2900 children of olim starting first year of school in Israel this week

Immigrant students up fifty percent over 2014 at start of academic year.

Haredi students at classroom (photo credit: Courtesy)
Haredi students at classroom
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Yehudit and Yehoshua Shrager made aliya from Florida two weeks ago and already their four-year-old daughter, Temima, is in school. Living in the new suburb of Ramat Beit Shemesh Gimmel, they are among thousands of freshly arrived families now facing the challenge of integrating into both general society and the Jewish state’s educational system.
The past year’s rapid rise in immigration has significantly increased the number of foreign-born students in Israel, the Immigration and Absorption Ministry announced on Sunday.
According to ministry figures, 2,900 immigrant children will begin school for the first time in Israel this week, up 50 percent from last year. The numbers accord with general immigration trends, with French students leading the pack at 1,150, followed by Ukrainian (500), Russian (470) and American (270) students.
Around 1,500 of the students will learn in Tel Aviv area schools, 400 in the South, 600 in the North and 400 in the Jerusalem region.
“Everything is just a little bit more informal in general,” Yehudit said of the local school system. “In America, everything was a lot more up front with more paperwork involved. Everything in America felt very serious all the time.”
Even though they have yet to provide their first tuition check, their daughter is already attending her kindergarten. “We haven’t paid anything; we haven’t set up our banking yet,” said Yehoshua.
Asked if she felt that the government had provided active support during this transitional period, she said that her experience is that help is available, but you “have to really be able to reach out and ask. It won’t just come to you; there isn’t a whole lot of hand holding.
“In America, our daughter wasn’t allowed in the building until we sent all of the medical records and showed up-to-date documentation on all immunizations. Here they didn’t ask to see any medical records at all.”
Overall, the couple said that they are very happy with their daughter’s new school, but that it is still early. One concern mentioned by Yehudit is that she will be unable to help her daughter with all of her homework as she advances through the grades. While she has lived in Israel in the past, her Hebrew may not be up to the task.
“She will understand things I don’t,” she said. “I’m nervous there will be moments when she will be frustrated with me because I won’t be able to help her with something she needs helps with. This will be a moment of humility for me. But mostly I’m happy that my daughter can have something I never had – the opportunity to learn this language form a much younger age.”
Immigrant Absorption Minister Zeev Elkin met with Education Minister Naftali Bennett to cooperate on addressing the needs of new immigrants. Activists involved in facilitating the flight of Jews from war-torn Ukraine find that many of the children who arrive here are in need of supplemental psychological services.
According to Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, last year was “a year of record-breaking aliya” due in part to economic pressures and rising anti-Semitism in France, and the civil war in Ukraine.
The rise in immigrant students is a “another clear sign that we are in a period of a historically significant increase in the number of immigrants to Israel,” Elkin said Sunday. “This is not only happy news, but also a huge challenge to the Israeli education system and to society as a whole. If we cannot deal with many difficulties in absorbing immigrant students,” the entire absorption process may be damaged.
According to figures provided to the Jerusalem Post by the absorption Ministry, 5,627 people have made aliya from France so far this year, followed by 4,746 Ukrainians, 4,117 Russians and 2,120 Americans.
Over three-quarters of the Jewish population of the eastern Ukrainian separatist stronghold of Donetsk have become refugees since the beginning of last year, with increasing numbers making aliya as the conflict drags on and the economy collapses.
Meanwhile, speaking to the Jerusalem Post in May, one Russian Jewish leader said that he believed that rising Russian immigration to Israel is being driven partly by anxieties over Moscow’s increasingly authoritarian policies.
The number of Russians arriving in Israel in the first quarter of 2015 was nearly 50% higher than during the corresponding period the previous year.