Thursday, September 07, 2006


I sense a certain burning curiosity about school and the children. Well...yes, they are in school. That is, the big boys. We chose the school carefully - we hope. Jerusalem is an interesting city in terms of schools. Israel is an interesting country in terms of education. Schools can be boisterious, overcrowded (especially in Jerusalem which is a poor city), underfunded and overwhelming. Needless to say, we viewed the notion of sending the boys to school with some trepidation - as did they. We looked into the local teen Ulpan (hebrew classes) and that was an excellent option. Attend hebrew classes, meet some other new immigrants, go on a couple of trips and then....when your hebrew is more developed consider school. School had the advantage of one-stop shopping. Attend, learn hebrew, meet some nice kids (the school is known for having a decent student population) and hopefully it will all gel nicely.

The boys are at Reut, a pleuralistic Jewish school. The school refers to itself as Kehillat Reut - the Reut community. Kids have Jewish studies as well as secular studies. Reut is also known for being a good place for kids interested in the arts and music. They have morning services each morning. Boys are requested to put on tallit and t'fillin (phylacteries) but are not forced to pray. But, each person should be respectful of the desires of the person sitting next to them who may wish to pray.

The school has a nice smorgasbord of interesting classes - at Gabe's level for example, he can choose from Spanish, Japanese or Sign Language. He also has a choice of music, media studies and/or computers. Possibly they can take more than one. I'm too much of a beginner at this point to know. His day starts at 8:00am with morning shacharit (services) and ends at about 3:00pm most days and on days with special subjects at about 4:40pm. He's already befriended two kids - Yitzchak and Eitan. He snagged a get together at Yitzchak's the other day. They went by bus after school, ate a snack of toasted pita and humus with spicey paprika (Gabe made me buy it the other day in the store) and hung out playing guitar, computer and watching a bit of tv (Gabe promised me it was only a little bit of tv). Eitan lives down the block and Gabe may hang out with him this afternoon. Gabe has been handling going to school with his usual aplomb. He's not great at waking up at 6:40am and has noted that he falls asleep in about 2 minutes at night. He is not using alot of hebrew yet in class but

Natan's day is a bit longer as he can choose special subjects to major in and if he does, he's got extra hours in the subject in the later afternoon. He's chosen music as his main subject and may still choose a second subject but maybe not as he's getting busy quickly. He's warming up to the kids slowly but at least has indentified the one other new immigrant in his class (unlike Gabe who hasn't a clue), a girl, Elana, who claims to understand what's going on in class but will only speak in English when speaking publicly. Yitzchak's (Gabe's new friend) older brother, Elchanan, mentioned that he's in Natan's class - "I lehrn vit your sun." He imitated Natan beautifully, indicated that he stood in his Natan like way on his own - arms folded, tall and imposing. I said that Natan was worth chatting with, that he's into music and has many interests but was likely to maneuver slowly when it came to social stuff.

Natan was pleased with his first week. He understood math and felt that he could even move up to the highest level math but was pursuaded by his teacher to review a bit and get used to the terminology in hebrew before considering the move up. He said that he understood about 30% of History as that teacher spoke slowly and clearly. Both boys said that they space out at times during class and that seems perfectly normal and reasonable, considering the effort and concentration it takes to focus on the language all the time. They both liked their English class (they study only with kids from English speaking homes who are fluent) and found it relaxing. Natan is jealous that Gabe gets to study Arabic but Gabe said not to feel badly as he had no idea what was going on and he was amazed by the squiggles that make up the language. Natan did say to me at the end of either day one or day two that he can't believe that he has to do this every day. It was one thing to do a bit of school, it's quite another to have to do it 6 days a week. Originally, we thought that Natan would be off on Fridays but as it turns out, he's got a short schedule, due to his music specialty but he doesn't have to be there until 9:30am. As for Gabe, he's got to be at school normal time but he's done after 12pm, so that's nice. I imagine that they both will start cultivating the Shabbat afternoon nap.

It's too early to say what going to school will be like for the boys. I think that the 6 day a week grind will be exactly that, a grind. If the school has the right attitude (as we're told) and really gives a good sense of community to the kids then it could be exactly what they need at this moment. Kids are encouraged/asked to choose a volunteer job within the community. The school itself runs a soup kitchen 3x a week and kids can get involved with that and have a chance to both help and make contact with the clients who come to eat meals. These will be good experiences for the boys and indeed will help make them members of the gen'l community and not just the school community which is certainly one of our beliefs as a homeschooling community. Ultimately, I don't need them to go to school forever, unless of course it's something that grows on them at this point, but I think that right now it gives them a reason to get up every day and do more than Skype their buddies back in the "homeland." As far as Natan is concerned, if it works for him, it lets him hook into a group of kids and given the fact that he's 16, time is of the essence in this instance. Reut has a huge population of kids from English speaking homes (Jerusalem has a large Anglo population) and that means that culturally the kids might be closer to what he knows from NYC. As for Gabe, one step at a time. If he likes it and gets brave enough to open up his mouth and speak Hebrew, hopefully he'll feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment and hey, there's a basketball hoop out in the central courtyard of the school and that makes everything more palatable.

As for Ira and I, everything feels different. We all get up at the crack of dawn. Akiva goes on the bus (he's settling in nicely in school and the teacher already seems to know him better in 5 days better than last year's teacher figured him out in a year's time) at 7:10am and then the rest of us run around and get ready to run out at about 7:30am. For Ira and I, Ulpan (hebrew classes) start at 8am in town and we have to catch the bus. The boys walk to school - it takes about 30min on foot but they meet up with kids they've started to get to know and if it's the right day, they walk with their cousin, Amira (Jessica's stepdaughter). They look American as they saunter down the street but they've got packs and waterbottles just like everyone else. Israeli kids on their way to school, who'd've thunk it?

More tomorrow.


jay said...

Hey Beth - I figured how to do this, so I'm giving it a whirl, hope my nom de plume isn't too confusing...

Gotta give you guys much credit, especially given the incredible "sea change" experienced by the boys. New home, country, language, school - any school at all!! (for Gabe & Natan)...Thats alot to deal with all at once.

By the time you read this, it'll be Friday, so Shabbat Shalom,

Jay B.

ADS said...

Wow, the boys in school. I would pay good money to see that. :)

Lisa K. said...

Which is the more surprising phrase in that last sentence--"Israeli children" or "on their way to school"?

Lisa K.