Decide whether to make the journey
It is sometimes difficult for a spouse or partner to decide whether or not to come to Israel with a newly admitted HUC-JIR student. The following sections are designed to give both the student and spouse an accurate picture of the pros and cons, as well as realistic expectations for the year. Spouses/partners of students in the past Year-In-Israel programs, by and large, prepared the words of advice that follow.
Define your goals
Before you leave for Israel or soon after your arrival, define and write down your goals for the year! As an HUC-JIR student, your spouse/partner has an explicit and pre-determined purpose for going to Israel. The student will usually be considerably busier than the spouse/partner. Without a clearly defined goal - be it learning Hebrew, touring Israel, earning money, or reading great novels - at the end of your own "Year-In Israel" you may feel as if you did not fulfill yourself or achieve very much. This may be the time to develop new interests in art, calligraphy or sports by taking advantage of the numerous courses offered throughout the city. Consider taking courses from a wide range of classes in English at The Hebrew University, Pardes or the Conservative Yeshiva.
Find learning and growth opportunities
Some ideas to get you started:
Volunteering is a way to enhance your time in Israel. There are numerous volunteer agencies and organizations who can use your expertise. Take a few weeks during the summer to check out local organizations and see if you can take on a specific project which will give you satisfaction. Be in touch with Nancy Lewitt, Head of Student Life for help.
- Work your personal/professional networks to find volunteering or learning opportunities. You never know if someone in your field from the U.S. has a contact in Israel!
- Renewing your subscriptions to professional and personal interest magazines will help you stay in touch while in Israel.
- Attend events of NGOs in Israel that run programs for visitors: Stand With Us, Encounter, Rabbis for Human Rights, Ir Amim, Truah and others.
- If you play an instrument, paint, sew, etc., be sure to bring your equipment with you.
- Best sellers and newly published books are expensive in Israel; you may want to stock up before you come.
Many spouses/partners advise learning some Hebrew before coming to Israel and then continuing in an ulpan when you arrive. Spouses/partners of current students also recommend registering for an evening or daytime Ulpan here in Jerusalem which will help you to feel part of society more quickly. There are numerous options for studying Hebrew in Jerusalem that can be explored upon arrival. Below are a few of the ulpans that SOs have attended in previous years.
If you want to improve your Hebrew while still abroad, Ulpan-Or offers distance learning as well as other options, www.ulpanor.com
. In Israel they offer a private or semi-private 2-week ulpan with touring options. They are somewhat costly (see website) but come highly recommended. email@example.com
The Hebrew University offers ulpan classes from levels "aleph" to "vav," and regular university classes in English and Hebrew during the academic year. Those who wish to attend full-time for credit will have to pay full tuition through the School for Overseas Students of the Hebrew University. In this case, you must contact the American Friends of the Hebrew University (11 East 69th Street, New York, NY 10036; telephone: (212) 472-9800) for an application and information about scholarships.
Located on our HUC campus, classes are offered Monday to Thursday from 9am-12pm with an optional conversational course once a week or twice a week following the morning class. Twice-weekly evening courses are also offered. The school does operate on a 12 week semester schedule but as long as a class is not overflowing you can join in the middle of the semester. The website Milah.org will provide you with the most up-to-date information regarding prices. Contact info: phone: 02-6233164, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
. They are very responsive if you call or email.
Located at 18 Shlomtziyon Hamalka St. close to the college. They offer morning and evening classes on a semester basis. See their website for details and contact info www.ulpanmorasha.com
The Conservative Yeshiva offers a summer ulpan Sunday to Thursday from 9am-12:30. The available levels are dependent on registration numbers. There are usually two summer sessions, the first of which starts in the beginning of July and the second which begins at the end of July/beginning of August. In previous years the Yeshiva has offered a 50% discount to SOs of HUC-JIR students. The Yeshiva is located on the Corner of Keren HaYesod and Agron. Prices and other information available on their website, www.conservativeyeshiva.org
, They can be reached by phone, (02) 622 – 3116, or email, email@example.com
Many spouses have attended classes full and part-time at the Pardes Institute, a short bus ride from the College. Courses are offered in Talmud, Torah, History, Jewish Thought, Theology and much more. Classes are often conducted in Hevruta style. For more information about the program you can visit their website at www.pardes.org.il
. In previous years Pardes offered a 50% tuition discount for SOs of HUC-JIR students who attended the full time program.
A 10-minute walk from HUC-JIR, the Conservative Yeshiva offers courses in Halacha, Jewish Thought, Rabbinic Literature, Bible, Liturgy and Social issues. Courses can be taken individually or one can take part in the entire program. Most classes are split between hevruta study and lecture. They also offer a Ulpan during the day twice a week. The Yeshiva has offered a 50% discount on tuition to SOs of HUC-JIR students. More information is available on their website, www.conservativeyeshiva.org
, They can be reached by phone, (02) 622 – 3116, or email, firstname.lastname@example.org
Search for employment
Many spouses and partners (SOs) hope to be able to find work but, in fact, it may be challenging to find a job in your field. Some do, others don't find what they are looking for; therefore, you must budget accordingly. Some take advantage of this free time, and use it for learning, exploring and volunteer opportunities. Others who choose to pursue finding a job, may find that they are restricted unless their Hebrew is very good. It's very individual. If you have relatives or contacts in Israel who can circulate your resume or arrange for an internship, by all means ask them to do so. Also bring resumes with you. Some SOs find babysitting or tutoring English positions, where work permits are not needed (see below)
If you have a job before you arrive or arrange one after you arrive, where a work permit is needed, you can arrange this within a few weeks after your arrival. You will need a letter from your prospective employer stating that you are needed for a specific position. In order to obtain a work permit in Israel, you will need an original letter from your rabbi stating that you are Jewish and an original letter from your local police department stating you have no criminal record. Bring multiple copies of each, as you will need them for both the Jewish Agency and Ministry of the Interior. Do not state that you will only be in Israel for one year in these letters, because in order to obtain a work permit, you must be “considering aliyah.” Once in Israel, take the letter from your rabbi, the letter from the police department, and the letter from your employer, along with your passport to the Jewish Agency (located on Keren haYesod) in order to obtain another letter from them. Then take all of these, along with a passport photo (Israeli sized) to the Ministry of the Interior where you will receive your visa. You will need to make an appointment at both the Jewish Agency and Ministry of the Interior offices.
Finding a job will depend upon your own initiative and inventiveness. Be prepared to "hit the pavement." The best possibilities are as a private English tutor ($15/hour or more), as an English teacher in an adult education class ($15/hour or more but only if you have the qualifications), or in child care ($10/hour). These jobs are usually advertised by posted signs in buildings, at bus stops, and in the newspaper. Spouses/partners with experience in working with young children can find opportunities to work in English language play, music and story groups in and around Jerusalem.
Depending on if you volunteer somewhere regularly for the year and if that agency or organization is a Masa-affiliated group, you may be able to receive Masa money in exchange for volunteering. You should speak to both Masa and the agency where you volunteer to work out the details. In the past spouses have conducted workshops and story hours at the Israel Museum, have led aerobic, yoga and Feldenkrais classes, have clerked for a Supreme Court Justice, found jobs with Birthright, the JNF and Otzma, worked as a kindergarten teacher at a Reform synagogue. Other SO's have turned to the HUC-JIR community by offering help for payment (eg. voice training) or using their skills (eg. jewelry making) to make money.
Use your contacts in the Jewish world to see if there are short or long term job opportunities for you. Previous students have found employment in telemarketing and research with a Jerusalem company called IDT Global Services email@example.com
You may also consider a professional internship through the Tnuat Aliya - “Stagerim” program. Interns work in their professions and receive a monthly stipend. The stipend is not large but you can gain valuable experience in your field. For more information on this program, check out the website: http://www.destinationisrael.com/works_internships.asp
HUC-JIR offers some part-time jobs (usually $5.00/hour) in the library. Please apply after your arrival in Jerusalem to the Head Librarian. In addition, there may be a position open as a nursery school or kindergarten teacher (Hebrew required) or assistant in the Reform Movement Kindergarten on the HUC-JIR campus.
Get health insurance
Private health insurance is available in Israel for families through the private company which offers the health plan to the HUC students. Policies generally cover full hospitalization up to $50,000, office visits to private, approved physicians; x-ray and laboratory tests; medications (up to $200) and personal accident insurance. Policies do not cover pre-existing conditions or any complications which may arise as a result of a pre-existing condition. Payment is between $1.50 and $3.00 a day, based on age (up to 65) and type of policy. You can purchase insurance policies through the health plan representative on campus. You can also contact the representative directly:
Integrate with the HUC-JIR community
Many spouses/partners stressed that it was very important to share the year with the HUC-JIR student and to try to participate in as many school-sponsored activities as possible. They also note that this is a difficult time for all relationships and that communication and compassion are needed even more than usual. Your spouse/partner will be studying most of the time and you may find it difficult to be without your peer group. Ways to get involved:
- Listserve: A google-group set up by HUC-JIR, make sure you are added to stay in the loop
- Facebook Group
- Orientation: Some components of the summer orientation are for students only and some sessions, tiyulim and dinners SOs are welcome to attend. Students will receive an Orientation schedule in their Registration packet with all of the information.
- Study Seminars and Tiyulim: Spouses/partners are welcome to join HUC-JIR students on some overnight Study Seminars and Tiyulim, provided there is enough space on the bus. Accommodations are usually three or four to a room, but if there are extra rooms they will be offered to couples for an additional fee. Spouses/partners will be asked to pay approximately $130 for each overnight trip. The College reserves the right to set an age minimum for some Study Seminars and Tiyulim, and to disallow the participation of small children.
- Self-organized gatherings: Through their own initiative, spouses/partners have often formed a support network, organizing outings together, speakers and just getting together on a regular basis. In the past, spouses/partners said they found their "niche" within a month of arrival.
Plan for children
Some overall advice from one parent to another:
- Know your goals for the year, and keep them manageable. This can be as simple as “I want my child to become fluent in Hebrew,” (far easier for them than it is for us), or “I don’t want him/her traumatized by the experience.” Or, you may have specific academic goals for your child for the year (learning to read, mathematical skills, etc.). First figure out your family’s priorities for the year. This helps you filter your options when it comes time to choose a school, a place to live, and the millions of other choices you will make as you pick up your family and move them to Israel.
- Know that the transition may be difficult and be prepared to advocate for your children with teachers and counselors. Plan to go to teacher conferences with someone who is fluent in Hebrew if you are not—not all teachers know English!
- Take advantage of exploring Israel. The experience of traveling often provides children’s favorite memories of the year in Israel—and it is really the best part of your child’s Israel “education.” Don’t be afraid to take your child out of school for a day (like Fridays—when they are in school and you are not), rent a car, and get out of Jerusalem for the weekend. There are many places to visit—Tel Aviv, Haifa, Ein Gedi nature preserve, Eilat. If the mood strikes, Just Do It!
- Hebrew, Hebrew, Hebrew. The more Hebrew you can give your child before coming to Israel, the easier it is for them. Consider hiring a native Israeli (such as a Hebrew School or Day School teacher in your area) to tutor your child before you come. Even if your children just learn the Aleph-Bet and a few phrases, it will help them have the “sound” of the Israeli accent in their ears. Once you get to Israel and are settled in, ask the principal of the local school for names of people who can tutor your child over the summer ($10-$15 per hour). Between tutoring and summer camp (see below), children can pick up enough Hebrew to make that ever-important first day of school less traumatic.
- Humor! So much will happen this year that you can’t possibly imagine—whether it’s the 3 hours you spend on your first trip to the grocery store (it takes a long time to translate all those silly little necessities like laundry detergent!) or the down-to-the-last-minute teacher contract negotiations that threaten strike every year. If you haven’t learned how to roll with the punches, your year in Israel will teach you. Laugh at yourself, keep it all in perspective, and your children will learn to be flexible too.
- Fill your children's’ days with activities as soon as possible after you arrive. Send them to day camp when you first arrive. Do not wait to immerse them into Israeli culture until the official start of the school year. Go to every birthday party they are invited to (it will likely be many!) and parents’ night. Meet the parents, invite their families over for Shabbat or weekday dinners and play dates. You have an unique opportunity to get out of the HUC-JIR bubble, practice your Hebrew with patient Israelis, and be involved in what your kids are doing, so take it.
- Note: The US State Department advises that many governments have initiated procedures at entry/exit points to prevent international child abduction. These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission for the child’s travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian not present. Therefore, whenever traveling abroad with children, it is advisable to have such documentation on hand, even if not required.
Things to bring for your kids
- Toys, storybooks, art supplies—“favorites”—even if it means paying for extra baggage (remember that you can ship books easily—you may want to buy a bunch of cheap paperbacks at your local library thrift shop or used book store and send them ahead).
- Immunization and Health records (no reason to immunize your child again automatically at the start of the school year). Have your doctor make a copy of your child’s health history and bring it with you. It really simplifies doctor visits.
- Comfortable, durable clothes (kids get really dirty at camp and school, and Israel is tough on laundry). Kids will live in shorts and lightweight tops the first few months they’re here. Tevas or other Velcro-type sandals are ubiquitous. In the winter months, layers are the key, including outerwear. Remember that you walk everywhere (novel and not always popular with American suburban children) and during the winter it gets cold and rainy. Don’t forget those hats, scarves, gloves, and waterproof boots! If you are from a place that is used to snow, get used to your kids’ teachers sending notes home to dress them in more layers. 60 degrees is coat and pants weather here, and teachers will enforce it!
- Israeli diapers are available at the same price as US diapers and are just as good.
- Sturdy knapsack for schoolbooks. Kids carry a lot of books and supplies (classrooms are often small and crowded, with little storage space) back and forth. You may want to wait, however, and buy the backpacks in Israel ($30-$50 is typical), if your child would be happier with an “authentic."
- Israeli-style backpack. Note: If you like to pack your child’s food in an insulated lunch bag, bring one with you. They are difficult to find in Israel, although the ice packs are not.
- Medicines, both prescription and over-the-counter. Bring as much as you can with you, including children’s pain reliever (expensive) and cold medication (antihistamines are not available without a prescription). When classmates travel back to the states during the year, you can have them bring you additional supplies if necessary. Also, you may find it helpful to bring a Fahrenheit thermometer.
As in North America, the good schools are over subscribed, so be in touch with a number of them as soon as you know that you are bringing school aged children to Israel. See list below. Although you may feel that you want to wait and investigate schools thoroughly upon arrival, you are taking a chance that the class will be full. School is still in session until the end of June, but closed for most of July until mid-August, so if you want to see the classes and teachers in action you must come early enough. And don’t hesitate to ask the HUC-JIR Office of Student Services and previous years’ students for their advice.
There are a variety of school choices available in Jerusalem, and most parents recommend the “Israeli education experience” as the best method of absorption and adjustment. Some key criteria for evaluating the school choices available are: class size (40 students—yes, 40—is a typical class size), how much tutoring is available during the school week for non-Israelis, whether the classroom teacher can and is willing to speak English, and the number of other English-speaking children in the school (“any port in a storm”—it helps to have a few friendly faces you can hang with during recess. Talk to the principals.
Schools fall into two categories – city wide and neighborhood. Should you choose a school that is open to children from all neighborhoods, it won't make a difference where you choose an apartment. If you choose a neighborhood school—apartments are plentiful so don’t worry about being able to find a good apartment wherever you choose to live.
School districting can be a little complicated in Jerusalem. There is no escape from the circular situation that you need a residential address in order to register for a neighborhood school, but you don't want to commit to an apartment until you know that there is a place in the school. Once you have an apartment selected, you must go to the Municipal Office of Education to register your child. It is located at the City Municipality Building, Safra Square on Jaffa Road (tel.: (02) 6296770/7286/6771). You must bring a passport and a contract showing residency. Your child will be assigned to the school closest to your apartment that still has room to accept pupils in that grade. Be sure to verify that the school you want has room for your child before you sign a lease. It may take a couple of visits to the Office of Education (and your best impersonation of good old Israeli assertiveness) to get this all sorted out, but it is worth the effort. Note: schools are being closed or redistricted each year—be sure to confirm from the source that the school you are looking at will still be available to you the following year.
Israeli public schools are “free,” but all students pay school fees (from $200 to $400 for the year—higher if your child attends a Tali school) and a registration fee ($250—but sometimes the City forgets to collect this). Student-families buy their own textbooks and school supplies (approx. $100 for a year, depending on the school and what supplies you choose to buy).
Israeli schools operate on a 5 or 6-day week, Sunday through Thursday/Friday. Ask about this when checking out schools. Hours can vary by day of the week (Friday dismissal is earlier, around noon). The elementary school day (K-2) is usually over at 1:00 pm, and grades 3-6 may study until 1:00 or 2:00 pm. Each school and/or neighborhood community center usually offers a variety of after-school activities (“chugim”) or “latchkey” childcare programs, which generally run until 3:30 or 4:00. Since HUC-JIR classes can run until 6 pm, a spouse or babysitter will often need to be the pickup person. When researching schools, be sure to ask about availability of after-school programs. Registration for these activities generally takes place at the beginning of the school year (a chaotic system that everyone, nevertheless, survives). “Full-time” after-school care (5 days a week, Sunday-Thursday) is less expensive than its American counterpart, often including a “hot meal” for lunch.
There is a city-wide Ulpan for grade-school aged children in Baka, a neighborhood of Jerusalem. Please contact your school when you enroll and be clear, if it is something that you might be interested in, that you are interested in investigating. At this point, children need to be recommended to the Ulpan by the school. You don’t have to send your children after you gather the information, but it’s harder to be involved if you aren’t recommended in the first place, and getting information in Israel isn’t a commitment.
Some notes from parents about curriculum:
- Israeli math studies are more advanced than in America, so your child may need tutoring in upper grades to catch up.
- Israeli public schools teach Hebrew, English, Tanach, and holidays, but prayer and other religious practices stressed in American Jewish day schools are not parts of public (non-Tali) school life.
- If your child is just learning to read, expect the introduction of a second language to delay his or her reading in English. It may take a few months once you return to the States to catch up.
- Bring materials from your child’s current school (or future school in New York, Los Angeles, or Cincinnati, if you know it) to work on at home during the course of the year. Don’t feel you need to push too much academically, but this extra step will help you help your child stay on grade level for the re-entry back in America.
Under 2 years of age
For children under two years of age, the best option available is to find a metapelet (babysitter) or a mishpachton (a crêche for up to five children). A metapelet charges about NIS NIS4500 per month depending upon her age and experience, whether she takes care of your child alone or with other children, and whether she works at your house or her own. (You may be expected to pay a supplement to cover her transport costs). A mishpachton costs NIS1500-2000 per month.
Alternatively, the YMCA Peace Preschool at the Jerusalem International YMCA is highly highly recommended. It is right next to HUC-JIR and the cost is closer to $600/month (for a full day) and they accept children around 1 year of age. Contact Alexandra at firstname.lastname@example.org
. Spaces are filled very quickly so contact them EARLY to get on the wait-list. It is worth being on the wait-list, they move through it.
For children 2-4 years of age, there are excellent ganim (preschool programs) throughout the city that cost approximately $550 per month (for a full day). The best way to find a gan is to look for one in the neighborhood where you would like to rent an apartment.
A Gan for young children that comes highly recommended from past students is Gan Shelanu. All information about it can be found at www.wix.com/ganshelanu/whoweare
. They also have a page on Facebook. It is for kids who will be 1.5-2.5 years old in September. Places are limited, they accept only 15 kids and have 3 staff there at a time.
For children ages 4 +5, we highly recommend Ganei Haim, a nursery kindergarten right on the HUC-JIR campus. If you are intersted, contact the HUC-JIR Office of Student Affairs.
The Tali School System
There are special schools within the Israeli public school system called “Tali.” These elementary schools (grades 1-6) differ from the secular schools in that non-Orthodox tefillah and religion are a part of their curriculum. There are two Tali schools in Jerusalem that may be options for HUC-JIR parents:
Tali Kiriat Yovel
This school is located in the Kiriat Yovel neighborhood (not in the vicinity of HUC-JIR). Unlike other local schools, you do not have to live in the neighborhood to send your child to this school and there is transportation available (but it will cost approximately $60 a month per child). The Israeli Progressive (Reform) Movement has worked in conjunction with the Ministry of Education to develop part of the curriculum for the school. Many members of the HUC-JIR “family” and the local Reform community send their children here. Consequently, there is great demand for places in the school and priority is reserved for Jerusalem citizens; there is no guarantee that you will be able to secure a slot for your child at Tali Kiriat Yovel. As soon as possible, contact the principal at the school and the municipality in order to reserve a place. You will need to send complete details, such as age, birthdate, and grade that your child will be entering. Copy the HUC-JIR Office of Student Affairs on your correspondence with the school.
Tali Kiriat Yovel
The original Tali elementary school in Israel, developed by the Masorti (Conservative) movement, is also located at some distance from HUC-JIR, in a neighborhood called French Hill (Givat HaSarfatit). French Hill is about a 20-30 minute commute by bus to HUC-JIR. Unlike Tali Bayit V’Gan, you must live in the French Hill area to send your child here. The pluses of living in French Hill are that it is a family-friendly, liberal neighborhood—lots of English-speaking families, both Olim and people here for just a year or two—and the school is accustomed to dealing with Americans. The minus is that you may be one of the only HUC-JIR students not living right around the corner from HUC-JIR. This will mean a daily commute and some creative travel on Shabbat (taxis, or bunking with classmates, since the buses don’t run on Shabbat) when you want to be on campus.
If you can’t secure a space in Tali Bayit V’Gan, but want the Tali experience for your child, Frankel may be an option for you. To see if there is room for your child, contact the principal as soon as possible:
Batia Bar, Principal
fax 011-972-2-581-5784; phone 011-972-2-581-7070
American International School
This is a secular private school that runs from 8:00 – 3:00, Monday – Thursday and until 1:00 on Fridays. It is costly - but the classes are very small and are taught in English. The children are from all religious and ethnic backgrounds although mainly diplomat and journalists children. Contact Susan Guggenheim at 011-972-2-679-9611.
Junior and High Schools
Although non-Israeli primary school children are mainstreamed directly into the school system, older children benefit from intensive Hebrew studies before beginning to study in an Israeli framework.
The high school immigrant ulpan is a free ulpan/school for children ages 11-18, held six days a week, 8:15 – 1:30. For five months (beginning in September), your child will be taught Hebrew, Hebrew vocabulary for general school subjects, and quick introductions to Israeli school subjects such as Bible, Jewish History, etc. At the end of the five months, your child will be integrated into your neighborhood school at his or her grade level. Contact the principal, Yael by phone at 011-972-2-673-1293.
Another option for high school age students is to join the EIE (Eisendrath International Exchange) High School Program in Israel, sponsored by the UAHC. For information, contact Chana Hirshberg at the UAHC office in New York (212-650-4073, email@example.com
A new website geared to English speaking teens who are moving to Israel is now on-line. The site, “Teen-to-Teen,” offers articles, advice, and a chance to “talk” to other English speaking teens who have moved to Israel. Visit the site at "http://www.ttt.org.il
Children with disabilities may need special attention that is not offered in the Israeli school system. Unless your child is in a special-needs program, there will probably not be a special class or special tutoring available. For further information, write to or call the following organizations:
Information, Guidance and Counselling Center for Parents
This is an umbrella organization that helps parents with children with special needs connect with the right organization to help them. Tania is the contact for English speakers telephone 1-800-30-18-30 e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
NITZAN, for the Advancement of Children with Learning and Developmental Disabilities
14 Allenby Street, Tel Aviv
HILLEL, Parents of Children with Mild Learning Disabilities
PO Box 23131, Jerusalem Telephone: 02-586-5247 or 566-8588
National Association for the Rehabilitation of the Mentally Handicapped in Israel
19 Yad Harutzim, Jerusalem
Summer Programs and Activities
In addition to the below recommendations, there are also summer programs offered in almost every neighborhood school or community center, which can be an excellent way for your child to meet other children nearby. Although it is possible to register your child upon arrival, some camps fill up quickly, so you would want to contact them before you arrive. Summer HUC-JIR classes run until around 1:00 pm, but there are regular afternoon activities, so keep this in mind when considering extended day for your child.
Some recommended camps are:
Gan Haim Day Camp-Affiliated with the Reform Movement
Located on the HUC-JIR campus
Pre-K and Kindergarten
Telephone: (02) 620-3349
YMCA (across from HUC-JIR)
Telephone: (02) 569-2692
Ramah (Conservative Movement)
Past students highly recommend the below specialized summer camps:
For general information about things to do with your children in Jerusalem:
Make sure that your child has all required immunizations before departing for Israel, including a current tetanus shot. Many pediatricians also recommend a Hepatitis shot for both you and your child (about $50, not usually covered by health insurance). The schedule of immunizations is different in Israel, so determine in advance which immunizations your child will need. Also discuss with your pediatrician the matter of polio vaccinations, as well as any special needs your child may have.
Due to environmental differences, expect that your child (and you!) may easily catch colds or stomach ailments after you arrive. This is normal. Drinking lots of water will help.
Insurance for children is available from the same private health provider who works with HUC-JIR students. Premiums are approximately $1.50 a day per child. Check with the agent before you arrive to discuss special concerns such as pre-existing conditions and prescription drug coverage. Some families choose to continue their coverage from the US for their stay in Israel.
In general, doctors at the Wolfson Family Medical Center (where many HUC-JIR students and families go) are friendly, English-speaking, and easy to work with.
For more information on health insurance, see the “Health and Insurance” section.
Advice from past partners, spouses, and families
- Don’t underestimate the culture shock and stress put on spouses and children. Adjust your expectations accordingly!! For students, no matter how busy you are in school, remember to give your partner lots of hugs and kisses and say ‘thank you’ for pulling up your roots and joining me on this adventure. You will be spending many nights and days away from each other, so find time and guard it religiously.
- There are many parks, museums, a zoo, and inexpensive attractions in Jerusalem for children. Take advantage of them and explore this family-friendly city.
- Buy clothes and shoes a little big—children grow during the year, and some things can be hard to shop for!
- Your classmates and their spouses will offer to babysit. Take them up on it! Seriously—they will enjoy your children, your children will enjoy your classmates, and you need a break once in a while! Often, you can bargain a home-cooked meal for a night out together.
- During the early part of the summer and/or school year, your child may come home exhausted, elated, depressed, cranky, or a combination of all of these. Do not panic! Remember that they are also homesick and experiencing culture shock. Let them know that you are experiencing the same things. Children will adapt, so emphasize the positive—they will be fluent in Hebrew, they will be ahead of their US classmates in math, time goes quickly, and Israel is a great adventure.
- Take advantage of public libraries. Beit Ha’Am has a good English Children’s Library. Your child’s school may also have an English-language library where you can borrow books.
- During the summer, there is a big book fair at the City Center, where local bookstores sell books at a discount. This is an excellent opportunity to buy your child some Hebrew-language books. Consider buying some of their old favorites, such as Green Eggs and Ham or Goodnight Moon, in Hebrew, and then read them together! You both will practice your Hebrew!
- Forward children’s magazine subscriptions, or have a relative collect back copies to mail to you.
- Plan to buy school notebooks and supplies in Israel—they differ from American supplies. You will get a list of what to buy once your child is enrolled in school. Keep in touch with your child’s teacher regularly about other periodical supplies you may need to provide. Many tekesim (services/celebrations) are “catered” by the kids with supplies brought from home.
- Getting to know other families with children in Israel (outside the HUC-JIR student body) will make an okay year into a wonderful year. It can be hard to meet people at first, but building that parent network makes everybody’s year a smoother and more rewarding experience. Get involved in school and day care and places like Kehillat Kol Haneshema and activities like Tsofim (Scouts) as early as possible - it’s the best way to make friends.
- When looking for an apartment, check out “family” neighborhoods so there will be other families with children in the building or on the block. Again, remember that housing is plentiful in Jerusalem, so if you need to wait until you are here to find a school for your child, don’t worry that you won’t find a good apartment. You can live comfortably in a temporary apartment or bed-and-breakfast, and then find an apartment in the neighborhood that is best for you in terms of schools and family life. Some families plan to bring the children over later in the summer, allowing them to find housing and schools before settling in the children.
- Be aware that not all buildings have elevators for strollers and other large kid-related equipment. Ask when you rent!
- Israel is a very child-tolerant country. There are really no restaurants that are too formal for children (nothing in Israel is very formal), and they are happy to accommodate special requests for picky eaters. The same person who will jostle past you to get on the bus will help schlep your baby carriage up the steps. Israel cherishes its children, and you’d be surprised at what a difference it makes in how you experience your time in Israel as a family. These same people will pull over on the side of the road to admonish you to put a hat on the baby or tell you what to order for your children at restaurants. Just be kind and assertive and don’t stress out over it.
- If you’re not used to city-living without a car, keep in mind car seats can be an issue in taxis. You may want to consider bringing a compact or convertible car seat of some kind. Also, without a car, it may be helpful to live close to campus. It makes it easy to bring your children with you, whatever the weather. And when you have to stay late for class or to study, it’s easy for your SO to pick up your child from the gan on campus. On the downside, HUC is NOT located in a particularly family friendly residential neighborhood. There is one park, not too far away, however.
- For pre-school age children the gan at HUC-JIR/Beit Shmuel is terrific. They were flexible with our payments, having them on campus is a wonderful treat throughout the day, and your children will leave fluent. There is one teacher in each level that speaks English, and Udi is a big help.
- Israeli schoolchildren are far more independent than their American counterparts. From about grade 2 and on, children keep their own “yoman” (diary) with daily assignments and messages to parents. Expect the supervision of children to be quite different too—your child may be unsupervised in the classroom before the bells ring, or after the children are released from school. Be prepared for things to feel very different—from the size of the classes, to the physical equipment at the schools, to the quality of education and childcare that you will be offered. On the positive side, your child will come back from the Israel year with improved organizational skills and confidence.
- Consider fulfilling your community service requirement by volunteering at your child’s school! This helps you know your child’s teacher, know what her day is like at school, and practice all the really important Hebrew that you won’t learn in Ulpan—jump rope songs, Pokeman trading, and school-yard culture. It is a humbling and rewarding experience.
- Bring a digital camera with you. Grandparents and friends want to see how your children are changing during their year away! And don’t forget to bring along the e-mail addresses of your child’s close buddies. An occasional e-mail helps alleviate the homesickness, and it’s much faster than regular mail.
- Encourage your children to keep a blog. A rewarding experience for both the kids and friends and family.
- Remember that you are more than just a student, you are someone’s mom or dad (or husband or wife.) Keep your family responsibilities in mind when you sign up for optional activities. Be flexible with yourself and consider postponing your religious service requirements until later in the year, when you’ve had time for everyone to settle in. Don’t stretch yourself too hard to take a higher Hebrew level if it means you have so much homework that you can not enjoy your family and experience time with them in Israel. On the whole, HUC-JIR is understanding of your family responsibilities—the occasional sick child, parent event at school, etc. Get the notes from a classmate, and let yourself be a parent and spouse too. The year in Israel is a special opportunity to ease back into life as a student without the outside commitments such as teaching and student pulpits that await you stateside. Take advantage of the opportunity.
- Socializing with the rest of your classmates who don’t have kids can be a challenge, one easily cured by hosting, hosting, hosting! Regularly hosting Shabbat dinner/lunch/seudah shlishit, or a weekday happy-hour study break, will allow you to get low-key time with your family and your classmates - away from the rush and stress of classes. Consider space for hosting gatherings when looking for an apartment, if this is a priority for you. Your kids will also LOVE the chance to spend quality time with your classmates, and vice versa.
- Get yourself on the SO and Students’ listserve as soon as possible. Making connections earlier makes the first few weeks much easier.
- Attend an Ulpan over the summer; it will help you get your way around the city and the grocery store.
- At least in the beginning go to every HUC-JIR activity you feel able to attend because that is how you will meet other spouses and the other students.
- Over the summer while the students are in class plan day trips to places around Jerusalem (ie Yad Vashem. Mt. Hertzel, Israel Museum etc) with other SOs. Everything is a short walk or taxi ride away.
- Bring your favorite movies to watch with people on your computer. Often American DVDs won’t play in Israeli DVD players.
- For SOs who are not working – enjoy your year and don't put too much pressure on yourself to do too much, It is perfectly okay to slack off a little bit, if that is what it takes to keep your sanity.
- Get involved in the same activities you enjoyed stateside. Find a great yoga class, get involved in your temple. Some of the best ways to discover Israeli culture is to become friendly with Israelis with similar interests.
- Plan regular times to get together with your HUC-JIR student spouse without anyone else around.
- Remember, you’re not being abandoned, your student is really busy, and is about to embark on a career which may well keep this person pretty busy a lot of the time. Take this as an opportunity to see what you can do on your own.
Some special considerations for single parents:
- Your school day will be longer than your child’s, even with after-school care. Israeli teenagers (grades 8-9) are quite responsible. Consider finding a local student who will pick up your child from his or her after-school activity, walk him home, and hang out until you get home. The going rate during the 2007 school year was about 25 shekels an hour. They can even help your child with Hebrew (or translate the English-language board games you thought were such a great idea!)
- Your first HUC-JIR responsibility, summer orientation, includes long days and evening activities. Make friends fast with the spouses of your classmates and do what you can to find childcare. It will be hard on both you and your child, but you will probably want to do everything you can not to miss these first important programs.
- Consider convincing a friend or relative to travel with you at the beginning of the summer for a couple of weeks. They get to visit Israel, and you have an extra pair of hands to help you get everyone settled. If you can arrange it, it makes it a lot easier on your child, who then doesn’t have to be dragged along on every errand (the Municipality Office of Education is just not a fun place to hang out) or be left with an unfamiliar babysitter in an unfamiliar place.
- As it was stateside, your “plate” will be very full. Build your support networks early—other parents (especially liberal Jewish Americans, who will be glad to help out someone studying to be a rabbi, cantor, or educator), babysitters, after-school care, etc. And when your child is settled, make sure to build in some time for yourself. Get that babysitter once in a while “just because”—to spend time with friends, to take a walk, get a manicure, whatever makes you recharge your jets. You’ve juggled a lot of balls to get yourself here, now give yourself permission to enjoy it!
For spouses and partners who don’t come for the year:
It's challenging to sustain and nurture a long-distance relationship and it is just as difficult for the partner who stays behind as it is for the student who is in Israel. Students offer the following advice:
- Check into the cheapest way to call, or use Skype.
- Send pictures of people you meet and places you go so that your spouse can get a feel for life in Israel. Keeping a blog can be helpful.
- Try to get back to visit during at least one break
- Try to have your loved one come visit you in Israel.