The Bubble Burst!

It had to happen eventually. People kept telling us that the first year is always very difficult. For seven weeks we had been sailing along with a few little bumps, but this week has been horrid and it’s only Tuesday!

Sunday was Yisrael’s first day of school. It was also the day we were tested for Ulpan, and it’s not happening here. Oh, and the icing on the cake was our first tourist attraction – Hezekiah’s Tunnel – to celebrate the first day of school.

On Monday Yisrael announced that there’s a boy in his class who is hurting him and the teacher isn’t doing anything about it. And I can’t communicate with his teacher due to the language barrier. He told me this after I returned from my hellish day of ulpan reconnaissance to Morasha and French Hill. And after my meeting with the Ma’aleh Adumim coordinator during which she voiced her concerns about Yisrael’s behavior in the ulpan camp and strongly suggested that I take him to be evaluated by a psychologist who uses animals to assist in providing therapy for children with emotional problems.

Yep, it was quite a day – and topped off this morning by the news about our lift and a very humiliating experience at the psychology department. After a very long walk to get there and going from building to building asking several non-English speakers for assistance in locating the animal therapist, I learned that there is a 3-page form that must be completed in Hebrew before they can give us an appointment and no one there was able to assist me. They will call me tomorrow if the woman who does understand English is there. I left in tears.

I also learned this morning that the #21 bus that comes from Mitzpe Nevo will not make stops along the way to pick up or drop off children who do not live IN Mitzpe Nevo. I confirmed this with the only English speaking woman in the school office after watching the bus whiz by our stop.

When I left the school I attempted to catch the 175 – and then the 174 – bus at the top of the stairs. The second driver stopped and yelled at me – he said that this is not an official stop for either of those buses and next time I better walk down the street to the one near the bus depot. What this translates to is that if Yisrael takes any of the buses that stop near our house in the morning, he’ll have to get off on the wrong side of the street and cross a large intersection. Then he’ll have to walk 5 to 7 minutes all the way back to the boys’ entrance (about a block and a half uphill with his backpack full of books).

Coming home after school would require him to walk to a bus stop further down (away from home) which wouldn’t make much sense in the rain since he’d be soaked by the time he got to the stop. I tried it this afternoon and there were around 90 kids pushing and shoving each other while waiting more than 30 minutes in the blazing hot sun for the next bus. Riding that bus would only save him 5 to7 minutes of his 15 minute walk home.

The worst thing is that we’ve learned that there are no boys in the 5 to 10 age range in our neighborhood who go to his school – they all go to Sde Chemed. The one family we had met moved to Mitzpe Nevo last week. So he has no other children to walk to school with, which means that while Michael enjoys his ulpan experience every day, I get to make the 15 minute steep walk to/from school (that’s 4 times!) in the blazing hot sun.

So all of you who warned me can now give yourselves a big pat on the back and say “I told you so”. But you know what? I have spent my life trouble-shooting problems and making things better for companies, organizations and communities and I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let these issues go unresolved. I don’t go for “it’s always been done this way” or “it has to be done this way because it provides… job security for some bureaucrat, excuses for stupidity, etc.” I am even more determined now to change things in a positive way before all you potential olim decide to finally move here. So check back often for updates to this page and I’ll share with your our success story!

September 4th update:

I didn’t send Yisrael to school today because he was upset and tired – and I didn’t feel up to the hike. Michael insisted that I couldn’t just sit here and do “nothing” while he went off to ulpan so I shot off a frustrated and angry e-mail to NBN and the Aliyah Coordinator reiterating what we had been promised in January and during the months before our Aliyah:

1) Yisrael would be attending a children’s ulpan most likely at the beginning of the school day. Fact: There is no children’s ulpan yet and no promise of one beginning in the near future. And when/if one does begin it will not be at his school because the non-religious children can’t go there. So if/when it starts we will be responsible for getting him to/from ulpan in addition to school. The one woman in the office who speaks English asked ME when the ulpan would begin!

2) That there would be a bus that Yisrael could ride to and from school. Fact: The bus is only for children in the Mitzpe Nevo neighborhood and will not stop along the way to pick him up. Shelley did not know this, the school did. He could ride a city bus, but it drops off a block and a half away from the entrance to the boy’s school and after school there were about 90 children waiting for more than half an hour to catch a bus. I was with him and we gave up and walked from there – about 30 minutes in the blazing hot sun. To walk door-to-door takes about 15 minutes, but there are NO children in our neighborhood in his age range (5 to 10) who attend Ma’aleh HaTorah – they all attend Sde Chemed which is not Torani. The one family we hoped he would walk with ended up moving to Mitzpe Nevo last week. So, with my asthma and arthritis, I am forced to walk him to and from school every day (4 trips) while Michael travels all the way to Morasha for ulpan.

3) We were told that Sheirut Leumi girls are assigned to olim children. Fact: Ma’aleh HaTorah says that the government has cut back on their allotment of these girls and they don’t have any yet. And when they do get some, they are assigned to children whose parents made these arrangements with the guidance counselor during their mid-August meetings! We did not have a meeting with the guidance counselor. Shelley told us it would be arranged mid-August, but it didn’t happen. I called the school on the 19th and was told the counselor wasn’t in yet (as in not working yet). I asked for a call back and didn’t get one. When I called back again I was told that everything would be explained to us during the new parent/child orientation the Wednesday before school starts. That orientation was only an hour long and included a tour of the building – the counselor was not there to meet with us… an English teacher spoke to us (i.e., the group of parents).

When I complained about this on Monday I was told to call the guidance counselor to make an appointment – but I needed to first call the school’s Aliyah coordinator (this was the first time I was told the school had one) because the counselor doesn’t speak much English. I called the coordinator’s home number and left a message. Then I called her cell and left a message. I left my CELL phone number on both voice mail services. Last night while I was in Jerusalem welcoming our friend’s daughter from the States to Darchei Binah, the coordinator left a message on my HOME phone telling me to call her “tomorrow night”.

I also attempted to leave messages for the guidance counselor on both of her numbers; her home number was busy EVERY time I called (for hours) and her cell phone wouldn’t let me leave a message – just an announcement in Hebrew and then disconnect.

When I complained again to the school, I was told to hire a tutor!

About an hour later I received a call from Yisrael’s teacher who doesn’t speak English. The one woman in the office who does speak English was nice enough to interpret for us. His teacher feels he should be IN school and that he should tell one of his English speaking classmates to tell the teacher when this bully is bothering him.

Imagine this… David hits Sam, Sam asks Michael to tell the teacher. Michael tells the teacher, David gets in trouble and then beats up both Sam AND Michael after school.

She didn’t get it, but agreed that we need to have a meeting with an interpreter.

After that, I received a call from the Ma’aleh Adumim Aliyah Coordinator indicating that the #21 bus drivers will be instructed to pick up any child and/or adult waiting at the stops along this route during it’s morning and afternoon runs. And that the children’s ulpan may be starting up as early as next Tuesday in a building around the corner and across the street from Yisrael’s school.

A few hours later I got a call from the school Aliyah Coordinator. She was defensive and angry at me for not sending Yisrael to school. She demanded that I send him tomorrow and insisted that he use another child to report things to the teacher. I then demanded that there be a meeting between her, the teacher, the guidance counselor and I to resolve not only the bully issue, but all the other broken promises. She backed down but was not happy. Stay tuned…

To cover all bases, I made an appointment to meet with the principal of Sde Chemed the Mamlachti Dati/Torani school (that is 5 minutes from our house and where all the other kids in our neighborhood go) tomorrow morning to take a more objective look at her program. Yisrael’s school is also a Mamlachti Dati/Torani school but with higher tuition from what the other parents are telling us.

For those of you wondering what these terms mean, here’s a definition from NBN:
Dati-Leumi: National Religious. (Similar to Modern Orthodoxy in North America and U.K.) There is a commitment, with varying levels of intensity to a Torah observant lifestyle. Judaic courses, taught from an Orthodox perspective are offered daily. Classes will stop being coed anywhere from 3 to 6th grade.

Dati Leumi Torani: Families for whom Torah learning and mitzvah observance play a critical role in their lives. Schools with have separate boys and girls classes from early on. The day will include more Torah studies than a traditional Dati Leumi school, and a longer day as well.

For some reason when we were here in January I had been given the impression that Sde Chemed was only a Dati-Leumi school (i.e. missing the Torani part). I did some more research this week talking to parents of children who attend there and reading the online resources. Here’s what the NBN website description tells us about each of them:

Sde Chemed: Religious type: Mamlachti Dati/Torani; Coed/Separate; 10% English speakers; Class size: 30; Special programs for olim: Ulpan is offered to new Olim. Notes: The students are separated by floors. There is a diverse population that attends this school. They have a floor that is devoted to music and art. They have a clear respect for the differences that exist amongst students. They have a program to develop excellence in Math, Gemorah and English. Have a very well developed English for English speakers program. There is a tutoring program through the community aliyah program that provides 3-4 months of Hebrew ulpan and general tutoring 2 times a week.

Ma’aleh HaTorah: Religious type: Mamlachti Dati/Torani; Coed/Separate; 10% English speakers; Class size: 20 – 25; Special programs for olim: assistance given by Bnot Sheirut, and Ulpan hours are available. Notes: This school has become very popular among the new Olim, and, as a result, their services for Olim are expanding. Through the communal aliyah program, students receive approx. 3-4 months of Hebrew ulpan and general tutoring within the school two times a week. There is a dress code. They have a very well developed English for English speakers program.

September 5th Update

We waited from 7:34 until 7:50 for the #21 bus – it didn’t come :'( And I don’t mean it passed us by, it just didn’t come! The 173 and 174 passed us, but no school bus. So Yisrael and I briskly walked to school arriving just in time for the 8:00 bell.

As soon as I arrived home from my uphill trek, I phoned the woman at City Hall who is responsible for the school buses. They aren’t open on Friday but I have her cell phone number. She assured me she’ll look into this problem on Sunday.

At 8:55 Michael and I arrived for our meeting with the principal at Sde Chemed. Shoshy seems like a very nice woman. She was concerned that we were making a decision to move Yisrael to her school after only 4 days in the other school. And wanted to know what we’ll do if he’s not happy in her school. I respected that and assured her that this is not just about his happiness, it’s about whether or not we as a family fit into that school – and about the unreasonable transportation problems.

Sde Chemed seemed more cheerful this morning than the memory I had of it from our 1/2 hour January visit. I asked Shoshy to review his current schedule of classes and she said that her curriculum is the same. The difference between the two schools is haskafa – her school is not Torani in the sense that the school demands a child’s home life to match up to all the religious rules they hold to in school (e.g., boys have to wear kippot and tzitzit in school but the school doesn’t demand that they do so at home).

So, for those of you reading this in Cleveland, what we’re dealing with here is the difference between a combination of Mos-Dos/Hebrew Academy (Ma’aleh HaTorah) and Fuchs Mizrachi (Sde Chemed).

We’re going to talk with Yisrael about his impression of how school was this week, and with other parents at shul tomorrow and make our decision after Shabbat. If we decide to switch schools, I have to go to the Education Ministry at City Hall on Sunday and submit my request. If they approve it, then they will contact the principals and make the arrangements. And then I have to go buy uniforms and possibly books if they are different from what we already bought. Stay tuned and Shabbat Shalom!

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