me.
But planning is in my DNA—I can’t escape it, so I might as well embrace it. In the weeks leading up to our move, I’ll continue checking in with my Israeli “friends.” Hopefully once I move I’ll make some real friends, who can help me not only weather the trials but also savor the joys of life in Israel.