Israel starts a new school year

First-grade pupils attend the first day of a school in Jerusalem on September 2 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
First-grade pupils attend the first day of a school in Jerusalem on September 2
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The school year in Israel starts in September. It comes at the end of a full two-month holiday at the height of summer, so it’s safe to say by the time that first school bell rings, parents and even pupils are ready to get back into some form of educational and extramural routine. On the first Sunday of the school year, a group of moms in the Ra’anana area where we live even suggested a celebratory coffee-stop on the way to work, to mark the long awaited resumption of some form of planned schedule in our children’s lives.
But one thing hadn’t been factored in by those of us counting down the days to this new rigid routine – the fact that most of the month of September would involve celebrations for various Jewish festivals or hagim. Starting, of course, with the New Year (Rosh Hashanah), the fast on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) and then the week-long Festival of Tabernacles (Sukkot), which culminates in the joyous dancing festivities around Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. Throw in the fact that for reasons that haven’t quite yet made sense to many working parents, the day following a festival in this country is also a school holiday. Not a work holiday. Just another school holiday.
That means your calendar shows you September has almost as many days off school as days in class. Sporting and extramural activities (hugim) are obviously also affected, and as a result any form of organized planning is best left for just another few weeks. For children, of course, life couldn’t be better. Besides the countless celebratory meals with family and friends, they also have no reason to go to bed at any set time, and spend even more free time heading to the beach or just spending time “hanging out” together, both during the day and late at night.
This stop-start beginning to the school year does raise many questions about the total amount of time spent by children in class during the ten-month school year. It sparked much lively debate around the Shabbat lunch table or in the sukkah, with many flagging questions about the pros and cons of the education system in Israel.
Letting go of what you can’t change…
For me, one of the most incredible and recurrent lessons of aliyah so far, has been learning to choose what one wants to focus on, and letting go of things you simply can’t change. As a life coach, it’s a concept I have always loved. But living in a new country and a new culture seems to challenge one often in this very department. Does one lose sleep over a way more relaxed and casual schooling system one doesn’t really understand? Or does one acknowledge that while it may not be the same as what you’re used to, it certainly seems to work. Well, long-term, anyway.
This is a “Start-Up Nation” after all – a country on the cutting edge of technology in a working world that sees the top companies in the world opening new offices and expanding their current facilities. This feels like a place where solutions are always being debated and ideas are being tried and tested, and then tried and tested again.
So, if the current school curriculum or the priorities within the school system don’t totally add up for a new parent in town, perhaps it’s time to just let it go and trust in the process.
Not everyone might agree with that sentiment – I’m sure there are many who are ready to fight the more casual schooling system. That’s their choice and I do wish them luck.
But what I do think most will agree on at this stage is, it was definitely time to get this school year started!