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September 4, 2015 / 20 Elul, 5775
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Aliyah at Sweet Sixteen

Dena was just on the cusp of turning 16 when her parents, both well-established professionals, made Aliyah from a major American metropolis.
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Photo Credit: Kobi Gideon / FLASH90

As an education writer for the nonprofit organization, Kars for Kids, and as someone who made Aliyah from Pittsburgh 34 years ago, I decided to write about the challenges of aliyah from western countries with school age children. See the first piece in this series, A Shoutout to Olim with Kids.

Dena was just on the cusp of turning 16 when her parents, both well-established professionals, made Aliyah from a major American metropolis. Had Aliyah not intervened, Dena would have entered 10th grade at the Jewish day school in her city, with classmates she’d known all her life. One year later, Dena’s mother Rachel clued me in on the biggest obstacles to Dena’s absorption and education, how they’d tried to solve them, and where they were today.

V: So what’s the biggest obstacle you’ve encountered?

Rachel: Ah, that’s an easy one to answer because we’re in the thick of it right now: how to manage a “major” in high school with limited Hebrew fluency. We are looking at all possibilities toward a solution: independent study (not as simple as it sounds, apparently); private tutoring; learning the subject simultaneously in two languages; hoping and praying for Misrad HaChinuch to offer the test in English (but no one seems to be able to tell us if they will or won’t).

V: Okay, let’s flesh this out. What’s the major in question?

Rachel: At the moment, the best option for a major offered by the school is biology since there is so much material available in English out there. However, this is a difficult major that is proving hard for Dena partly because of language issues and partly because of her difficulty with the higher levels of thinking required by the way they test this subject here.

The school is suggesting she do a literature major but this seems to me to be even more difficult given the language issues. I’m just starting to hear about the possibility of doing an English Lit major but this will require, I believe, finding a teacher mentor that can guide her with this, someone proficient in English and in English literature.

V: How did you find tutors? Did the school offer them?

Rachel: We have largely found our own tutors via city-wide listservs or word of mouth. The school gave her some tutoring time last year (our first year) but the offerings were much more limited this year partially due to lack of English-speaking teachers who could help her. The teachers who helped her last year have left the school.

V: What about funding the tutors? Is this all out of pocket? Is this something that only someone with means could manage?

Rachel: Yes, all out of pocket. We were warned about this kind of expense and yes, it needs to be budgeted in by new olim.

V: It must be exorbitant! Sheesh.

Rachel: Well, thank goodness she is in a public high school and tuition payments are tiny.

V: It seems to me that this is the kind of thing that’s so unfair. Because if you come from a poor family, you have no way to succeed.

Rachel: NBN talks a lot about this issue and warns people. Previous olim also told us to be prepared. At any age, this is a major cost in making Aliyah.

V: How much are you paying out? Roughly?

Rachel: We are paying over 500 NIS a week some weeks. Just for tutors.

V: Oh MAN!

Rachel: . . .and with the addition of a bio teacher, it’s just gonna go up. But on the other hand, she did super well on her bagruyot last year so in my mind it was worth it and it’s still cheaper than tuition for day school in the States.

V: Good point about day school tuition. What were her scores last year?

Rachel: All above 90.

V: Wowee. She goes, Girl.

Rachel: Yep, we are super proud of her…lowest score was a 92 or something like that.

V: Amazing.

Rachel: Yep, I thought so.

V: What about socially? Has she managed with the language thing? Has she made friends?

Rachel: She has definitely made friends – doing much better socially than last year. We were at a city-wide fair last week and a bunch of girls stopped her to say hello. Just now at the [election] polls, another friend who was working the polls also stopped her to say hi. She participates in some youth group activities.

V: Cool. I’m so proud of her—proud of YOU.

Rachel: She uses a mixture of Hebrew and English to communicate with them and it seems to work—mostly Hebrew, with some English thrown in for those who understand it.

V: With the Internet, I think most Israeli children have been forced to learn some English.

Rachel: Some of the kids in her class are fluent English speakers either from home or have learned on their own. Most of her friends are those taking 5 units [highest level of study] of English.

Anyway, this issue of a major is proving to be a difficult one to solve, but it’s just reared its ugly head and we are just now trying to get a handle on it

V: Rachel, thanks so much for telling us about Dena’s progress. With your permission, I’d like to check back with you and see how she’s doing. I’ll keep my readers posted on her progress.

Rachel: Sure. Thanks for listening. I guess we just have to keep on keeping on, as they say.

Feel free to write me: Varda at kars4kids dot org and I will share your stories here in this space, anonymous or attributed as you prefer.

 

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 Kars4Kids, a Guidestar silver medal charity.

The author's opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Jewish Press.

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