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Aliyah and Educating Sabra Children

The triplets (left to right): Esther, Aliza, Judi.

The triplets (left to right): Esther, Aliza, Judi.
Photo Credit: Varda Meyers Epstein

V: How do you feel about their education compared to the education you received in the States? What is good about the system here as compared to there and vice versa?

Aliza: I think it’s good on the whole; there are things I got in my education that are lacking here, and vice versa. In my education, for instance, we got a lot more of the fine arts, and in Israel they learn more about modern Israeli history. When I made Aliyah I found that I was sorely lacking basic knowledge in modern Israeli history

My husband was shocked to learn that I’d never heard of Alexander Zaid, or what Lehi was. And because we studied all the Limudei Kodesh by reading and translating to English, the kids in Israel cover much more material. I got a solid education in American history, but my kids have not learned about it all – perhaps in later grades—I try to fill in the gaps at home.

I find the kids’ textbooks here to be very lively and engaging. I really wish they would not call teachers by their first names.

Dealing With Situations

V: What is difficult for you in dealing with your children’s education and the educational system here and how have you dealt with the situation?

Aliza: I think being a working mother makes it very hard to be as plugged in as I would like to be. Also, I do not see many teachers who have been provided the tools or schools provided with the facilities to help kids with differences, who aren’t “mainstream.” For instance, teachers might need additional help learning how to deal with kids who have learning or physical disabilities.

That said the communication channels are numerous (email, SMS, etc.), and this helps me keep track of homework, projects, and school trips. It seems parents today are much more involved in school than in my day, almost to the point of micromanaging the teachers. For example, it was unheard of for my parents to question the teacher’s syllabus, choice of textbooks, or homework load.

V: What is difficult for your children in terms of school and the educational system and how do you and they deal with the difficulties?

Aliza: I don’t think my kids have any difficulties that are specific to the Israeli school system. We are persistent in solving any issues that come up.

The Future Ahead

V: How do you see your children’s educational and career futures?

Aliza: If the SATs are important in the U.S., then the equivalent in Israel is the Bagrut. I think that any “soft skills” or extracurricular activities added by your kid to his CV’s really does not carry much weight in Israel. It’s all about the bagrut. And what kids end up doing in the army. On the other hand, it is much easier in Israel to reinvent yourself if your career need to change track.

V: What would you tell prospective Olim with school age children that might help ease their absorption?

Aliza: Take a pilot trip here and visit different schools and communities to get a feel. Learn Hebrew before you get here. Don’t expect the school to have all the facilities, bells and whistles that you had in America—there just is not enough of a budget here. Join some online forums and ask questions. I always said that my parents made Aliyah at the hardest age, in their 50’s. It’s easier to make Aliyah as a young couple, or toward retirement. Don’t be afraid to make friends with Israelis.

About the Author: Blogger and mother of 12 Varda Meyers Epstein is a third-generation Pittsburgher who made aliyah at age 18 and never looked back. A proud settler who lives in the biblical Judean heartland, Varda serves as the communications writer for the nonprofit car donation program, Kars for Kids.


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