Monthly Archives: February 2012

PSA – one day left to change your Google privacy settings

This was something I learned about today and just finished taking care of.  It was a little annoying since when I moved to Israel, my Google account automatically turned into Hebrew, so the instructions below weren’t as helpful as they could have been, but I got my browsing history deleted and hopefully will have a little bit more online privacy as a result.  Google’s new privacy goes into effect on March 1, 2012.

>>Just a 1 day to go before Google changes to its new privacy policy that allows it to gather, store and use personal information, users have a last chance to delete their Google Browsing History, along with any damning information therein.

Tech News Daily reports that once Google’s new unified privacy policy takes
effect all data already collected about you, including search queries,
sites visited, age, gender and location will be gathered and assigned to
your online identity represented by your Gmail and YouTube accounts. After
the policy takes effect you are not allowed to opt out without abandoning
Google altogether. But now before the policy takes effect, you have the
option of deleting your Google Web History by modifying your settings so
that Google is unable to associate data collected about you with your Gmail
or YouTube accounts.

Tech News Daily reports that Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a
nonprofit organization based in San Francisco that advocates for online
privacy, says: “Search data can reveal particularly sensitive information
about you, including facts about your location, interests, age, sexual
orientation, religion, health concerns, and more.”EFF advises all Google
users to delete their web history.Meanwhile, Center for Digital
Democracy has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, asking
the Commission to sue Google to stop the policy change. Tech News
Daily reports FTC can impose fines up to $16,000 per day for
violation.Daily Mail reports that deleting your browsing history before
March 1 when Google’s new privacy policy comes into effect will limit
Google’s ability to track and record your every move online. The process is
simple. Follow the steps below:

1. Go to the google homepage and sign into your account.

2. Click the dropdown menu next to your name in the upper-right hand corner
of your screen.

3. Click accounts settings

4. Find the “Services section”

5. Under “Services” there is a sub-section that reads “View, enable,
disable web history.” Click the link next to it that reads: “Go to Web

“6. Click on “Remove all Web History”When you click on “Remove all Web
History,” a message appears that says ” Web History is Paused.”

What this means is that while Google will continue gathering and storing
information about your web history it will make *all* data anonymous, that
is, Google will not associate your Web History information with your online
accounts and will therefore be unable to send you customized search results.

Google’s ability to gather personalized information about you by assigning
data to your Gmail and YouTube accounts will remain “Paused” till you click


The Connected Baby – film

I started watching the new film The Connected Baby this morning, and hoped to watch all of it to be able to share my thoughts on it with you.  But my ds2 and ds4 were making it hard to hear and after a half hour I decided to put off watching the rest of it until it was quiet.  (The program in its entirety is an hour and fifteen minutes.)  Then I had such a full day that there was no time to finish viewing the rest of it today.

Since this is able to be viewed for free online only through March 1, I wanted to share the link here to give you a chance to see it for yourselves.  It wouldn’t help much if I told you about it after the deadline, would it?!  My dd15 watched the entire thing and found it interesting; she said it basically scientifically backs up what you know already about babies if you’ve been around enough of them.  And that is, that babies are connected and responding to those around them from the very beginning, not reflexively, but purposefully.

If you’d like to review something a little more detailed about the film before watching, here’s a review by Peggy O’Mara.  Here’s the site where the The Connected Baby can be watched free through Mar. 1  – enjoy!


Our Tzfat vacation accommodations

We initially thought to go to Tzfat last week, but dd15 had a school commitment that she didn’t want to back out of, so we pushed our trip off for a week.  This worked out to be a fortuitous arrangement, since that weekend was extremely cold and wet, and it would have literally put a real ‘damper’ on our trip!

We rescheduled for this week, but not having been here long, didn’t think to consider the consequences of planning for something around the beginning of the Hebrew month of Adar.  All of a sudden, all the kids had parties and trips planned for exactly these few days!  I was a little dismayed, since I really was looking forward to a few days of togetherness with our family.  We had planned to leave on Thursday, but pushed this off until early afternoon on Friday, to accomodate the Thursday activities, and then resigned myself to the fact that some of us would have to leave early.  I miss the days of everyone being on the same schedule….

After some research and deliberation, we realized it would be less expensive to rent a van for a couple of days than pay for bus fares for everyone on the way there (some of us later took the bus home).  In between the week we had been invited for originally and this weekend, dh had gotten a job and wouldn’t be able to be with us for more than Shabbos.  Dd11 had a two day trip to Mt. Hermon (the location for snow activities in Israel) Sun/Mon and dd17 had a three day school trip Mon/Tues/Wed.  Ds13 missed a lot of school when his best friend was here and didn’t want to miss anymore (though he decided in the end to stay on with me in Tzfat).   So those kids planned to travel back home with dh on Saturday night.

It was nice being able to drive there, since we had sleeping bags and a box of food supplies that we wouldn’t have been able to take on the bus (I would have shopped at the local grocery if I couldn’t have done this).  It just made everything so much easier!  It took just 45 minutes to get from Karmiel to Tzfat.  When we got there, our hostess served everyone homemade pizza (I told her before coming that since I know what a hectic time this can be, I was coming prepared to take care of providing this meal for us), and this was a nice treat for the kids.

After that, we unpacked our stuff.  First I have to share about our accommodations, which were the first big step to our wonderful visit, and something that continued to enhance every single day there.  The vacation until we had is in the first straw bale home ever built in Israel.   There was a large bedroom for the children with four beds and two additional mattresses that our hosts put in for us.  We brought sheets but they provided blankets and pillows, which was a huge help since those things would have been so bulky to bring along.  There was a smaller bedroom with two single beds.  Dh and I took the smaller room, and ds2 slept with me.  For Shabbos, a couple of the kids doubled up on one bed; after that, everyone had their own bed (except me, since ds2 was happy to keep me as his familiar bed partner while we were there).

There was a small kitchenette and eating area, a bathroom, and a large covered outdoor porch, where the kids played with games and toys that we borrowed from our hosts, and where we also gathered to eat together on our last day when it was really warm outside.

While we were unpacking, the littles quickly made themselves at home.  The property is at the end of a street, backing up to a mountain, and there was so much space and freedom for them to wander around the property.  The view is simply amazing – they are at the edge of a cliff and all buildings are below their home, so the view is unobstructed and you can see the mountains all around you.  (You can get a tiny peek of the view here – imagine that one mountain you see multiplied by them all around.)   I see beautiful views often in Israel, but this one was incredible.  Ds4 was walking with me on the lower level of the property, stopped and looked out at the view, and said, “It’s so boo-tiful here, Mommy!”

They usually have dairy goats, which I would have loved for the kids to see and interact with, but they were temporarily away and wouldn’t be back until the following week.  I also had hopes of buying some raw goats’ milk while staying there, which obviously wasn’t possible!  There was a chicken running around the front yard, which ds5 began chasing (our hostess told him he’s welcome to chase her, that the reason she’s the only one of their chickens that wasn’t killed by stray dogs or mongooses is because she’s so fast); the chicken never seemed to mind and the littles who chased her during our days there had fun, too.  They enjoyed their dog, were fascinated by their parakeets and cockatiel, and when one of the littles saw the guinea pig, told me that ‘they have a rat’ in a cage.

Mostly there was plenty of time and space for them to run around, and they enjoyed meeting the children of our hosts, who they spent hours playing outside with.  I knew that living in an apartment and constantly being aware of noise levels was a bit wearing on me, and while we were in Tzfat,  I really recognized how much tension this has caused me – because all of that was totally gone.  I appreciated this literally every time one of us moved a chair or dropped something, that I wasn’t feeling the need to monitor all of our daily life sounds.

The boys played lots of ball, climbed the mountainous cliff behind the house, and ds5 brought me ‘sour stuff’ to eat’ – he learned to identify wild growing sorrel.  Yes, we did other things and I’ll share more about that in my next post, but they were pretty much outside all day long, and when it was time for bed, they were asleep within a few minutes.


Perfect timing for a family vacation!

I’ve just spent a few days away with my family, and had the most relaxing time since moving to Israel!

Exactly a year ago, our family spent five days in Colonial Williamsburg.  As we were walking through the historic village, dh and I were discussing the possibility of moving to Israel.  We were coming to the conclusion that we’d make the move.  And I remember expressing to dh a bit of sadness that our trip to Colonial Williamsburg, which was fantastic, was the last one we were likely to take.  I knew that if we moved to Israel, our reality (at least initially) would preclude funds and a vehicle to make outings and trip as frequent as they were for us in the US, and that thought made me sad.

When we moved here in August, it was just a week and a half before the school year started, and we jumped immediately into real life – no time (or money) for enjoying trips in our new country.  I’ve always appreciated and enjoyed going places with our children, and as grateful as I am for the reality of waking up every day in Israel, I do have a bit of wistfulness about not currently being in a position to actively explore the country.  Public transportation is expensive and complicated for a family our size, and finding a place to stay overnight on a budget with a big family isn’t easy.  And on the savings we’ve tried hard to stretch until we have income coming in, there really wasn’t room for the luxury of a big trip.

All of this background is just to go and show you that G-d cares about and provides for even our small wants!  Just a couple of weeks ago, someone from Tzfat (Safed) called to invite our family for Shabbos!   This was someone I met 3.5 years ago, when the wife was visiting the US and stayed at our home for Shabbos, and we touched base again after moving here when I called her to ask about school options in her area.  They have a two bedroom vacation unit attached to their home that we’d be able to use, and were fine with us coming for a couple days longer than just Shabbos.   Wasn’t that wonderful?

I’ll write in another post about our trip!



Six month aliyah update: finding employment

It hasn’t been even a year yet since we decided to move to Israel, but one of the things that was a very big concern about considering making this move was the issue of employment.  We know people who had lost their jobs in the US and were doing so badly there, that they figured they might as well live in Israel and struggle here.  And we know of others who saved for many years, sold homes that had dramatically increased in value, came with very significant financial resources behind them, had some kind of US based income (pension, the ability to continue working for their US employers from a distance)…but that wasn’t our situation.

My husband was employed at a position where he was making a decent income, but since aliyah was a sudden possibility, we didn’t have years of financial planning behind us in making the move.  Nor did we have the financial perks that come with being a new immigrant (free flight, absorption stipends – this would have amounted to over $60,000 for a family our size moving to the north).   Leaving the security of a regular salary and moving to another country to start over with a large family support was an intimidating proposition.  Especially since I’m a financially conservative person who avoids debt to the best of my ability.

I knew with certainty that G-d provided for us in the US, and He would provide for us in Israel- He’s not limited by our geographical location.  This intellectual belief is what made me comfortable with the idea of moving here, even though it would mean using all of our financial resources without knowing how long we’d be without an income.  But emotionally, I literally every single day for at least the first two months after deciding to move, felt almost overwhelmed with fears about what we were doing.  To overcome this, I worked very intensively on feeling (rather than knowing) trust in G-d.  (And I blogged very little at that time because it was such a sensitive process, though now I wish I had because it was very powerful.)

We hoped that dh would find work within three months  (based on the feedback of a gifted intuitive who I had spoken with about issues that she had great insight on), so we planned financially for four months without an income.  Three months came and went, four months, five months – and the Friday of ds13’s bar mitzva, dh had an interview and came home with the exciting news that he was hired!

This was very exciting, although it was in the extreme busyness of the bar mitzva preparations that he told us, so our responses were somewhat mitigated by all that we were doing right then to get everything organized.  Dh was told he was being hired in a outsourcing capacity for the first year (I don’t know what the actual term is – they would send him work and he’d be paid hourly for it by them) and then brought on as a salaried employee after a year.  He was very impressed by the company hiring him for a number of reasons, and the starting salary was decent, enough for us to live on.

But days went by and they didn’t contact him with work, and they weren’t following up with other things.  So as impressed as he was with them initially, he couldn’t continue to consider himself hired without getting work and a salary!  He interviewed a week ago with a smaller company, and came home rather negative about it for various reasons.  He said he was offered a job, but the starting salary was half of what he was offered before (the first offer was the industry standard for starting rates).  After a year, it would gradually go up to the starting salary offered at the first company, and he needed to commit to stay with them for a year (or two? can’t remember now).

We both know that you have to start somewhere, and getting your foot in the door for the first time is the hardest part.  We weren’t approaching this as Americans who don’t understand the salary differences between here and the US, and he wasn’t insistent that he start at the top of the totem pole by any means.  But this seemed like a really low place to have to start.  (In case you missed the implications of this salary, it would be half of what we needed for our very frugal standard.)

We talked about it and agreed he’d turn it down, but then he spoke with a couple people who have been in the business for a long time who he has developed a good relationship since moving here (he plays tennis with one of them twice a week :)).  They told him to research the head of the company, and when he did, he got very good feedback – honest, hardworking, etc.  So they told him to take the job, that he’d learn a lot and get good experience of working here in Israel, but not to commit to continue working with him for a year.  And that’s what he did.

Dh started working this week, exactly six months after arriving.  (If you’re wondering how our finances held up, well, you know already that I’m very frugal, right? :) It’s a good thing I didn’t know from the outset that we’d be in that situation for so long because I couldn’t have visualized managing so long without income.)  And I am so, so happy to say that he’s already loving it! He’s working from home, something he’s dreamed of doing for years, and this is work that he’s so well suited for.  (Not sharing personal details on this field, other to say that it’s something he had experience with in the past – though not in an official capacity – and did additional training here when he arrived.)

To find work after six months is actually considered pretty fast!  Dh has really applied himself from day 1 to staying focused and every single day, putting in hours learning new skills, networking, and learning more skills.  Right after moving in, we made our walk-in closet into an office for him so he’d be able to focus on his work, and he treated his preparing for a job as a job – he didn’t get discouraged when it was taking time, and he continued to believe that he’d find something suitable within a decent time frame.  And he was right.   (I personally consider his ability to master his fears and stay positive in spite of everything, including feedback from everyone about how hard it is to find work here, the discrimination for people above age 40, to be a very impressive accomplishment – it took constant conscious effort.)

As far as the income, am I worried?  Well, to be very honest, right after he accepted the job I was having a hard time getting too excited about this precisely because of the pay scale.  That’s why I didn’t post about it in the beginning of the week.  But now that I’ve seen how my dh is taking to this work like a duck takes to water, and I really believe that when a person has positive energy, good things will be drawn to them.  Seeing his feedback has made me 100% positive about him accepting this job, and I’m confident that it will lead to continued good things for our family!


Dealing with Israeli army

In Israel, there is a mandatory draft into the army of males and females over the age of 18.  There are exemptions, or more commonly, deferments, but one has to quality for these.

Before we moved here to Israel, I made some calls to clarify what would happen to my oldest two children with regards to the army: my oldest daughter would turn 17 soon after moving here, and the initial enlistment notices arrive at that age.  My oldest son would turn 18 six weeks before arriving, and I wanted to be prepared in advance so we wouldn’t stumble into a situation that would force him into army service immediately after arriving.  (My husband is exempt due to his age and family size.)

(Those of you reading who are already getting upset by the mention of an 18 year old who isn’t interested in immediately serving in the IDF, realize that my children were raised in the US with no expectation or even concept of serving in the army and this is a foreign idea to them.)

Here’s what I was told.  Religious girls are given the choice of exemption or national service, but they need to bring proof from an Israeli rabbinate that they are in fact Orthodox.   Regarding ds18, I was told that as a returning minor, he had an automatic deferment for a year before he would be called up.

When dd turned 17, she got her pre-draft notice, and traveled to Haifa to the rabbinate to get authorization of her religious status.  Along with the notice was a note stating that the authorization needed to be mailed to the army.  But there was no address given!  She was given a date that she needed to show up for her pre-draft appointment, but dh called the office to postpone the appointment date to give the letter she sent time to arrive.   He was called a little later by an army representative, wanting to know why she missed her appointment date, and dh explained that it had been postponed to allow time for her paperwork to get there.

I didn’t know anything about this until the next day.  I got a call from someone who demanded, “Where is (name of dd)?”  I consider this very rude telephone protocol, and told them she wasn’t home that moment and that I’d like to know who he was.  He said they were calling from the army, and told me she missed her appointment with them.  I explained that her appointment date had been changed, and she had mailed her religious authorization in the meantime.  Suddenly he said to me, “Is your husband also an American?  Does he speak like you, with an accent?”  This same person had spoken to my husband just the day before,  and knew that we had taken care of anything, but continued on to tell me that if we don’t get the paperwork to them, they’ll (fill in the blank with some stuff that was supposed to intimidate me but I didn’t understand all the army terms except for ‘medical physical’).  Then he told me he’ll grant an extension until Mar. 1 (we already had an official extension and hadn’t missed the appointment but whatever).   When I got off the phone, I learned that he had told dh the exact same thing the day before, including making his ‘generous’ offer of giving us until Mar. 1 to have the paperwork in.  So much for efficiency – he didn’t even have the grace to be embarrassed to be threatening us for something we had taken care of already.  Anyway, hopefully she’ll soon receive her exemption.

Now as for ds18, whose situation is much more complicated and frustrating. Based on what I was told by NBN (and I think also the Israeli embassy in DC), I thought we had a year until he’d get a draft notice.  When we were getting Israeli passports for everyone else, ds17’s was delayed because due to his age, he had to get a temporary three month army deferment before he’d be allowed into the country.  So between the 3 month deferment and the one year exemption, I thought we were set.

Very soon after getting here (maybe six weeks?), ds18 received his enlistment notice.  This wasn’t what we were expecting, but were sure it would be quickly straightened out, since he is not only a returning minor, but a full-time yeshiva student (both of which would qualify him for a deferment).  This proved to be very positive thinking on our part.

Since my dh took care of all of this, I’m sure I’ll mix up the technical terms and the order of things.  So I’m going to fast forward from all that they’ve done to where we’re at today, except to say that what we were told about him getting an automatic deferment for a year was totally false.   Dh and ds18 have spent numerous hours on the phone and in person for the last few months trying to get things straightened out.  Really, you wouldn’t think this would be so complicated since thousands of yeshiva students have gotten deferments and it’s a common process.  Maybe as Americans there’s something we don’t know about how to work the system.  Ds18 finally got the necessary paperwork from the ‘committee for yeshivas’, went to a lawyer to take care of some other aspect, and traveled to Tiverya (Tiberias) from Jerusalem this morning for his appointment with the army to officially present proof of his being a yeshiva student to them.  (This appointment was postponed twice, since he was having trouble getting this paperwork from them.)

He spent six hours there, and in short, was told that they refuse to consider him a yeshiva student since the law changed yesterday – yes, yesterday! – and if he can’t document having been a yeshiva student since when he’s 15, it doesn’t matter if he’s a yeshiva student now.  As a homeschooler he’s had a yeshiva education at home for years, so you’d think there’s no problem, right?  Wrong.  The representatives at the army don’t understand the concept of homeschooling, and said that since ds wasn’t attending a yeshiva, he’s lost his right to be considered a yeshiva student for all of these years.  (By the way, he attended a recognized yeshiva when he was 14 and when he was 17, so the only issue is the years he was homeschooled as a tenth and eleventh grader.)

Ironically, part of the problem is that his official records are from a recognized homeschooling oversight program – this would readily be recognized at colleges across the US – but despite having transcripts for a full Judaic program, they won’t consider him as a yeshiva student.  He  graduated over a year before we moved to Israel, and at that point I thought I had researched all the possible complications and taken care that there was official documentation of everything.

The potential complications of homeschooling that no one ever talks about!

So ds18 had to go through the entire pre-induction process, including his army physical. They’ve notified him that he’ll be inducted in one month, which means that now I’m working against the clock to find a way to document his religious studies that will be recognized by the Israeli army.

I have to say that ds is taking this entire situation very well.  When I told him we were moving to Israel, he was very apprehensive about the army situation. I reassured him repeatedly by telling him as a yeshiva student, he’d be eligible for a deferment until he was ready to serve.  And then I did more research and was told that he would automatically receive a one year deferment.

I feel kind of like I’m leaving him holding the bag for a situation he was worried about getting into before we ever got here, despite having done all the right things; dh and I kept reassuring him (before we got here and since then) that it was a routine situation that would easily be taken care of.  When I told him today how sorry I was he was in this situation, he told me that he doesn’t blame me or hold me responsible in any way for it – he sees that it’s a beauracratic mess here.

So despite all our efforts, don’t have the situation with dd17 or ds18 resolved yet.  I’ll keep you posted when this is straightened out!


What is the role of a parent vis a vis the school?

The following comment was posted in response to my last post, in which I shared about the limited amount of help that has been available to our children in the school system.

>>I’m sure that you are aware that you have taken a big risk moving your children here at this stage of their lives. I also hope that you acknowledge that no one is responsible for their integration here other than you.

Please forgive me for being so harsh about this. There are resources to help you but the ultimate responsibility rests with you, and not the school or the system.

As a fellow olah, I can only suggest that you shed any romantic idea that the “system” is going to take care of you and your children. You need a lot of support and most likely it will come through the networks that you build up yourself.<<

After seeing this comment, I realized that it might be helpful for me to clarify two points.  Firstly, what is the purpose of me sharing about my experience?  Secondly, to explain what I see as my role as a parent who is sending her children to school.  How much of their education is my responsibility, and how much is the school’s responsibility?

Though I share about many different topics here, I’ve been sharing about my aliyah experiences with the increasing awareness that a number of people considering making aliyah have begun to read my blog.  There are lots of places you can find inspiration about why to do make aliyah – I’m so glad we made the move and love being here! – but my experience has been that many olim (new immigrants) don’t have a realistic idea of what to expect.  (I spoke to two people in this situation just yesterday, and this is a painful place to be.)

Many people are emotionally sold on the dream of living in Israel, but there’s very much a reality every person moving here needs to be aware of.  Exactly what the reality is will differ from person to person and place to place, but not sharing about this and letting people think that a move to another country isn’t the hugely major thing it is would be misleading.  Though I prefer to be positive and look for the good in things – and this is what I try do when faced with challenges here – I don’t think I’m doing anyone a favor to pretend that difficulties don’t exist.

To address the main point of this post, what do I think a parent’s role is vis a vis the schools?  Overall, I  think you have to always remember that you’re  the parent and you can’t expect the schools to give your children what they need.  This isn’t as easily said as done – over the years schools have increasingly moved to a position of disempowering parents, and minimizing the importance of parental influence, while continuing to blame parents when anything in school goes wrong!  Educators (at least those I’ve spoken with, and I’ve read this same thing in a number of places) will claim that this is because parents today are increasingly apathetic and uninvolved, they aren’t stepping into their responsibility as parents, so the schools are forced to take up the slack.

Regardless of  if that’s the best way to handle it or not (two parties can’t take responsibility at the same time for the same thing – one will have to let go), the school administrations are doing what they feel is best for the child.  And sometimes as parents we back down when told by a teacher or principal how foundational different aspects of school are to a child.  I think we have to be willing to be confident in our role as parents to look out for our children and make sure their basic needs are being met.

That doesn’t mean looking for problems – I view the teachers and administrators as my partners, and assume they have my child’s best interests at heart – but if I see something isn’t working and it’s  not being attended to or  addressed, I’ll step in and talk with those involved about what’s happening.  I think it’s important to have a positive attitude towards the teachers in our child’s life, and not to make mountains out of molehills – but we also shouldn’t make the mistake of making molehills out of mountains.

My personal expectation of the schools is first, ‘do no harm’ – I don’t expect them to raise them, instill them with good character or positive spiritual outlook/values, and my academic expectations are that basic skills are taught.  That’s it.  I don’t mean this in a disparaging way, but I think that unrealistic expectations set us up for disappointment.  If you get more than the basics, count yourself as fortunate.

Practically speaking, in terms of our aliyah here, this has meant that I’ve been continually in touch with the teachers of every child (except ds13, who dh speaks to).  I’ve explained their needs, advocated for their needs, and this has created a school environment in which they aren’t constantly faced with unrealistic expectations.  I’ve repeatedly told teachers and principals that my only goal for the kids for this year is that they learn Hebrew, and I understand that this means missing a year of academics.  (That’s what the reality is anyway, but it’s good to clarify from the outset since otherwise teachers feel pressured that you’ll be upset your kids aren’t learning anything.)  I’ve also gotten permission for all of the middles (ds9, dd11, ds13) to be allowed to leave school midday, which gives them time to decompress from the intensity of being in a Hebrew language environment for so many hours.

I actively work with the middles (mostly dd11 and ds9) at home on their Hebrew language skills several times a week – this includes speaking, reading, and translation.  Although I intended this to be supplemental, it’s actually more than they’re getting from school.  If a parent can’t do this, then I think they’ll benefit by getting tutors for their children after school.

To sum up, for any parent, but especially if you’re making aliyah, you can’t rely on the schools to give your child the support he needs.  The schools are hopefully staffed with kind and caring people, but in the end, your child is one of  many.  This can be a huge and daunting challenge for parents who move to a new country, who are themselves struggling with the transition to a new culture and language.  But it’s really important that your child knows that you’ll continue to be there for them, to support them and not get lost in the emotions of your own transition experience.  (By the way, this is why I think it’s preferable for the first year after making aliyah, if one parent stays home with the kids – so someone is there for them to give them the support and help they need.)


Six month aliyah update: school responsiveness

Wow, as of today we’re officially here for six months! Really amazing how time has flown by, and especially amazing when I think that a year ago, we had just started tossing out the idea of making the move.

Today I’m going to share about my experiences with the local schools in responding to the needs of our children as new immigrants. I’m going to warn you in advance, it’s going to sound kind of negative and I don’t like being negative, but people who are considering aliyah should know the reality they may face.  So here is my experience to date.

I’ll skip over the littlest kids since they don’t really get or need special help in adapting to the schools. Thank G-d, ds4 and ds5 are doing well, even though ds4 asks to stay home every single day.

The government has mandated hours that new immigrant children are supposed to receive to facilitate their absorption into Israeli culture. This mean every child is entitled to a certain amount of ulpan (Hebrew language) hours. Here’s the current guidelines: if there are 1 – 2 students in the school who are new olim, there is funding for six hours; 3 – 5 students, funding for ten hours; 6 – 7 students, funding for twelve hours. It seems that because our children are in the chinuch atzmai/independent religious school system, that they don’t get the government hours that all the other schools in the country get.

Notwithstanding the lovely sounding hours that children are supposed to get, not one of our kids has ever received more than two periods a week – at best. Ds9 -his school has been most responsive, and immediately began giving him tutoring assistance when he arrived.  However, his tutor is also assigned to tutor anyone else in the school who needs help, and to fill in for teachers who don’t show up, which cuts into his availability.  Ds9’s participation in the program that he was supposed to begin immediately after the meeting with the principal a couple of weeks ago, which I agreed to because it would give him more one on one support (that my attendance at the parenting classes is mandated for), has yet to begin.

Dd11 – gets two periods a week when the tutor is available; if she doesn’t come for whatever reason, there are no substitutes.  She didn’t begin getting tutored until about two months into the school year – that meant sitting for hours in a class with absolutely no comprehension, and no assistance in building a rudimentary language base.  When she was willing and open to learning the language, no one was there to help her, and when she finally got tutoring, her tutor was teaching her at well above her ability.  (I wrote about this a while ago.)  Now she has a good tutor to work with her, who I’ve spoken with at length and who understands where dd is coming from.

Ds13 – his school said it’s too much work to file the paperwork to apply for the funding available for him, and that it’s up to us to hire a private tutor. Their help to him has been being gracious enough to let him sit in their classes and take our tuition money.  :)

Dd15 and dd17 – they began getting tutoring two months after the school year began. This took some time and advocating on my part, but once they got a tutor, she was fabulous. Dd15 is really getting a lot out of this. The only concern I had was it seemed that dd17 wasn’t getting much tutoring. At first I thought they were giving dd15 more help because dd17 started with stronger spoken Hebrew. Then we thought her absences were coinciding with her tutoring sessions (it’s not at a regular time), or that there were other reasons she rarely seemed to be getting tutoring.  It’s just come to light that they have totally dropped dd17 from the tutoring roster – I’m giving the benefit of the doubt that it’s because they know she won’t be taking the matriculation exams, though the reason she’s supposed to have the help is for language acquisition, not because of these tests.  I have another meeting scheduled with her principal to talk about these concerns on Tuesday morning.

In the last ten days, I’ve had a number of meetings with principals, teachers, and tutors. It takes so much energy to explain the reality of kids having to start over with a new language, culture, friends, home.  They really don’t have a realistic understanding of what’s involved, which obviously limits them in how much practical or emotional help they give.  The administrative knee jerk reaction when faced with a child who isn’t performing at a typical level, is to label a child as being emotionally closed, perfectionist, learning disabled or whatever else rather than really be in tune with the level of changes immigrant children have to make, and look at how little support these kids are getting within the school system in making the transition.  (I had a fascinating and telling experience with this last week when I took ds5 for his evaluation prior to registering for first grade.)

I’m not an unreasonable and pushy parent, and I’ve been pretty positive about the school system until now; I’m not actually feeling negatively now.  What I’m doing is sharing the reality that I’m consistently seeing regarding academic assistance for our kids – it’s been pretty pathetic.  It makes me wonder how other people who are new to the country are dealing with the schools.  I speak Hebrew well and have consistently been able to advocate for my kids – for those who don’t speak Hebrew well (which is most new olim/immigrants) and aren’t able to supplement their children’s education at home (I’ll share about what I’ve been doing in another post), how are they handling this?

I wonder how much different this would be if we lived in the center of the country, where there are loads of Anglos, rather than in the periphery, where our kids are among the very first that these teachers and administrators have had to deal with.  I think it’s likely it’s hard for everyone everywhere, because making such a big move is really a big deal, with a lot of potential for trauma.

To sum up about the  issue of school responsiveness.  I don’t know if my experience is typical or not.  I would expect it would be, since our kids are emotionally healthy, they have a great attitude, and overall their adjustment has been good.   Our experience is probably better than many for those reasons.  But I wouldn’t say their school experiences have been an incredibly helpful or positive factor in their acclimatizing well.


Font size on blog

For a long time, I’ve been displeased with the font size on my blog – it was automatically set very small when I chose the WordPress theme. And when I’ve noticed others using the same WP theme, they also have very small fonts. I’d like to change the font to make it easier for people to read, but I haven’t found a way to change this so that it will stay that way for every post.

The only choice I have that I’m aware of now is to manually input the html code before every single paragraph that I write. As you can imagine, this is a little laborious and I don’t think I’ll realistically be able to make that extra effort every single time I post, but in any case, it’s hard for me to believe in the 21st century that this is necessary!

In my last post, I manually added in the code – you can see the difference in text size by looking at that and looking at this post. I realize that the font size shows up differently in different browsers, so I don’t know how most of you reading feel about this. So I’d like to get your feedback on this.

Please let me know – do you find the automated font size difficult to read? Or is it just right? Did you find the last post easier to read, or was it too large? If you’re a techie and know of a quick and easy way to reset the automated font to be bigger, please let me know!

In the absence of feedback, I’ll assume the current font is comfortable for most of you to read and continue with the automated smaller font size.


Musings on attending and giving parenting classes

On Tuesday night, I was ready to leave for a class on parenting, and said to my kids, “I’m leaving to my parenting class in a few minutes”.  Dd17 looked up and said, “Oh, nice.  Are you giving it in English or Hebrew?”   She hadn’t heard that I’m obligated to attend these for the program that ds9 will be participating in at school!

>>I wonder what you think of the parenting classes? Are they totally different than the way you successfully run the home? Can you give one instead to fill your obligation?<<

I’ve only attended one class so far, so I can’t really judge.  The teacher is very nice and everything she said was good.  I didn’t feel the topic was especially compelling to me, since she was talking most of the time about report cards and how to help our children not feel their value was totally determined by grade.  Personally, I don’t especially value report cards and my kids haven’t yet internalized the message that these are the end all and be all of who they are as people, so this isn’t much of an issue in our house.  But I think the reminder to reflect back to our children their good qualities is a good one and this is what I took home with me.  I really enjoy hearing lectures in Hebrew since I hear vocabulary that isn’t used in day to day conversations, so it helps me boost my language skills.

What I think defines how I approach parenting is two things: a) I’m very strongly a developmentalist versus a behaviorist, and try to understand where the root of an issue is coming from,  rather than get distracted by the misbehavior.  b)  I have a very strong focus on the importance of emotional connection as a critical factor in development.  I’ve read many, many parenting books over the years, but I’ve only seen these mirrored (and definitely expounded on) in what I’ve read/learned from Dr. Gordon Neufeld.  This is why I loved it when I found his book six years ago – I kept telling my husband, ‘he’s saying what I’ve been saying!’ – and have invested in his parent training dvds just because I wanted to have an expanded understanding of the principles he talks about.  He provided me with a deepened intellectual understanding of why what I was doing as a parent was effective, which took it from ‘this is what I do that works for me’ to ‘this is how anyone can be effective in different situations than mine’.

Afterward, the teacher told me she heard that I had ‘learned how to teach parenting’ and said she hoped that I wouldn’t be bored.  I told her what I’ll say here – just because you already know something, doesn’t mean it’s not helpful to hear it again from a different perspective.  If we did even a fraction of the things we knew we should do as parents, we’d all be amazing!

After the other parenting lecture I attended at the beginning of the week, a couple of mothers shared with me their discouragement about realizing how far they were from their ideals, and said they couldn’t imagine that was an issue for me.  As if any of us has perfect control of ourselves all the time!!  Of course I make mistakes (every single day!), I say things I shouldn’t, and more often, say the right things but in the wrong way.  I’ve also had the  same feelings sometimes, of falling short of where I want to be.  We parents are so busy that it’s hard to constantly pause and respond to our children the way we should.  So I appreciated that lecture as well, which talked about the importance of body language over the spoken content of what we say.

I was asked before leaving the US if I’d continue giving classes via telephone to women from my past classes, and said I’d seriously consider it.  I really thought within 8 weeks that I’d restart my teaching.  Then I got here, and I felt like I needed to put my emotional energy into being available for my kids, not talking about it!  I didn’t want to be telling others what to do when we might be facing parenting issues we would have to struggle to figure out, and it’s critical to me that I share from a position of personal integrity.  The lectures that are most meaningful and helpful to me are when I sense the teacher and their material are one, and that’s the person I want to be.  I’m not inspired by great speaking skills or presentation, when I sense that someone can say the right things but isn’t really living it.

(That reminds me of a lecture I attended years ago.  There was a large crowd of at least two hundred women, and afterward I went up to the very well-known speaker and chatted with her.   I was implementing a strategy on a daily basis that she recommended during her talk, so I wanted to share with her what I was doing – and that’s when she told me she read about the idea but that she didn’t do any of it herself.  Then she asked about where my kids were in school, and when I told her we homeschooled, she exclaimed, “I’d have gone crazy if I had to be around my kids all day  How can you stand it?!”   This isn’t an unfamiliar sentiment that I’ve heard expressed, but to hear it from someone who just inspired a large auditorium of women about personal development and advises many others on parenting made me feel that she was speaking about ideas that had only superficially impacted her as a person.)

I felt my kids might go through a difficult time and wanted them to have the privacy of their experiences without people expecting more of them because their mother is a parenting advisor.  And for myself, I did something that I thought would give me more emotional space to have my own transitional experience, and that was, I purposely masked my strengths as a parent and educator so that I wouldn’t feel pressure to be a role model for anyone.

A couple of women who came with their families to our home for Shabbos meals commented on some things they saw in our home and asked about how we got those results, and I answered something vague like, “We’ve been lucky, they’re good kids.”  When two local women asked me if I would give parenting classes (not knowing this is something I’ve done), I casually dismissed it and changed the topic.

All of this made sense to me at the time – I had so much emotionally to deal with when moving here, that I didn’t want to do it with me or my children under the spotlight of raised expectations.  As it is, I’ve found that almost none of the teachers or principals have a real understanding of how difficult it  is for immigrant children to make a huge lifestyle transition here that goes beyond just learning the language.

A couple of weeks ago, someone said she felt I would be a good person to facilitate the discussion group of a video shiur that will be starting next month.  Someone else overheard and strongly added her agreement.  A little light in my heart flared and I felt so happy inside at the idea of sharing in a wider forum again.  These last couple of weeks, I’ve been reflecting on all of this and I wonder if I made a mistake.  Or maybe it’s more accurate to say, maybe it’s time to reevaluate this approach.    What I did made a lot of sense, and I do think it created the space for everyone to have their process.  But at the same time, I cut myself off from something that is integral to my nature, that gives me inner light and happiness, while socially cutting myself off from being able to share an integral aspect of who I am with those I come into contact personally.

My realization this week is how deeply intrinsic to my emotional and spiritual makeup is the desire to empower and inspire others, to share meaningful and significant ideas that are of practical value.  And though there is sometimes the pressure of the expections from others (and worse, myself!), and there is the work of organizing material for presentation, overall it’s something that fills me up rather than depletes me.  I think that consciously avoiding letting anyone see this part of me, while it felt easier in the beginning, in the long run was in large part responsible for the feelings of discouragement and loneliness that I was feeling a couple of months ago.

It’s true that it was compounded by extreme tiredness of the first trimester,  transitioning to life in a new country, the cold weather, making a bar mitzva far away from family and friends in a community we haven’t yet made many significant relationships in – but I wasn’t giving my inner sense of mission and purpose expression in my day to day interactions, or even in my own heart.

What does this mean practically?  It really would take a lot of work for me to re-create all of my classes – I left behind all of my notes (part of the brutal decluttering process that got us here!), and when I did this, I relied on the fact I have recordings of my classes.  But honestly, I don’t have lots of extra time to sit around and take notes on myself!   So I’m not sure what I’ll do or when I’ll do it.  Maybe I’ll sit with this until after Pesach (Passover) and the longer days of warmth and light return!

However, I believe that clarity about what really is important to you is critical, and having this realization about myself gave me a boost that made me feel like myself again.  Now that my eyes are open and I’m being honest with myself about what I really love, I’ll be able to recognize opportunities for self-expression that I’ve been consciously closing the door on until now.