In Israel, kindergarten is housed together with nursery school so it is only in first grade that children begin attending elementary school. This year, my youngest son, Osher, started first grade. He is in a new school. It is new for him and it is new for our family.
Our other two sons went to the neighborhood religious public school. However, the local school has become extremely crowded and the quality of learning has deteriorated. Osher’s school is experimental and more in line with our educational philosophy. There are no grades or tests, although there are evaluations and the curriculum follows that of the Ministry of Education. Students learn in small groups and individually and the class size is limited to 27 students (last year our middle son, Maytav, had 38 students in his class). Beyond this, the school’s philosophy is largely to teach through experience – nature hikes, cooking, drama and more.
The school prides itself on meeting each child on his or her level and helping him master the material which the Ministry of Education has developed for their grade. This differs sharply from most schools which make an attempt to help each child, but the reality of class sizes and student-to-teacher ratios coupled with the time limitations makes it impossible for all the children to learn to their potential. As one teacher previously told me at the school which our two older sons attended, the teacher has to get through a certain amount of material in a certain amount of time. Some students will get it and some won’t.
The new school, called “Nisui Argentina,” sounds ideal, but it is all the way across town and it is not religious. In Israel, public schools are separated to serve different populations so there are Jewish religious and Jewish secular schools which follow different curriculum. Very few schools are mixed. This school is officially secular, but there is a core group of parents working on making it a mixed school. There is a person in the school in charge of Jewish studies and, for instance, the students start the day with a choice of participating in one of two groups: prayer or discussion. While there are other families who keep kosher and Shabbat, they are in no way the majority.
The school is also on the other side of the city so not only is it a distance for Osher to travel each day, but most of the kids in the neighborhood are not with him. There are enough kids in our neighborhood that the parents have organized a bus, but it is difficult for a small child to travel across the city to and from school each day.
It is scary to grow up and Osher is having a difficult time. It is rare that people adjust easily to major changes in their lives. Every new experience creates elements of fear, but as we go through these changes in life, they get easier. War is no exception.
The Israeli Defense Forces recently distributed pamphlets to all the homes in Israel telling us how to prepare for war. The brochure covers what to do in various types of attacks and natural disasters. There is a list of supplies that every family should have ready including such things as three-day’s worth of clothing, a radio with batteries, enough food and water, etc. In addition, gas mask distribution centers have been set up and it is not uncommon to see people walking home from the mall carrying gas masks for their family.
Different people react differently to these preparations. Having lived through several of these situations in which the population was prepared for war, most Israelis, myself included, do not let it disrupt our daily lives. We may prepare for the worst, but our lives are not disrupted and we do not enter into a state of panic. Just the opposite, the reality of war becomes part of the reality which is our daily life.
For Americans, I imagine, war on a civilian population is unimaginable. However, there are many things which we can’t imagine living through which plenty of people do all the time. Just like a serial entrepreneur may go through several corporate bankruptcies in his life, Israelis will likely live through several wars. Often, the acts of war we live through don’t make international headlines and are not even part of a declared war. They are just a way of life.
There are currently rockets being fired from Gaza at towns in southern Israel. It may seem remarkable that the decision by some of the mayors to close the schools in their cities was criticized by some parents. However, the residents of southern Israel have come to expect that living under fire is part of their life and they can not disrupt their life every time there is a flare up. As one resident of Ashdod told the Israeli Daily HaAretz, “It’s inconceivable that every time a rocket falls in the south the schools close.”